Unlightenment: The Power of Not Taking Yourself Too Seriously

People suffer only because they take seriously what the gods made for fun. ~Alan Watts

It turns out that enlightenment is just having a really good sense of humor. We are all merely punchlines to a terribly funny cosmic joke.

But the real question is this: what do we do about it? Do we have hard feelings about it or do we cultivate a disposition of lightheartedness? Do we take it seriously and tighten our grip or do we take it sincerely and loosen up a little? Do we curl up into a ball of existential angst and cry ourselves to sleep or do we have a sense of humor about it? Do we tremble, tremble, tremble or do we laugh, laugh, laugh?

The path to enlightenment was never meant to be easy. It’s an arduously Herculean task, a painstakingly Nietzschean mission, a laboriously Promethean undertaking.

Hell, life is difficult even if you’re not seeking self-improvement, Eudaimonia, or enlightenment. It’s hard if you’re sitting on your ass wasting your life half-alive, and it’s hard if you’re on your feet kicking ass and living life to the fullest. The latter may be more fulfilling, but it’s also riskier, more challenging, and more painful.

But this article isn’t about enlightenment. This article is about unlightenment. It’s about laughing at all the bullshit. It’s about pulling the overreaching Guru’s pants down. It’s about knocking the holier than thou plastic shaman off his high horse. It’s about blowing smoke up a haughty nun’s skirt. It’s about cultivating a good sense of humor while in the trenches of enlightenment. It’s about painfully rolling over in the gutter and still managing to be awestruck by the stars.

To breathe or not to breathe, that is the question:

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. ~Albert Camus

Sometimes feeling better is just a matter of acknowledging how awful you feel. Sometimes self-improvement means sidestepping self-preservation. Not acknowledging how you feel can lead to repression, psychosis and suicide. By acknowledging it, you give yourself a way out. Acknowledgment is the safety line that you can use to climb out of depression.

Rather than sugarcoating shit, own your shit. Rather than blowing hot hair up your own ass, just acknowledge that you’re full of hot air. Just admit that you’re more than likely full of shit. Then let that shit go. Release it. Surrender your ego.

It’s okay. It turns out that we’re all full of shit to some degree or another. As Scott Adams poignantly surmised, “The human mind is a delusion generator, not a window to truth. The best any human can do is to pick a delusion that helps him get through the day.” But accepting it, embracing it, then letting it go, sets you free.

If you are ignoring your own unhappiness, pain, and anger, and then covering it up with a pretend smile, a fake laugh, an insincere self-affirmation, or some pseudo-enlightenment bullshit, then you’re going nowhere real slow. In fact, you’re slowly imploding. You’re inadvertently regressing. Your repression of your emotions is slowly transforming you into an emotional wreck.

You’ve got to own your shit. Be unhappy with your unhappiness. Hurt with your pain. Seethe with your anger. Roll with the punches. Then let it all go with a deep breath and a fuck you. Embrace it. Own it. Release it. Repeat. It’s so simple it’s stupid.

Okay, maybe it’s not so simple. But it beats the alternative: stagnation, regression, psychosis or suicide. Only after you’ve owned your shit should you dare to don other masks. Before enlightenment, unlightenment; after enlightenment, more unlightenment.

Get out of your own way:

There are plenty of difficult obstacles in your path. Don’t allow yourself to become one of them. ~Ralph Marsten

If enlightenment is having a good sense of humor, then unlightenment is the sense of humor. In this sense, unlightenment is the heart and soul of enlightenment.

There will always be speedbumps and setbacks along the path. Similarly, there will sometimes be smooth spots and cloud-nines. Mostly it’s a rollercoaster ride. There will be waves and there will be troughs. There will be ups and there will be downs. When we’re up, we need to guard against haughtiness, arrogance, and dogmatism. When we’re down, we need to guard against nihilism, depression, and suicide. Humor helps with both.

Humor helps us get out of our own way both when we’re high on life (on cloud-nine) and when we’re down on life (in the trenches). It’s the ultimate existential salve. It cuts through the high and mighty bullshit just as it parts the watery shit in the sewers. It knocks makeshift gods off aggrandized pedestals just as it transforms demons into allies. It tricks our fixed mindset (whether pessimistic or optimistic) into flexible mindfulness.

Indeed. A good sense of humor can get you through just about anything. And even if it doesn’t, at least you’re laughing. At least you’re not taking yourself so damn seriously that your heart wants to punch its way out of your body. At least you’re not so hung-up on whatever that your soul wants to kick your head out of your own ass.

There are no answers, but change is an absolute:

To change one’s life: 1. Start immediately, 2. Do it flamboyantly, 3. No exceptions. ~William James

If you’re on the path toward enlightenment for answers, then you’re on the wrong path. The path is more about questions than it is about so-called answers. The journey is the thing. Even when answers happen to arise, they should be a reason to question rather than an excuse to settle. That’s what the following Zen proverb is hinting at: “If you meet Buddha on the road, kill him.”

This is because any Buddha you meet is false. The only true Buddha is Transformation itself. The only true enlightenment is unconditional humor. The only answer is to question. The only absolute is change. Any truth you discover is merely procrastinating compost for some future other-truth. The opposite of truth isn’t untruth, but another profound truth. As Andre Gide said, “Trust those who seek the truth. Doubt those who find it.”

The key is to keep the cycle going. Allow the process to be a flowing process, lest it become a fixed condition. This is where unlightenment comes in. Unlightenment transforms fixed illumination into flexible providence. It hangs a question mark on the things we’ve taken for granted. It sets a tripwire for our certainty. It dangles a noose for all the things we’ve taken too seriously. It opens us up for further opening.

Nothing really matters, and that’s okay:

Everything we love is well-arranged dust. ~Atticus

This is the heart of unlightenment. The universe is inherently meaningless. But that’s okay, because then we are free to create our own meaning. We are free to laugh at the cosmic joke. We are free to poke holes in all the over-inflated egos, especially our own. We can even turn the tables on The Absurd and create our own absurdism that goes Meta-absurd. Think Grandpa Rick in Rick and Morty.

Curiosity, imagination, and a good sense of humor are the thing. That’s the secret to creating meaning in a meaningless universe: cultivating curiosity, flexing imagination, and maintaining a good sense of humor. Sprinkle in a dash of moderation and you’ve got a spiritual robustness that just might have what it takes to remain on the path to enlightenment.

Unlightenment is foremost an un-burdening, the lightening of a spiritual overload that has grown heavy, cumbersome, and overly serious. It’s a necessary shedding of overblown pretense, an existential cleansing, that shaves the superfluous in order to reanimate purpose. It reminds us the critical difference between the dispensable and the indispensable.

And when we’re left with the indispensable –the primordial crucible of Universal Law– then our journey can truly begin. Healthy and unhealthy become clear. The Golden Rule and the Nonaggression Principle become primary in order for healthy progressive evolution to be a possibility. And a good sense of humor rounds it all out, as the saving grace for any process that becomes immoderate, overreaching, or aggrandized beyond health.

Discipline; un-discipline; re-discipline:

Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist. ~Pablo Picasso

We all love routine until we’re bored, then we love excitement until it becomes routine.

The secret is strategically expanding and contracting. Expand past your comfort zone, have a possibly painful adventure, then contract back into your comfort zone to heal. Routine; excitement; re-routine; repeat. Condition; un-condition; recondition; repeat. State of ignorance; learn; unlearn; relearn; repeat. This process can be applied to all things.

This is yet another vital aspect of unlightenment. It keeps us flexible. It keeps us robust. Un-enlightenment; enlightenment; unlightenment; repeat. Begin wherever you are. Embrace however you are feeling. Learn from it. Breathe with it. Then let it go. Return to your comfort zone. Lick your wounds. Then begin again. This is how authentic growth is achieved.

When we go on an adventure we escape our comfort zone. We risk danger, pain, and heartbreak. We risk being overwhelmed by life. But we also risk gaining new knowledge, new love, and unforeseen flow states. In either case we have our comfort zone to fall back on; to lick our wounds and to incubate our newfound knowledge. Then we take another leap of courage into the unknown. As Bruce Lee said, “Learn the Form, master the Form, forget the Form.”

At the end of the day, we use the tool of unlightenment to leverage further enlightenment into our lives. Our expanding and contrasting leads to flexibility, robustness and growth. With each expansion and contraction of our comfort zone, our comfort zone gets bigger and bigger. It expands. With enough time it expands to subsume community, culture, and eventually the world. We go from being insecure, codependent creatures safe in our tiny comfort zones, to being secure, interdependent creatures free in our comfort zone that now represents the interconnectedness of all things.

But, not so fast! Unlightenment comes back in with its mighty sense of humor to upset our applecart of certainty, to flatten the box before it becomes entrenched and dogmatic, to shatter the paradigm before it becomes rigid and inflexible, to laugh at ourselves before we begin taking ourselves too seriously again. Indeed. To continually adapt and overcome. As Alan Watts said, “What one needs in this universe is not certainty but the courage and nerve of the gambler; not fixed conviction but adaptability; not firm ground whereupon to stand but skill in swimming.”


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