This post was originally published in 2017, 5 years after a post about Ja Woo’s participation in the annual Buddha’s Birthday celebration at the Zen Center of Los Angeles.
Ja Woo: “There is no room for ego in clowning, no way for one’s ego to be present when one is in clown mode.”
When I mentioned Ja Woo’s comment to my friend Isabel, she said “Well of course, if you are present in the moment, then your ego is not present, and Clowning is all about being present in the moment.”
I’ve been re-considering the relationship of ‘ego and clown’ ever since a challenging conversational interchange during a recent workshop in Germany. In explaining an exercise, I had invited the class, to invest in their Lächerlich (ridiculous) and their absurd. At this point, I was interrupted by the quiet voice of a participant saying that Lächerlich is a bad word in German. Another participant quickly seconded her, which caused several other participants to start muttering their disagreement while looking at me with questions in their eyes. A discussion ensued where I sought clarification as to why this word was ‘bad.’
I was surprised as it’s the first time for such a protest, and I’ve been teaching a good number of years in Germany. At least, this is the first time I recall of… when I inquired about this ‘bad,’ if that referred to other people’s judgment of their ridiculousness, they replied that that was certainly a big part of it.’ I had the feeling that they were saying the ‘bad’ refers to an improper, frowned upon behavior (for an adult.) While the German translation of ridiculous seems to have a stronger meaning than it does in English, I wasn’t able to pin down how.
As the workshop was about Zenclown, I dived into the Zen of it, wondering openly about what that meant to have judgments, or to care about other’s judgments. How did that relate to ego and our attachments? Were they being held back by other’s judgments? True, it’s not that it’s easy to let go of long established behavior. True, it’s kind of a free fall into the unknown when one invites in the ridiculous, as one is likely in this freedom of expression to expose certain vulnerable aspects of oneself. And yet, wasn’t that the whole point of the exercise?
From a perspective of ego, I think it’s safe to say that letting go of ego involves letting go of opinions others have about you. Ja Woo has that down, shower cap, poncho and all. She is so embracing the fun.
The intention of the exercise wasn’t a Buddhist exercise in releasing attachment to ego. Plunging into the ridiculous is allowing oneself to listen to humorous, silly (and perhaps even embarrassing impulses) that one’s inner funny offers up. It’s tuning into another channel, an inner flow, perhaps an aspect of intuitive mind, certainly deeply rooted in Kokoro. I find great liberation in that action. It offers openings into aspects of life force that may have escaped your immediate orbit for far too long a time. Responding to this inner voice offering suggestions around having fun.
So when you are about to get doused with a kitchen bowl of water, forget about the realms of self no self no self self, kick the thinking mind into the back seat and drive with delight.
A post post comment from Joshin:
Some Zen dude once said Zen is an appropriate response.
When the situation is ridiculously serious, it’s appropriate to be ridiculous. When the situation is seriously ridiculous, it’s appropriate to be serious