“We are anxiety-ridden animals. Our minds are continually active, fabricating an anxious, usually self-preoccupied, often falsifying veil, which partially conceals our world.” ~Iris Murdoch
It was inevitable that the age of information would come with an overload of bullshit from all angles. It was inevitable that it would create anti-intellectual monsters spewing ignorance—both blissful and willful—from all sides. It was inevitable that it would exacerbate partisan claptrap to unprecedented levels. And it was inevitable that we would all be stuck in the middle being pulled this way and that by charlatans, spin doctors, con artists, and bombastic bamboozlers of all different colors, allegiances, and creeds.
But the real question is this: what do we do about it? Do we have hard feelings about it, or do we cultivate a little lightheartedness? Do we take things seriously and tighten our grip, or do we take it sincerely and loosen up a little bit? Do we curl up into a ball of angst and cry ourselves to sleep, or do we have a sense of humor? Do we rage, rage, rage or do we laugh, laugh, laugh?
If, as Krishnamurti said, “it’s no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” then it stands to reason that we readjust. It’s time to adopt a healthier way of being human in the world. It’s time to lighten up. It begins with learning how not to take ourselves so damn seriously all the time. Here are a few strategies…
Appreciate the difficulty of being a fallible, imperfect, and usually mistaken human being:
“The misconception: You believe your opinions and decisions are based on experience and facts, while those who disagree with you are falling for the lies and propaganda of sources you don’t trust. The truth: Everyone believes the people they disagree with are gullible, and everyone thinks they are far less susceptible to persuasion than they truly are.” ~David McRaney
Don’t get carried away by the Third Person Effect. Don’t fall victim to the Great Lassitude.
Have a laugh at yourself, at your bleeding-heart fallibility, at your imperfect perception of the world, at your gross propensity for being wrong about a great many things. Take a breather. Let yourself off the hook for “being right” all the damn time. Allow yourself to admit that you’re probably wrong.
At least this way you’re not taking yourself so seriously that your heart wants to punch its way out of your own body. At least this way you’re not so hung-up on whatever that your soul wants to kick your head out of your own ass.
The key to staying ahead of the curve of this all-too-fallible human condition is to realize that nobody has anything solid figured out about the universe and the way it works. No religion, ideology, philosophy, or politics has the answer. Especially not you. It’s all questionable. It’s all precarious. It’s all procrastinating wrongness.
Question it all. Entertain a thought without accepting it. Don’t take anything personally. Stay curious rather than serious. Keep your bullshit and the bullshit of others in perspective by constantly reminding yourself that nobody (no matter how “enlightened”) and no ideology (no matter how “sacred”) will ever have the answer. Realize that the only “answer” is to question all answers (including this one) ad infinitum.
Which is even more of a reason to keep your skeptic’s hat on tight and your question-mark sword sharp. Understand that it will be difficult to excavate “the Truth.” It will be tantamount to discovering a needle in a haystack. Just have a sense of humor about it. Don’t take anything too seriously, especially your own opinion. Take everything with a grain of salt and some things with the entire saltshaker.
Rebirth Beginner’s Mind:
“Adults are just obsolete children.” ~Dr. Suess
Practice Childmaste: the child within me honors the child within you.
Realize that you are not that far removed from the child you once were. And neither is anybody else. The illusion is that we’ve “grown up.” The reality is that we are always growing. Time doesn’t make us all wise. It makes the majority of us stubborn and stuck in immature mindsets.
Adults are just kids that have forgotten how not to take themselves too seriously. Adults tend to be overly earnest and fatally tainted by life’s struggles. They are hammers to whom everything looks like a nail, and so they go around vainly trying to hammer everything into place according to their worldview, no matter how valid or invalid that worldview may be.
Forgetting that playfulness is the cornerstone of vitality, they all-too-seriously cling to their ways and lose the underlying essence. They forsake Beginner’s Mind for the Master’s Complex. They forsake the Truth Quest for the so called “Truth.” They forsake curiosity for certainty.
Honoring the child within creates a place where your Master Complex can die to the rebirth of Beginner’s Mind. It allows for a playful space. A place where you are free to laugh and be lighthearted. As Khalil Gibran wisely stated, “Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh, and the greatness which does not bow before children.”
Indeed. There is more maturity in a spoonful of humorous, playful, child-like sincerity than in an oceanful of self-important, rigid, adult-like seriousness.
Practice humor rather than hubris:
“It’s time to take humor seriously and seriousness humorously.” ~ Swami Beyondananda
Hubris is the heart of self-seriousness. Take out the heart and you kill self-seriousness. Hubris can only be “taken out” by humor. Humor alone has the power to get power over power. For only a good sense of humor can see through the cracks in the armor of your hubris. Only humor can deflate the ego without destroying it.
The key is to remain self-empowered but not so empowered that you become egocentric and self-serious. Tricky indeed. And only a good sense of humor is trickster enough to pull off the trick. Only a good sense of humor can help you get out of your own way so that you can see “the way” is not clinging to any “way.”
Practice humor over hubris to laugh at yourself and the cosmic joke. Hang a question mark on the things you’ve been taking for granted. Set a tripwire for your certainty. Dangle a noose over your dogmatism. Plant a minefield in your mind field. Even self-empowerment is inauthentic if it cannot laugh at itself.
True self-empowerment is never overly serious anyway. And it’s certainly never self-serious, except perhaps when it does so on purpose and as a means toward showing how ridiculous it is to take oneself too seriously.
So, if it’s true that “power tends to corrupt,” then it stands to reason that you should stay ahead of the curve and curtail corruption by not taking your power—or anyone’s power—too seriously. Whether that “power” is a religious/political authority or your own self-empowered authority, a good sense of humor will keep you ahead of the curve by restraining the hubris that can lead to the corruption of power.
Transform loggerheads into fountainheads:
“People suffer only because they take seriously what the gods made for fun.” ~Allen Watts
Detach; detach; detach. Unbecome yourself by becoming everything else. Transcend the ego and see with the soul. Transform your eyes into Over Eyes. Transform ‘merely seeing’ into ‘having a vision.’
This is perhaps the most powerful strategy for learning how not to take yourself too seriously. Because you free yourself to experience interdependence despite conditioned codependence. You see how cultural conditioning has always been the main culprit behind the reprehensible partisan song and dance, the religious smoke and mirrors, and the cartoon in the brain seriousness that plagues most people.
Practicing healthy detachment and a good sense of humor will prevent you from taking yourself too seriously. It will prevent you from clinging to a particular outcome, certainty, or belief. It will give you a bird’s-eye perspective of your life and the world, which can help you reprogram outdated programing and recondition unhealthy conditioning.
Detachment transforms loggerheads into fountainheads precisely because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The lack of self-serious attachment leads to openminded detachment. Suddenly the quarrel or dispute, whatever it may be, becomes moot. It flattens out. It shrinks under the mighty weight of “the grand scheme of things.” It becomes a petty hypothesis in an infinite field of valid hypotheses. Proper perspective rains down, drowning out the superfluous.
After the flattening, after the drowning, triviality is measured by validity and found wanting. The soul can breathe. The mind can think. The heart can strive. For you have gotten out of your own way, and the way is finally clear: there is no way. There’s nothing to take so seriously that it gets in your way. You are free to simply be: Fallible, imperfect, mistaken, and all-too-mortal.
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (How Not to Take Yourself Too Seriously) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.