To work with this slogan, it is necessary to look at how you spend your physical, mental and emotional time. In short, how do you invest your life energy? It is easy to fritter time away in frivolous pursuits that are entertaining and do not infuse your life with quality. Such activities lead nowhere and are a waste of your one precious and wild life. Chasing after and indulging in mindless entertainment is like eating junk food: It is ultimately unsatisfying, and, if truth be told, ultimately harmful.
Frivolity comes across as lighthearted and innocent, but it is not. It is not real openness, but a form of aggression toward your own best self. To be frivolous is to be self-indulgently carefree, unconcerned about or lacking any serious purpose, to have little or no importance, to be unworthy of careful attention. Frivolity results in a life not fully lived.
Keeping things on the surface level may help you prevent any discovery about the reality of your life, or about life in general, that might rock the boat. An unexamined life may help you feel more comfortable about floating about in the shallows of your brief existence on planet Earth, rather than assisting you to delve into the depth of reality. But since the amazing power of your true nature lies in its innate desire to realize the highest of enlightenment, suppressing that instinct by opting for frivolity, takes work and drains energy. To maintain a narrow field of self-centred comfort, you have to keep pushing down the truth of what it means to be alive in a human body in this time.
It is tricky to work with frivolity. First, it is easy to confuse it with the kind of openness, light-heartedness and playful childlike mind that is cultivated by meditative practice. We can all cite a spiritually realized teacher who displays child-like openness. It is easy to think that because the Dalai Lama laughs under all conditions he is an example that advocates frivolity. But, in truth, the Dalai Lama is a highly serious person. He’s serious about compassion, peace and about restoring political freedom to the Tibetan people. The trick is that frivolity can seem like a virtue, but it isn’t, and that true happiness can appear as mindless frivolity. The second trick of frivolity is that it is possible to overcorrect, to counter frivolity with an overblown self-righteous display of seriousness. But the mind/heart cultivated by Zen training is neither stodgy nor frivolous. True spiritual training will help to avoid both frivolity and serious self-righteousness.
One could say that the play between seriousness and frivolity is a kind of spiritual humor. The most solemn occasions often have an undercurrent of absurdity; and the silliest interactions can have an undertone of profundity.
Suggested practice: Take a census of what you think about and how you spend your time. How do you distinguish between what it frivolous and what truly takes care of your life?
This column is a long series of short essays exploring the meaning of the Lojong Slogans. It is inspired by the work of Judy Lief.
Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information, she can be reached at 250-428-3390.