There seems ever to be a war playing out between those who take themselves too seriously and those who do not take themselves seriously; the latter better understand the gravity of life while the former are merely subject to it. Though many depictions of the War in Heaven have made it seem as if Heaven itself is of unsmiling countenance, legends of the Fall of the Angels make clear that it was the lead Antagonist who thought himself more personally significant than any one can be and, taken with such self-importance, cast himself out by failing to see the joke in mankind’s creation and chaining himself to a heavy anchor.
A sense of humor about oneself is not the same thing as not taking anything seriously. Instead, one may smile and laugh at their own imperfect efforts while knowing that one must act somewhere, somehow, so screw-ups will happen. Such humor needn’t pick at another’s armor — though it will when this is authentically helpful. It is not mere trolling, it is light-hearted poetry.
I used to criticize, at least in my own mind, those yogis and other seekers for enlightenment who lowered themselves to remark upon social and political things. I saw this as being drawn unknowingly into the mire of samsāra. I have since come to realize that since each yogi requires different sādhana, each of us must also determine which involvements fit our sādhana and which do not. And no mere observer can tell the yogi if they’re making the right choice. Like all things in Yoga, it must be proven out in experience.
In Yoga, we work to generate tapas — inner heat. This is both literal and figurative. During meditation the body does often become quite warm, even to another person who touches the meditating yogi. But the heat is also a metaphor. Yoga is analogous to a fire sacrifice in which we toss everything of ourselves into the fire for Lord Agni to translate and Siva to return as prasad. The yogi therefore turns their whole life into an offering and God gives it back as a sacrament.
For some, then, involvement in movements for reform, justice, and a compassionate society is as much a sādhana as is puja. When pursued for the benefit of people and without expectation for mere personal gain, it is tapas. It generates internal heat which, properly focused through devotion and meditation, breaks down the blockages within. It is another form of meditating in a cold running river. The yogi must be in the midst of the rush and maintain equipoise.
This is not the way for everyone, just as the river is not the way for everyone. But the template holds no matter which sort of life one finds oneself in. Humor and optimism are irreducible necessities on the spiritual path as well as being outgrowths of it. Humor lets us see the world more honestly and laughter shakes us out of untenable positions. Optimism reminds us that we can learn and move, that we are not stuck in place, and impels our steps.
Be clear: optimism does not mean denialism. It is not optimistic to pretend that everything is fine; it is optimistic to recognize the problems and seek for solutions. Sometimes those problems are social, sometimes material, but they are always spiritual insofar as they are always mirrors of states of consciousness.
An easily misunderstood teaching is that when one attains peace of mind, the whole world is peaceful. As with so many things expressed in “twilight language”, we must look through the words to the experience itself. A peaceful mind doesn’t make the events of the world vanish; it does, however, let us see that the ground of those events is not different from our own mind. The peaceful ground allows for peace in what grows from it. Without a peaceful mind, peace in the world seems impossible; with a peaceful mind, peace in the world is instantly realized at least within a single body-mind and that’s all that is strictly necessary for it to be realized elsewhere. Laughter allows the body-mind to instantiate the peace of the depths just as gently shaking a vessel of sand settles the grains. Positivity is not so much a natural consequence of peace but its reflection into the world.
Whether we are in Kali Yuga, in ascending Treta Yuga, in the Age of Iron or the Age of Aquarius, or anything else, conflict and chaos are inevitable in this world. Surrender is only momentary; the fight may always be entered fresh. But to do so, one must have some sense that it is worth it — and the capacity to laugh at the absurdity of the whole endeavor, however important it may be.