February 26, 2015 at 1:14 pm #44021
Foolishness and The Kingdom of the Bad
The archetype of the fool or the clown shows up in most every well-known story with a beginning, a middle and an end. This character appears in dramatic work in various forms from the Wise Fool of the Greek Tragedies to Shakespeares spritely Puck in A Midsummer Nights Dream to Dori in Finding Nemo.
These foolish characters provide comic relief and a sense of conscience to the protagonist (as they do not follow societys ways, are usually not the most fashionable, and they always speak the truth as they know it). They invite us to wear masks or to take off our masks and live a life free of labels and ideals. And they are usually a lowly character, and sometimes a blank slate, that will reveal the character of others based on how they themselves see themselves.
In Shakespeare and the Human Mystery, J. Phillip Newell writes, The fool is calling us to be truly ourselves and points out the falseness of what we have become. He is not, however, over and against his hearers. Rather, he invites them to discover the fool within themselves. In Alls Well That Ends Well, when Paroles says that he has found the fool, the clown replies, Did you find me in yourself, sir?
In ancient Egypt (as early as 2400 BC), clowns served a socio-religious and psychological function in the court, with the role of priest and clown traditionally held by the same person.
In Native American traditions, the Trickster God is represented as Coyote, a sacred clown. During certain ceremonial performances, masks were made of clay and worn for each direction of the medicine wheel and a Heyoka (a mystic, a medicine man, an outsider) plays the role of the backwards clown, doing everything in reverse.
There is within Christian circles those known as Holy Fools or Fools for Christ. These are the ascetics, mystics, saints, outcasts. The Hindu equivalent would be Avadhuta (The Sanskrit word for people who do not identify with their mind or body, names or forms, a person held to be pure consciousness.). In Islam there are the Qalandariyya (whirling dervishes) and Malamatiyya (Sufi mystics with a staunch belief in self-blame).
The first card of the Major Arcana Tarot deck is that of The Fool. It shows him in all his youthful innocence stepping off a cliff and into the unknown without fear, but also without wisdom. He is the embodiment of a new beginning. He is actively sacrificing his past. And he is represented by the number Zero. As George Leonard writes, zero is the fertile void from which all creation springs, the state of emptiness that allows new things to come into being. The fool represents what is known in Zen Buddhism as shoshin or beginners mind, or play. The attitude that makes real learning possible.
Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, toward the end of his life, when making his own funeral arrangements, asked to be buried in his white belt. The belt that you start off with when you know absolutely nothing. The worlds highest ranking Judo master asked to be memorialized and always remembered as wearing the marks and the emblem of the beginner.
While the fool archetype continues to be used abstractly as a metaphor and a device in storytelling or Jungian psychology, the actual court jester has been replaced in modern society by professional comedians. Comedians such as Lewis CK, Bill Burr, Chris Rock, George Carlin and Bill Hicks. Comedians that allow us to laugh at ourselves and our society by holding up a mirror to the falseness of what we have become, and that always speak the truth. In some cases (Carlin and Hicks) they speak truth to power in an attempt to shake up and change the rulers and political systems of the day.
Matthew Belopavlovich, a former clown for Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus, has described specific clowning routines that were shown to communicate the futility of the human condition.
Trussell states that if the clown lives in the kingdom of the bad, that there must be a kingdom of the good and that both realms, the good and the bad are dependent on human attention. This duality depends on the bad being held in opposition to the good. And in the clown doing things in the perfectly wrong way. When you sit in it, there is a redemption that happens. A shift from the profane to the sacred once you finally stop resisting what you are.
But this surrender takes honesty and immense courage. Only the fool can be fully immersed in the tragic beauty of each moment.
In Tibetan Buddhism, this keeping-life-at-a-distance is called avidya or un-intelligence. It is when we choose to identify with space and time as solid and static as opposed to open and flowing. If space and time are made of consciousness, then avidya is ignorance, or ignoring the intelligence of the Universe.
Chogyam Trungpa describes this relationship as a monkey who is trapped in a house whose walls are held together by the monkeys own attachment and desires. The monkey may escape this self-contained cycle of imprisonment by developing panoramic awareness.
He writes, Panoramic awareness allows the monkey to see the space in which the struggle occurs so that he can begin to see its ironical and humorous quality. Instead of simply struggling, he begins to experience the struggle and see its futility. He laughs through the hallucinations.
Are we willing to laugh in the face of our own attachment? To laugh through our hallucinations?
Are we willing to let go of the lesser in order to grasp the whole in which the lesser is contained? Are we willing to step off the cliff into the unknown? Without judgement? Without wisdom?
Are we willing to create a new beginning by actively sacrificing our past? And is this surrender what will finally make real learning possible?
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