Sunday, July 08, 2018

Lesson I learnt from Tibetan monks: make sure you don't take yourself to seriously and play

The next #lojongchallenge slogan is "in daily life, be a child of illusion." The idea is that during meditation, you become more familiar with the idea that all phenomena are impermanent, interdependent and consisting of multiple things. However, only realizing this in meditation is not enough: you need to also embody it in your daily life. As I detailed in my previous posts, even just getting a taste of this already creates so much space in your mind, and so much humor.
monks playing around during a classroom activity demonstrating a signalling cascade with a movie-cut board

Some monks really love to play badminton, basketball or soccer!
The challenge is of course to remember to be a child of illusion--looking upon the world with the innocence and playfulness of a child--in the midst of the craziness of life. Probably my most powerful reminder of how this could work were my experiences teaching the monks at the Emory-Tibet Science initiative. Although most of these guys were in their thirties and beyond, they were so tremendously playful, while also being dedicated at the same time. They were always up for little game-like activities in class. One day we studied visual adaptation by asking some volunteers to wear "pirate patches" (in reality those were sleep masks covering only one eye) and then having them go through an obstacle course in a dark room that had been created by their fellow students. They had so much fun taking pictures of themselves wearing their patch, then stumbling through the obstacle course (even the non-patch wearers wanted to try it afterwards). In the West, probably my students would have complained about having to do such silly things, but here everyone just played whole-heartedly in a game. But the monks were not just playing around--they were also studying until 1 am for their buddhist philosophy exams. I hope that i can learn some of the monk's playfulness. We need to have more in our world, that is often way too serious. I am convinced that having more playfulness will help to reduce stress and thereby improve mental health, and probably enhance success as well. It would be so much fun if during our scientific debates at conferences, we would pepper them with jokes and humor, instead of being worried about being serious and prestigious scientists.

In short, what I probably learnt most from the Tibetan monks is: don't forget to play. The added benefit is that it implements part of this Lojong slogan on being a child of illusion as well!

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