I have a habit of jumping off little metaphorical cliffs, just for the fun of it. A five day Class V wilderness river trip, never having laid eyes on an inflatable kayak before in my life? Sounds good, when do we leave. A week long hike across the desert with five total strangers, no trail? Why not. Project manager in Iraq without any experience as a project manager (and unarmed)? I’m packed.
None of these experiences were necessarily fun in the most superficial understanding of the word. (And I’m not advocating that anyone follow my dubious lead …) Yet they were all outrageously fun in an overall, deep, and unconventional definition of fun that has the potential to describe my understanding of why we choose to be here in the physical world.
Amusing, entertaining, enjoyable … we’ve wrapped ourselves into a very narrow definition of fun. We expect ease, light-heartedness. We expect to be entertained in the most passive sense. Perhaps we expect all laughter and some advertisement’s vapid idea of the good life, aiming for mimosas and mansions as if happiness were dependent upon a material nirvana of endless smiles. In our concept of fun, no one gets hurt, no one grieves, no one gets sick, and no one dies.
What a crushingly dull show.
There exist scientists and writers, artists and athletes who have a different idea of fun: athletes ice climbing or slogging up dangerous mountains, biologists diving in frigid Antarctic waters, marine geologists spending weeks at sea eating revolting food – when they’re not seasick, painters who feel physically ill facing a new blank canvas…
How can those things be fun?
Madame Curie, Isabella Bird, Ada Lovelace, Gertrude Ederle, Gertrude Bell. Charles Darwin, Sir Joseph Banks, James Bruce, Buzz Aldrin. How can it be fun to swim the English Channel? How can it be fun to nearly freeze to death in a blizzard? How can it be fun to spend weeks, months, years in a crude laboratory working out one single scientific experiment? How can it be fun to fear you’ll disintegrate on re-entry?
On a more culturally comprehensible level, some equivalents: why is it fun to go to scary movies, or read books about someone else’s horrible illness or excruciating struggle? Why is it fun to watch tear-jerk movies, or read a book so ripping that you weep for an hour when you’ve finished the final page? Why is it fun to hear about a friend’s awful experiences of food poisoning or bug infested hotels in Djibouti or Singapore or Delhi?Why is it fascinating to follow the Egyptian uprising through Twitterers who are right there in the bloody streets?
Perhaps because those things contain something new. Some challenge for the mind, the body, or some stretch for the imagination. Some frisson of wonder. Some question that can’t quite be answered: Can I do this? Could I do that? How will this change me? How would I handle that?
Mountaineers have said that people often ask them why they climb mountains. Why expend so much energy, why risk one’s life for something essentially meaningless. Sir Edmund Hillary’s famous answer to the question of climbing a mountain, Because it’s there, has a crystalline brevity that purely expresses a deeper concept of fun.
Fun can include stretching some part of oneself to the limit, then finding that limit can be exceeded. Experiencing something never experienced before can ultimately be exciting and fun, even if moments within it are terrifying or excruciating. Fun can be practicing skills, challenging them, deepening them into something extraordinary. One exquisite moment, never imagined, can make thousands of horrid moments of a journey fade. The beauty of the whole arc of an experience has the potential to transform the perception or memory of the journey into wonder, and instill a deep sense of gratitude.
When I flew out of Iraq on R&R, after six months of working eight to fourteen hours every day of the week, I’d be so grateful when it took a couple of days to get a flight out of Kuwait. It meant I had forty-eight hours in perfect Kuwait limbo: no colonels, no roadside bombs, no projects, no gunshots, no expectations, no problem-solving, no rockets, no questions, no friends, no thoughts, no nothing. The only real world was Iraq, and I had left it … I was in a strange, meaningless, and perfectly safe dream between dreams. I’d burrow into my sleeping bag on some skanky bunk in a dusty tent full of skanky bunks. Savoring the delicious nowhere of where I was in the moment, empty and completely relaxed, I was free to avoid or savor all the strange memories of Iraq, and I savored this very strange feeling of luxurious contentment and boredom. Then I slept deeply for forty-eight hours, dragging myself out of bed only a few times to eat, groggily wondering at the power of intense experience, the emptiness of lost familiarity, and how profound strangeness could be so endlessly fascinating, so fun even during the times that I hated it.
Why are we here? To serve humanity, to express the creativity of the all, to expand the potential of the self, to deepen understanding of who and what we really are … maybe that too. But the most fundamental reason that we’ve entered the physical reality is, I believe from my experience, because it’s fun.
fun: amusing, entertaining or enjoyable
Fun: interesting, challenging, surprising, expanding, frightening, sorrowful, exciting, grievous, comfortable, painful, relaxing, exhausting, shattering, integrative, fascinating, weird, confusing, amusing, entertaining, infuriating, enjoyable, sensation-al
Marian Lansky has recently posted (yet another) extraordinarily clear and solid contemplation of this subject on her blog, Outrageous Undoing. In it she says, “What I believe we are doing here on Earth is the equivalent of finding ourselves suddenly at base camp, about to climb Everest, with no memory of how we got there. So in our minds as we climb, there are no loved ones… there is no home, no cozy kitchen, nothing to return to. And while we are climbing, somehow, through the extremity of experience, we retrieve those memories, because that’s what we challenged ourselves to do.
Is it possible that we get ourselves good and lost purely to see if we can, with no resources, completely cut off from our Source and its unconditional love, find our way home?”
Everyone’s idea of what constitutes an acceptable a challenge is a little different from the next person’s. Each person’s idea of what challenges might be fun will be unique. As whole beings, though, I suspect few if any us would expect that a physical world lifetime of nothing but mimosas would be wildly entertaining. Would you sign on for a hot air balloon ride then spend it lying on pillows on the floor? I know – you’re afraid of heights. Okay … would you drive to Key West then lie in bed with the lights off for two weeks? Would you throw a party then spend it mute, sitting in a chair facing the wall?
Marian also says in her contemplation of this subject: “Yes, I am creating my own reality but surely, surely I did not consent to the painful childhood, the mother’s illness, the death of the loved one!
Surely I had nothing to do with the early abuse, the cruel teachers—the suffering part of the equation. Surely I was a victim of the cultural mindset I chose to be born into and luckily, by the skin of my teeth, I was able to wake up enough to grab the reins and clear my own mind and vibrations. Surely I had nothing to do with setting up the first part of the equation?
Maybe I came here as a volunteer to fix the world’s problems, but lately I’ve begun to have the conviction that the world is not broken—that it’s one of an infinite number of probable parallel earths to which I have access through my own vibrational focus.
So who would be crazy enough to volunteer for this much suffering? It’s insane! Isn’t it?”
Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional. Because suffering is a result of beliefs about what is real, what we are capable of, and what is fun.
“Why am I here?”
Would it make sense to ask ourselves that question within a beautiful experience that we consciously created for ourselves? Would it even occur to us to ask that question while watching an exquisite sunset on a warm beach while cuddled up with the love of our life? In February? It probably wouldn’t even occur to us to ask.
As a whole self that question may be like the beach scenario – moot because just being here is so saturated with joy. Being here is interesting, challenging, surprising, expanding, frightening, sorrowful, exciting, grievous, comfortable, painful, relaxing, exhausting, shattering, integrative, fascinating, weird, confusing, amusing, entertaining, infuriating, enjoyable, … sensation-al …
Being here is fun in the deepest meaning of that word.
Marian asks, “Are we, in fact, absolutely safe, experiencing a sometimes cruel and exacting form of reality TV on a universal scale, purely for the joy of finding out that we can do it? Purely for the ecstatic realization that even in this slowed-down, dark and dense physical experience, we can remember who we are and become lucid within this dream—thereby completely informing it with joy through our own creativity?”
Suffering is optional. Why me, why am I here, why am I experiencing this while others get to experience that … ? These questions can only exist within a context of belief that we can be hurt, that we can be a victim of something – anything.
If we are here for the thrill of it, those questions lose meaning. Instead we might begin to ask other questions:
How can I best respond to this moment?
Can I find an arc of joy or fun even in this experience? Can I somehow exercise my curiosity in this exploration of something I’ve never experienced before?
Can I own even this as my own, all mine, assuming it as unique and valuable?
Can I remember, even in this experience, who and what I really am?
Can I reach what I was sure was my limit then exceed it, discovering something I’ve never imagined?