Laughter and Living – The Trickster–Walking With Heroes Part 18

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silly doctor fez

Aloha! I hope you’ve begun to see the energy of the Sage in your life over the last week – and begun to understand the wisdom that you, uniquely, bring to the world. Only you can bring that insight and that truth in the way you do – so don’t hang back and hide what you know and the truth you understand.

So now, we complete the cast with the final element in our series of heroes.. and we complete the royal court too, so that the Ruler stands with his advisers. And this is a surprising hero… the Fool, or the Jester – or, to use the name from ancient mythology – the Trickster.

The Trickster is needed to keep us connected to the joy of life – all this questing and heroing can be tiring work, and we need to be able to step back and laugh… to enjoy ourselves for the sake of enjoyment. We need to remember that fun is not something that only happens on our day off – but joy and exuberance need to be permanent parts of our life.

The Trickster keeps us honest as well: the Jester wasn’t just employed at court to crack jokes and make the courtiers laugh – he was there to keep the King humble, allowing him to be the butt of the joke sometimes, or provoking him to make the right choice through simplicity and direct humour.

The Trickster is the simpleton who proves, ultimately, to be wiser than the wisest.. and the magical figure who springs in, dispenses wisdom in rhyme and tomfoolery, and bounces out.

The Trickster is a huge part of ancient shamanistic theology – and reappears in the stories of Brer Rabbit, of Winnie the Pooh (Pooh is the Trickster figure here – not self assured, but completely at peace in Zen wisdom). The Trickster is of course the hero of cartoons from Roadrunner to Bugs Bunny.

In the end, when it comes down to it all, we are all the fools. We’ve been engaged on this huge cosmic adventure called ‘Life’. We’ve seen trouble and hardship, experienced highs and lows, joy and despair. And when we look back at it, we see the humour of it all – how at one and the same time it’s hugely important – and completely irrelevant in the great scheme of things. The Trickster brings perspective to our small little dramas and helps us see them for what they are.

And somehow, in that Trickster figure, everything comes together. All the world’s a stage, and we are but players on it… and so in that inoffensive and humorous exterior we find the Wizard, the Ruler, the Sage, the Lover, the Warrior, Creator, Destroyer, Seeker, Orphan, Caregiver and Innocent. And in the Innocent we find another clue – the Innocence when we set out of ‘butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth’ has been replaced by the knowing Innocence of ‘who? Me?’.

When any martial artist starts out to learn his or her craft, the belt is white. Innocent, untarnished, a clean slate on which anything can be written. As the student progresses, different coloured belts are worn, until the coveted black belt is awarded. But this is only the start of the journey. The student will then continue to develop his or her skill through various levels of black belt – and all the while, the belt will fray from continual use – revealing that, at its heart, it too is simply a white belt. In some traditions, a white belt is awarded as the highest grade. And so our final hero embraces all the others, and we return to innocence. But rather than an innocence born of naivety, we now find an innocence based on understanding and deep inner certainty.

The stage of the journey

This, in a sense, is where it all ends. The Trickster is the point where we can look back at the journey and laugh at it all. All the angst, the discomfort, the fear, the terror, the loneliness.. all of those motions that we felt on the way, all the dangers we’ve faced, the difficulties we’ve endured, the sadness, the pain – we have been through it all, and we’re still alive. We’re still OK.. and none of that can hurt us now.. because even if we experience it again, we know we can make it through. And boy, have we got a story to tell.

There is a sense of completion, here, of understanding the cosmic joke, the knowledge that, ultimately, nothing can hurt us – and yet there’s also a sense that we’re still on the journey – that nothing ever stops. And from this place of knowing innocence – we can start again. The adventure never ends. There are new worlds to conquer, new friends to make, new things to learn – but now we do it with a sense of perspective, and a knowledge not only that we can meet the challenge – but also that we’re safe, in the big great scheme of things.

Next time, when we embark on the great adventure, we take all the wisdom, all the love, all the magic that we’ve learned on the way, and use it to be the wise companion, the guardian figure, the doorkeeper – we’ve seen the journey and we know what it takes.

The nature of the Trickster

Ultimately the Trickster seeks enjoyment. Yet this is not the hedonistic, devil may care enjoyment of the prodigal son, but a deeper, wiser enjoyment. It’s the sort of enjoyment which looks out at the world, breathes deeply and sighs with huge inner contentment. The Trickster feels hugely, absolutely, completely alive in the moment. In fact, the Trickster has learnt that the present moment is the only thing that exists. The past is gone, existing as a memory. The future is yet to be created. The only moment that we can truly choose is now. And the Trickster seeks to wring every last piece of enjoyment out of it. As a friend wrote to me once:

“Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways – Chardonnay in one hand – chocolate in the other – body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming ‘WOO-HOO, what a ride!!'”

That’s the Trickster spirit in action.

So, too the calm certainty of the moment. It is a truly wise man who can echo the words of Forest Whitaker’s titular character in ‘Ghost Dog’; “There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. If one fully understands the present moment, there is nothing left to do, and nothing else to pursue”

And, really, that is all there is. Now. Will we enjoy the moment, making it count? Will we fill it with as much joy, as much happiness, as much exuberance, as much passion, as much love as possible…?

The Goal

There is one true goal for the Trickster – that sensation of being truly, vibrantly, gloriously alive. Everything else is secondary to this one pursuit. Whether that is found communing with nature, or playing with children (or grandchildren), or hurling yourself off a mountain on a board/skis/luge or with a rope strapped to your ankles… this is the thing that matters most. Is that selfish? Absolutely not – because the Trickster knows that only when he or she feels totally, completely, passionately alive – only then can they have an impact on the world.

The search for enjoyment and happiness isn’t a goal in itself – it’s a moment to be savoured, allowing a demonstration that life is for living…and for living NOW.

Primal Fear

The Trickster fears death – but not pure physical death – for the Trickster it is more a fear of not being alive – of not being able to enjoy life, of not being filled to the brim with passionate excitement. The Trickster fears dullness, sameness, monotony, boredom – they have to find something – anything – to interest them. That can lead to restlessness, to running from one idea to another, never satisfied but looking for interest – whether that is in career or tasks around the house, or in relationships or in their spiritual quest. Often the one who simply can’t sit still is not the least mature, but the most mature. We accuse those who enter relationships and then step out quickly of being childish and unable to commit – but in fact they are in pursuit of something deeper – and they know that they must find it.

Response to the challenge

What’s the Trickster going to do when confronted with a dragon. Only one way to go…. play time! Either the Trickster will seek to play with the dragon, to have fun… or will seek to have fun at its expense by playing tricks on it. In the real world, the challenge is not something to be overcome, but something to be enjoyed as we live in the moment. The problem solving process becomes the goal, rather than looking for the end itself. In the Trickster’s world, everything needs to be fun… or he’s not interested.

A Heroic Task

We’ve already said that the Trickster is looking for the journey itself to have meaning. Every single second has relevance, and none of it can be spent without purpose – even if that purpose is just staring out to sea with a sense of happiness. The Trickster knows that happiness cannot be sought – it’s not something to be attained, but something to be lived. And we can choose to live that happiness in every moment. The Trickster chooses those moment of happiness and makes them happen – moment when we embark on unknown seas, when we choose to encounter strangers, when we entertain provocative thoughts, or choose risky experiences.

The Trickster is a demonstration that we can be happy in whatever situation we find ourselves in – knowing that this wild ride is all about enjoyment. In ‘Along Came Polly’, one of the characters exclaims in frustration “Why don’t you let go – move on with your life. It’s not about what happened in the past – or what might happen in the future. It’s about the ride. No point going through this crap if you’re not going to enjoy the ride. And who knows – something might come along that’s even better than you planned.”

We only have now to experience – and once it’s gone… we cannot have it back.

The Gift

We spend years of our lives creating for others. We suppress our happiness ‘for the children’ or ‘for the sake of our marriage’. We work hard to create wealth, thinking that it will bring us happiness and ultimate freedom. Even when we become more enlightened, we work hard to ‘make a difference’.

The Trickster reminds us that we need to live life for its own sake – day by day, minute by minute, moment by moment. The Trickster reminds us that we can appear too serious sometimes – we feel that we have to be sensible, do the right thing. The Trickster in each of us reminds us that it’s fun to play with Play-Do, that splashing in the fountain is hugely rewarding, that it’s OK to play the fool and look stupid.

Sometimes, the Sage can be a little too serious for his own good… tempered with the playfulness of the Trickster, the Sage is reminded that life is meant to be fun. And sometimes the restraint of the Sage is required to stop the Trickster going that little bit too far.

The Trickster also gives validity to our feelings. Without the Trickster, we are guided by logic. What’s the sensible decision? What makes the most money? What is the safest option? The Trickster reminds us that it’s OK to follow our feelings – that it’s all right to listen to our heart and decide to do what feels good.

And with the Trickster, nothing is predictable. While we might expect a Sage or Seer to behave a certain way, Trickster energy is unpredictable, untameable, rogue. I see these echoes in Jesus Christ, in the Dalai Lama, in Nelson Mandela. C.S. Lewis alluded to it in his frequent comment on the God-figure, Aslan, in the Chronicles of Narnia ‘Aslan is not a tame lion’. Divinity is unpredictable, risky, unknowable. When we become truly powerful we cease to be ‘safe’ – there is a sense that, as they used to say in the animation series ‘Stingray’ – “anything can happen in the next half hour”.

The shadow Trickster

When we live a life based on pleasure, the possibilities for a shadow are enormous – and so it is for all the figures at this level of the journey. The shadow Ruler destroys and enslaves his subjects. The shadow Wizard wields his power to destroy and enslave. The shadow Sage creates falsehood and leads people astray. The shadow Trickster is irresponsible, leading people away in a quest for enjoyment – and potentially into laziness, overeating and addiction.

The Trickster can also become the game player – quite literally – in relationships he is ‘the player’ continually seeking novelty. He can be fun, charming, intriguing… but may well run at the earliest sign of permanence.

Levels of the Trickster

The Trickster’s call is from boredom, from a sense that life must be something more, that there is a party going on somewhere but he or she is not part of it. This dullness becomes a nagging and gnawing sensation until something must be done. Incredibly, it seems that doing anything will work – we just need to shift the energy a little. Yet we get lost in ‘what job should I do’, ‘where should I live’, ‘what church should I join’. The simple answer – do something. Anything. Anything to make a change – because in that change, and in the experience of throwing yourself into it – life will find you.

Initially, the Trickster starts out as the fool – playing the game of life for enjoyment and living only for personal pleasure. As he or she grows, the energy is used to play tricks on life – to cheat, to escape trouble, to find the easy way out of things. “It wasn’t me, guv.” Yet there is a higher calling for the Trickster, when he steps over into being the Wise Fool, the jester. Like Alice’s Cheshire Cat, the answer may come in riddles, forcing the student to unlock them for themselves. They may come in the for of koans, those unsolveable Zen riddles. The Trickster knows that the journey of learning is more important than the knowledge itself.

The Trickster’s story

The Trickster will find himself living only for pleasure – he may be the village idiot, or the who is always found looking out of the window, dreaming. He may be the local drunk, the layabout. Yet all of these are redeemable. Without any sense of belonging, the renegade is able to leave his community – or even step out of his old nature – and share the experience with new companions. Although initially untrustworthy, he shows his true inner resources: it is the irresponsible Trickster figure that fights his or her way through the battle to retrieve his lost friend. It is the devil-may-care Han Solo who materialises when most needed to destroy the Death Star.

Exercises and dreaming

So… what makes you laugh? What do you enjoy the most? Where do you find yourself having fun? Go do it – today, this week at the latest. Play with a child. Watch cartoons or comedy. Play a practical joke on someone. Splash in the fountain. Change your clothes. Change your hair. Buy a water-pistol. Let the Joker out.

Where are you becoming too serious in life? Are you looking to the future – or to the past? Are you trying to be respectable? What one irresponsible thing could you do in the next seven days that would shift you out of this? It might be something huge or something simple.

Find ways to make life fun. Choose, today, to be happy. (It is a choice, you know). And bring a little laughter into someone else’s life too. Make them smile.

Next time

So, there we have it. Our cast is complete. We have met all our heroes. I hope one of them has resonated in a particular way with you. Pay attention to that – it might be a sense of ‘that’s who I am’ or ‘that’s who I want to be’. Either is great. I have a sense in which there are some parts where I am stuck in a story I know isn’t mine – while aspiring to be in a different character. It’s our story – we can change the rules – and the cast – any time we like.

So – next time I’m going to start to wrap it all up into one single piece – to show you some more how these characters fit together.

Until then.. have fun, and enjoy the adventure!

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PS – If you missed any of the preceding parts of the programme – then catch up here: PREVIOUS CHAPTERS

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