I love good humor. I love the perfectly delivered punch line, packaged with impeccable comedic timing. To deliver good humor with an unmovable poker face is nothing short of an art.
More than humor I love music. As a musician, listening to music is very important to me. One of my greatest pleasures is to listen to a CD in the isolation of my car and as I'm driving around, digest the entire album over the course of a couple of days or a week. I listen to the album over and over, like reading a book, hearing the way the chapters/songs relate to each other, picking up on the musician's overall character, finding musical jokes, tragedy, irony, and connecting musical themes. I feel the sound of the entire album.
One of my other guilty pleasures is listening to radio talk. I guess I like to overhear others' conversations.
Well, one day I'm was on my way to teach a morning yoga class when I opened my car door to discover that someone had broken into my car and had stolen my car stereo. I was devastated. My car was locked, there were no broken windows, and the door didn't look forced open. Judging by the skill and ease of this job, the guy who robbed me seemed to me to be the Bob Villa of car stereo thievery. Normally, when people steal your car stereo, the damage they incur trying to get your stereo out exponentially outweighs the value of the stereo itself. Fortunately, this guy was very thorough and created no other damage to the car than a hole in my dashboard with a few neat wires sticking out. In fact, the job was so neat, that I half expected to see the wires twisted off, taped, and labeled for me.
The only sloppy part, the part that added insult to injury, was the fact that while so skillfully absconding with my stereo, the thief ate an ice cream bar and decided to graciously leave the used, sticky wrapper in the front seat of my car. The Pink Panther leaves a single white glove; this guy chooses as his signature to leave an ice cream wrapper. Go figure. I picked up said wrapper and, fuming, was about to throw it away when I noticed the label on the wrapper, the irony of which almost smacked me across the face. It said in nauseatingly bright and happy colors, "I Love Good Humor." I was too upset to get this sick joke and appreciate the "humor" of the situation, although I sensed that there may be some rich lesson here. Instead of throwing it away, I placed the wrapper in the now vacant cavity that used to hold my stereo and drove away, brooding.
It's like my arm had a mind of its own. No sooner did I start to drive away than by complete and mindless habit did my arm attempt to reach over and turn on my stereo, only to nudge the wrapper sitting in the stereo's hole. I looked over to see "I Love Good Humor" in all its happy and sticky arrogance, gloating back at me. This did not improve my mood. The silence in the car was a screaming reminder that I felt someone had seriously wronged me. Perhaps 30 seconds later, again my arm attempted to turn on my stereo only to receive a similar result. My mood was changing from bad to worse. I lasted maybe another strong two minutes before my now music-starved arm reached out to fill the deafening silence in the car, only to hit the same infuriating wrapper. "OKAY, UNIVERSE. OKAY! HARDY HAR! JOKE'S ON ME! ONE OF THE THINGS I LOVE MOST IN LIFE HAS BEEN CRUELLY RIPPED OFF AND NOW I HAVE TO DEAL WITH IT OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN BY LOOKING AT THAT STUPID WRAPPER. VERY FUNNY!"
Despite my internal rant, I kept the wrapper in its new home. I drove around that day, and the next, and the next, catching myself occasionally trying to turn on my new ice cream wrapper. It didn't work.
After about a week of sulking, something magical happened (no, the wrapper didn't spontaneously begin singing show tunes), I decided to try chanting while in the car. It felt good, really good. Then after a few days I tried singing to myself. My voice rocks when no one else is listening. I prayed. I also began to keep quiet and think about the yoga class I was about to teach, picturing which students would be there and what they might need from a yoga class. I began to notice amazing things, breathtaking things, things like the silhouette of the mountains against in the moonless, pre-dawn light of the morning. I noticed the way that the car felt as I drove it, the way it would take bumps, the vibrations of the engine tingling my hands on the steering wheel, the rush of acceleration. I began to notice with acute clarity my emotions and thoughts. All this silence was giving me an incredible opportunity to direct my attention inward.
My teaching and my personal practice improved almost immediately. I began to arrive to class much more ready to teach. I was less distracted, more focused, and could read the needs of a class much quicker and effectively. I found myself finally saying the things that I'd felt but could not find words to express. I said the right things because my mind had been "in class" since I left home. As I practiced yoga or meditated, I no longer spent the first half of practice trying to get the last song out of my head.
One of my most stark realizations was the understanding that I was completely addicted, not just to music, but more pointedly to the need to have some noise present, the perceived need to be drawn away from my own center and hear someone else's conversation, someone else's music, someone else's jokes. It was only then that I understood the looming joke resting quietly, stone-faced, in the car stereo cavity of the dashboard of my car. It had taken weeks but one day, while driving around, I finally got the joke! The comedic timing had built to this fantastic climax: here I was, a yoga teacher, traveling around like a mad man, music and chatter blaring in my head, only to screech to a halt, run into the studio, sit down, and talk about getting quiet. Ha! I wasn't practicing what I was teaching. What's more I finally got a taste of the brilliance of silence. I got it, Universe! I got it! The joke was on me. It took this lesson of "grandmotherly kindness," the ultimately compassionate lesson where your master beats you over the head with a stick (or steals your car stereo), to teach you something crucial. For me this lesson was how to know and appreciate stillness.
It took about a year until I eventually got a new stereo. Still, I learned something very valuable in the silence, something I wasn't entirely ready to give up. I learned that no matter what our work is, if we want to do good work, we need to have a solid relationship with silence. This is what we are practicing in yoga and meditation. Now, I listen to music as a choice, not a compulsion. Now, I listen to the silence.
I love good humor.