Tighten Up? Or Lighten Up? How Accessing the Trickster Can Heal Ourselves and Our World
When the news of the world gets too heavy, sometimes we just need to lighten up.
There are two ways we can lighten up. The first is by going to the shallow end, enjoying the simple pleasures of life such as watching a sporting event, going out on the town with friends or taking in a silly movie with a loved one.
The second is by diving deep, exploring one’s own inner world, or exploring the patterns we find in the world around us. Such activities often show us that the in-the-moment experience we have in our fast-paced, intense world may not be as important as we thought it was.
And if you look around the caverns, mazes, valleys and vistas of your vast inner world, eventually you’ll discover there’s a part of you that may be longing for attention, a part of you that is both playful and mischievous.
It’s a part of you that, as a child, you had access to on the regular but as an adult you may have repressed for all sorts of reasons — -strict adults growing up, workforce regulations, expectations, cultural norms — -but it’s still a part of you and, if you’ve done a really good job of hiding it away from yourself, you’ve most likely been projecting it onto the world around you.
This is often called our Shadow. But today, I don’t want to explore the Shadow in full, rather I’d like to dig into one way the Shadow expresses itself, a way that can be very healthy or very naughty or both, depending on how it is expressed.
This is called the Trickster, and it’s an archetype that can be found all over our world, especially in these times of chaos where so many of our institutions and cultural behaviors seem to be responding to the chaos by seeking ever more control. Because one thing the Trickster most certainly doesn’t like is to be controlled.
Especially when the people doing the controlling are humorless douches. Boooooring!
I can just hear the Trickster inside of you banging on the inside of your skull, begging for you to let it out so it can do something — an inappropriate wisecrack — anything — a well-timed fart — to loosen the mood or to bring that Humor Vacuum down from their self-created high horse.
Artists are often some of our best avatars for the Trickster, especially comedians.
Let’s look at an example of an artist accessing the Trickster by flashing back to a concert from November 1, 1979, a time when world tensions were on the rise, with the Cold War threatening to go nuclear at any minute and the Iran Hostage Crisis was only three days away from beginning.
In Bad Taste, or In Good Fun?
So there they were, this band of Merry Men from San Francisco known as the Grateful Dead, having just finished serenading their faithful with two playful songs to open their first set, tuning up their instruments in that ever-so-slow way that became one of their unfortunate staples, when rhythm guitarist and singer Bob Weir steps up to the mic to deliver this doozy of a joke:
“I have it from a usually reliable source” — stuttering on usually — ”just told me that Russia just bombed Staten Island and so if you live there, don’t bother to go home tonight.”
Total deadpan. Some cheers from the audience, more noodling from the band, and a minute later they are playing again, heading into a “polka” by country legend Mere Haggard,
“I turned 21 in prison doing life without parole / no one could steer me right, but mama tried, mama tried / mama tried to raise me better but her pleading I denied / that leaves no one but me to blame, for mama tried…” (Merle Haggard, “Mama Tried”)
Times are Stressful, So Laugh A Little!
Meanwhile, I’m biking into school, just over 40 years into the future and half a world away and I hear this quip from Bob Weir and I wonder, “How well would such a joke go over today should a musician make it?”
I imagine the Disco Biscuits, one of my favorite bands and an “offspring” of the Dead, making a similar joke at their show on January 4th, 2020 in Chicago, the jovial bearded bassist and band spokesman, Marc Brownstein saying as they begin a second set, “If any of you live in Milwaukee, I’ve got news from a usually reliable source that the Iranians have just detonated a dirty bomb on your burg, so don’t bother going back…”
The music begins and … Is anyone dancing?
Of course they are. Because there are still enough of us out there that understand one of the best ways to deal with some of the shocking realities of the world is to defuse it with gallows humor, to let our inner Shadow channel through the Trickster so we can all laugh — even if a bit nervously.
After all, is it better to keep the tension that such laughter releases inside?
What the heck is the matter with the culture when college kids no longer know how to laugh, even at things that are thought of as in bad taste? It’s one thing if a home for old farts isn’t a barrel full of monkeys, but a college campus? A place that is supposed to be a beacon of free thought and expression, a time in our life when we are supposed to be able to explore the world and let our hair down some.
Look, I get it. Times are uncertain and stressful for many of us. College kids these days are facing Life-enslaving debts to pay off when they graduate and it’s not like many of them can afford a house even without the burden of those debts.
It’s enough to make you sick, and oh by the way, you just got tossed off your parents’ health insurance and you’ve yet to land a job so, well …
Yeah. It sucks. But sometimes when life smells like poop, maybe that’s when it’s best to laugh in its face. Can we still do that?
Lighten Up, Or Tighten Up
On the other hand, this struggle to laugh is not strictly about having difficult life circumstances. No, there are plenty of people who have more than enough but who still walk through their days as though they were wound up tighter than a Jack in the Box.
Again, let’s hop into our time machine, going back to February 28, 2001 to an office in Tacoma Washington where yours truly was working.
It was a typical boring day when, just before 11 a.m., the ground started swaying below us. Having lived in Los Angeles for seven years, I was no stranger to earthquakes and what to do, so I hoped under my desk and waited it out.
It was over in a matter of seconds and soon everyone in our office of about 15 people was gathering in the parking lot outside.
About 20 minutes later, an aftershock rippled the Earth. It was interesting to me because the quakes I’d been in in Los Angeles had more of a herky-jerky motion with sharp endings, where this one rolled more like a wave. Noticing this, I stood in the parking lot and cackled as I acted like I was surfing. What fun!
Yet one employee was not having a good time. She was the manager and she was sitting on the curb, tears running down her face and eventually, her boyfriend had to come in and pick her up early from work because she was too shaken up to go home.
That night, I was talking about the day with my mom and related the story. My mom’s always had strong intuitive wisdom about people’s behaviors and she said, “She’s a woman who doesn’t like to feel out of control.”
Ironically, by not becoming comfortable with letting go of control, her emotions overwhelmed her.
What does this have to do with the Trickster? Everything. Because the Trickster reveals in situations that are not under control. The question is, will you lighten up enough to roll with the waves or will you tighten up and let the your emotions control you?
Today’s Topsy Turvy Times Require Letting Go, Letting Be and Laughing Free
Back to the present.
A few weeks back, there was a non-controversy controversy when the world’s most popular podcast host, comedian Joe Rogan, shared a video saying he’d likely vote for Bernie Sanders for president and the Sanders campaign highlighted the video.
Quick, call the outrage police! After all, this comedian has said some “bad” things about transvestites! How dare he!
But it’s really all quite stupid when you think about. Rogan should be celebrated. After all, by having a variety of people with various perspectives on his show and then deciding that Bernie Sanders made the best case to him, Rogan had demonstrated to us that the principles of “a free marketplace of ideas, let the best ideas win” were still functioning.
If the “woke” social justice warriors had any sense about them, they’d realize that this was a win for the Left, not a loss.
No, a lose is when candidates like Elizabeth Warren refuse to go on such shows and engage the host and audience, missing out on a real chance to possible persuade some listeners that the progressive cause and policies can be very beneficial to them.
We hear talk about how comedians like Rogan shouldn’t give a platform to people like Alex Jones and while I can understand the instinct to protect the public, I am a heck of a lot more comfortable having such people out in the open so we can challenge their ideas. And I’m more comfortable trusting the public to hear a variety of opinions and make up their minds for themselves.
The Trickster Was No Fan of Joe McCarthy!
Because when it comes to the Trickster, censorship doesn’t work. Instead, just as my co-worker became overwhelmed by her feelings of lack of control, the Trickster will overwhelm us if we don’t learn to let him have the limelight from time to time.
I’m learning to do this with my new podcast, the B&P Realm Podcast. Sometimes I’ll be chatting about something and something really raw will come out that just cracks me up. At the same time, I may feel slightly shocked that I could think of such a thing.
For example, the other day I was recording from a park and some noisy kids kept interrupting me. Even after I asked one boy to be quiet and he looked me in the eye, he yelled right behind my ear which made me wonder if the kids may have been retarded and suddenly I had the thought, “It’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between normal and retarded these days.”
Now, first I know that “retarded” is not a very PC word. But I’m a creative writer and creative podcaster who also believes people should start remembering the old “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” chant from childhood (do today’s kids still hear that?).
Second, sure, I could have shamed that thought back inside me. How dare I think such a thing? Well, I did. Isn’t it better to own it? To speak it and then maybe address why it’s not the best idea for a joke?
This is all pointing to something important, everyone. And that is, the Shaming Cuture, I believe, is a reflection of the shame we feel about our own stuff. And it’s only making it harder for us to all work this stuff out together.
When comedians start to become afraid to speak openly, how do you think people in other jobs feel? You probably know the answer to that based on your own interactions.
Thus, if we want to fix this and make our world a more open, creative and fun place, we have to take some time doing some inner work and learning to forgive ourselves, learning to accept that we aren’t perfect and we are going to think things that are inappropriate and, really, how much worse off are we for having those thoughts? Does it really hurt people so much to hear them? Maybe our sensitivity to a lot of this is because we are too hard on ourselves?
Thanks for reading! I’m in the process of getting my independent media career up and running, so this will be updated as I go, but for now you can support me simply by sharing my stuff, by linking to me on Twitter, by checking out my old blog which has lots of good stuff, including a series on climate change (part 1, part 2 and part 3), or by checking out my new podcast, The B&P Realm Podcast. Each episode of the podcast contains a reading of my 2015 novel, “The Teacher and the Tree Man.” You can also find that book in full here, or you can find it broken down into four shorter books (book 1, book 2, book 3 and book 4). And if all that doesn’t get enough BW into your life, well, all I can say is stick around! Plenty more coming in 2020 and beyond!