By Suma Varughese
Never underestimate the importance of having fun. Not only does it give you important physical, and emotional benefits but it is also a sound barometer of your spiritual evolution, says Suma Varughese
It doesn’t take much to have fun. Every child knows that. You only have to see a little girl skipping her way to the shop to carry an errand for her mother while humming a tuneless song, or see a little boy riding his bicycle while bouncing up and down on the saddle, to recognise that. Kids know that having fun is the most natural thing in the world. What fun to trample into puddles on a rainy day, to climb a gate or a tree, to follow the track of an ant, to chase a ball, to lie on the grass and gaze at the sky, to balance a stick on your nose, to stick out your tongue to see if you can touch your nose, to spontaneously run a race to see who comes first…
And yet, how hard it is to do these things when we grow up. Perhaps of all the things that growing up snatches from us, the most precious casualty is our capacity to have fun. Somewhere in the precarious journey of growing up, the dents and bumps we have been dealt begin to weigh on our spirits. Responsibilities and duties settle like lead around our shoulders. The burning need to be accepted, or approved of, separates us from our instincts and natural way of being, and stick us into the straitjacket of conformity. Societal norms and demands constrict the life out of us. Sometimes, ambition consumes us and in its pursuit we throw away our capacity to have fun. Often, we wander into the bylanes of sadness, grief and depression and our sense of fun crumbles up and dies. There are a million adult ways of losing our ability to have fun.
Architect and interior designer, Aruna Joshi, reminisces, “Growing up in a small town to a conservative family meant that fun was restricted to family events and festivals. I was not encouraged to have fun on my own or with friends. It is only when I got married and came to Mumbai that fun became an active part of my life. In Mumbai, I made many friends and developed an active social life. In fact my definition of fun today is being with friends and having a great time.”
Says psychiatrist Dayal Mirchandani, “Having fun is a natural instinct, but modern society makes you feel inadequate, particularly through advertisements. Fun then becomes what can be sold. Cricket is fun but not gilli danda because there is nothing there that can be sold. Also fun becomes about consumption. Look at the Bacardi ads. They are remodelling fun in ways which are consumption-oriented.”
Fun then becomes about conforming to someone else’s idea of a good time, once again causing us to lose touch with our natural instincts. This is true particularly of the younger generation, which takes its cues from the mass media and often interprets fun as wild partying, drinking, smoking, gaming, eating out at expensive restaurants, buying designer clothes, fast cars, romancing, and basically testing their limits at every level. For them, fun derives from the external world, and is equated with spending money and consuming things. Such pursuits can often end up in self-damage, or even in the damage of others.
Thus the movement towards authentic fun often compels us to transit from the innocence of childhood fun, to the manufactured fun of immaturity, before returning once again to the innocence of mature fun.
In an endorsement of the artificiality of consumerist fun, writer Tammara Griffiths interviewed a few people who lived high up in remote mountains and led a life of austere simplicity. One interviewee said, “The thing people don’t understand about the way life used to be is that in a self-sufficient community everyone was a creator (an artist), as well as a consumer. Now people are only consumers. People hardly know how to make anything anymore… we lived for the moment, experiencing the simple and the most profound pleasures of life. All the work had its traditions, festivals and songs which represented a culture, and naturally the church offered an opportunity for socializing and spirituality. Now people have lost the real pleasures in life. They think they can buy them but they have lost them.”
Even more devastating to the enjoyment of fun is the contribution of the priestly class. As Osho, the apostle of joyous living, says, “The only way to exploit man is to make him afraid. …How to make man so afraid? The only way is: condemn life, condemn whatsoever is natural. Condemn sex because it is the fundamental of life; condemn food because that is the second fundamental of life; condemn relationship, family, friendship, because that is the third fundamental of life – and go on condemning. Whatsoever is natural to man, condemn it, say it is wrong: ‘If you do it you will suffer for it. If you don’t do it you will be rewarded. Hell is going to descend on you if you go on living naturally’ – that is the message of the whole past –’and heaven will be given to you if you go against life.”’
He adds, “The priests have tremendously harmed the human heart, human consciousness. They have put this poisonous idea in man that life is something ugly. They have been teaching people how to get rid of life. I teach my people how to get deeper into it. They have been teaching how to be free of life. I teach how to make your life free. They have been teaching how to end this life, and I am teaching you how to move into it for eternity, on and on, how to live life abundantly.”
One cannot deny that many religions have tried to find God by bypassing life. In the Middle Ages, monks made a virtue of self-torture through self-flagellation and wearing hair shirts. The Buddha himself joined hands with a band of extreme ascetics who practised living on one grain of rice and other such measures. Repressive moral codes have bound most members of the human community in chains.
Hardly surprising that most of us have imbibed the message that having fun is at best frivolous, and at worst, positively sinful.
In the household I grew up in, having fun was nowhere on the agenda. With six daughters to take care of and eventually marry, my parents were far too immersed in simply earning a livelihood and running the house to have too much time and energy for fun. Besides, our Christian ethos did not really endorse fun. Our lives orbited on the axis of duty. When my mother came to Mumbai to live with me, she was extremely understanding about my working late into the night, but partying late into the night? Now that was a different matter. It took us many years to arrive at an understanding that I was entitled to go out, see movies or plays, or have fun with friends.
While activities such as drinking are banned in many faiths, the Pentecostal faith that my sister belongs to, looks askance at women wearing jewellery or watching television or cinema. And of course there are still many religions that hold women responsible for arousing lust in men. The sad part about kowtowing to dictats such as these is, it disables people from cultivating their discrimination, self-control or individual sense of right or wrong. They are denied an opportunity to grow and are required instead, as Osho says, to surrender their minds to the priests and allow them to run their lives. Unable to evolve, such people lead lives of enforced infantilism. Exit fun.
Fortunately for all of us, consciousness levels are rising and chains everywhere are breaking. The many despotic and authoritarian aspects of our culture are collapsing, whether it be dictatorial regimes, controlling clergy or gigantic businesses. Their collapse spells the birth of sanity and a fresh joyousness of spirit. Through the rubble of authoritarianism, many of us are finding our own feet, forging our own rules, and discovering the secrets of life and ourselves. In the process, we are learning to once again laugh, to be simple, to revel in the smallest things, and to enjoy every moment of life.
Says Megha Bajaj, founder of Miraaya, and columnist at Life Positive, “Fun is when you are just yourself, not a care for the world, being in the present – flowing, completely happy, nothing to add and nothing to subtract from the moment. Fun is FUNdamentally important. What’s the point of living life if you are not enjoying it?”
Brett C Hoover, author of the book, Comfort, wrote: “During my first year studying for the priesthood, the priest in charge of our novitiate told me he did not believe that Saint Peter would meet us at any pearly gates when we died. .. He said God would simply ask, “Did you have a good time?” … .If God went to all the trouble of setting in evolutionary motion a remarkable world, what sort of ungrateful creature doesn’t enjoy it? …I look around at the astonishing beauty of the world, the sheer blessing and gratuity of being alive. Who am I not to enjoy it? It does begin to feel like a commandment: ‘Thou shalt enjoy thy life.’”
Fun then becomes an inherent part of who one is; it surges up from within and is always innocent and joyous. It is never vicious, self-damaging or other-damaging.
Says Mumbai-based housewife, Kalpana Iyer, “Fun is such a big part of our family get togethers. No harm meant, no insinuations, criticism, just a whole lot of belly laughs. Old and young, whenever we meet, there is laughter and noise. It really makes us feel so revitalized and genuinely happy. ”
Says educationist and poet Harvinder Kaur, “I think fun is happiness in a very real, non abstract sort of way. It is not preachy or philosophical. It is about happy interactions with other people. Tea and laughter with friends, dancing with the children… it is making paper planes that fly… it is laughter without mockery, togetherness with space, it is sharing, it is celebration of life and being human.”
What is fun?
My sense of fun erupts when I am in nature, and in the company of loved ones. A few months back, some of us went to a friend’s farmhouse. She has been blessed with acres of land, and even has a small stream running through her property. I took off my shoes, and walked barefoot on the lush grass that springs up during monsoon in the Western Ghats. While sitting by the stream, I playfully splashed a friend with water. She returned the attack with zest, and soon both of us were soaked to our skins, and weak with laughter.
Bangalore-based Rashmi Jha adds, “I remember having loads of fun with my friend Kavita. We converted an empty moving DTC bus in Delhi into a dance floor, asked the driver to turn the radio into max volume, and had amazing fun. Helped me shed my inhibitions and just be.”
Vedanta teacher, Uday Acharya, says, “Fun is part of life, and not divorced from it. The concept of fun varies from person to person. The wise say that you can guess a person’s character from the things or happenings that the person enjoys or laughs at. Fun is the grease that makes life comfortable, and is the expression of the joy of living.”
Little wonder then that having fun boosts up our immunity, and heals us of physical and emotional debility.
Says Dayal Mirchandani, “People who laugh are healthier and are less likely to fall into depression. However, to have authentic fun, it is important to discover what it is that you enjoy. A patient of mine likes going out with a large group of friends. Every Sunday morning she gets up early and goes bicycling with a large group of friends. And then they go out and have breakfast. This is fun for her; someone else might consider it torture to get up early on a Sunday morning.”
An active sense of fun is also an excellent inoculation against pain when tragedy strikes. Says Megha, “Eight years ago when my mother was diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer we just didn’t allow any sad faces around. We sang songs right before her operation. We watched movies and went for long drives through her chemotherapy. Yes, there were some tearful moments – some fear. That’s only natural. But overall – even now when I close my eyes and think of that one year, I can somehow recall much more happiness than sadness, more fun than fear.”
Nithin Nayak a doctor turned trainer and facilitator, defines fun as the ability to be spontaneous and alive. His own fun activities include singing, dancing, travelling and clowning. He says, “Having fun has kept me light and helped me recover from tragedies and life’s challenges. It has taught me to not take life too seriously and brought me fun friends in life.” He adds, “During my hospital days, it was a delight to see patients’ faces light up and forget their pain when I would jest with them.”
In the moment
Moving along the path, as awareness builds up, we become more subtle, more essential. Our sense of fun too becomes more refined, more entwined into every moment.
Indian philosophy endorses enjoyment. Sat, chit, ananda or being, consciousness and bliss, are considered to be the three components of our nature. According to the Upanishads, there is no joy in the material world that compares to the joy of being established in the True Self. Naturally, the closer we go towards the true self, greater the joy and immersion in bliss. Indeed, there is a saying that only a yogi can be a true bhogi (only a spiritual aspirant can truly enjoy life).
Says Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, “Spirituality brings fun to life. You can only have fun when you are free from within and spirituality brings freedom from stress, negativity and narrow mindedness.”
Says Dada Vaswani, “You will take nothing for granted; nothing as given; you will learn to appreciate and be grateful for countless blessings that Almighty has so generously bestowed on you – including the air you breathe, the wind that caresses you softly, the lovely smile on the face of the children you see in the neighborhood, the song of the bird, the bloom of the rose, the scent of rain on the earth… and oh, a thousand other things which you will rediscover with a sense of wonder and gratitude.”
Says spiritual teacher Mohanji, “When mind controls man, stress happens. When man is free from the mind, joy happens. Causeless joy is our very nature. Joy without any reason. Spirituality has got to be fun. It needs no frames, agendas and plans. Everything in life and life keeps flowing.”
Almost all spiritual teachers and realized souls that I have encountered emanate a great sense of fun.
Concurs Dada Vaswani, “The great ones of humanity were lovers of good and healthy fun and laughter. Socrates, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Sri Ramana Maharishi, Papa Ramdas, Mahatma Gandhi and Sadhu Vaswani – to name but a few – all of them possessed a lovely sense of humor.”
He adds,“Once, Mother Teresa was being interviewed for BBC Television. The interviewer remarked that in a way, the life of service might be much easier for her than for ordinary householders. After all, he pointed out, she had no possessions, no insurance, no car, and no husband to care for!
“Mother Teresa smiled and said to him, ‘I’m married too!’ She held up the ring that nuns of the Order of the Sisters of Charity wear, to symbolize their “marriage” to Christ. She added, ‘He can be very difficult at times’”
All is fun
Perhaps the apex of enjoyment is reached when we can savor even our misfortunes and sorrows as if we were sucking on a sweet. Recently, I had an experience that opened up that possibility in my own life. I was concerned about a dip in my finances. Around that time, I met a spiritual teacher who told me that the next two years of my life would be financially rocky. Despite having my worst fears confirmed, I came out of that meeting greatly elated. And a thought that was entirely new to me flew into my head. So what, I heard myself think, I am going to enjoy this phase too.
The idea of enjoying poverty was radical, but the more I thought about it, the more excited I got. I could use this period to really learn to take a rupee as far as it could go, I could learn to refrain from wastage, I could learn to prune my lifestyle to an exquisite simplicity, I could explore various ways of making money. The moment the fear of lack left my mind, possibilities flooded it. And I realised that real wealth was not having money, but not being afraid of not having money. Real wealth was the capacity to enjoy poverty too. This capacity alone frees you of every fear and allows you to coast along the river of life with zero resistance. And this is true of all hardships whether it is illness, loss of job, breakdown in relationship or whatever else we encounter in life.
Fun unfolds free and untrammeled when life no longer holds fear for us. When we can retain our zest for life and capacity for adventure, even in the midst of great suffering and sorrow, perchance then we can be said to have learnt whatever the human enterprise was set to teach us.
From death to life
Psychologist Kavita T Panyam shares the gallant way in which her army officer brother spent his last days after being diagnosed with cancer of the lungs, “During his six months stay at the Command Hospital, Pune… there was not a single dull moment in any of the wards. He would go up to the patients, cheer them up, play board games with them, and relive their glorious days in the forces. On the last day, he thanked the doctors and nurses who had attended to him and all the relatives present. He then put my parents’ hands into mine and asked me to take over from him. And then he requested my reluctant father to release him, so that he could pass on…peacefully…It was only after he got that permission that Shyam left with a smile… ”
Often, the death of a loved one can transform us, and bring us a profound understanding of life and its essential joy.
The philosopher, J. Krishnamurti, was groomed by the Theosophical Society to take over the organisation, for he was considered to be the incarnation of the future Buddha, Lord Maitreya. His life and mission changed irrevocably when his brother, Nithya, died. In the wrenching agony of the loss, Krishnamurti found his true Self. Forthwith, he quit the organisation, and set off on the pathless path that he then promoted.
Shortly after Nithya’s death, he wrote, “An old dream is dead and a new one is being born, as a flower that pushes through the solid earth. A new vision is coming into being and new consciousness is being unfolded… I know now, with greater certainty than ever before, that there is real beauty in life, real happiness that cannot be shattered by any physical happening, a great strength which cannot be weakened by passing events, and a great love which is permanent, imperishable and unconquerable.”
For those of us who are still alive, meditating on death can help us open ardently into life and seize its every moment with delight. Writes Elizabeth Kubler Ross, “It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up – that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only time we had.”
It is not just death but even misfortune that can awaken us to the joys of life. Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of Simple Abundance, a book that extols the simple joys of life like a hearty soup on a wintry night or the touch of fur against one’s skin, or the smell of a rose, shares that her capacity to enjoy every sensory pleasure emerged after an accident in which a part of the ceiling of a restaurant she was dining in, fell on her head. The injury sent her senses askew, so that the smallest noise sounded unbearably loud, and the smallest touch was oppressive. The first sign of recovery was when she was able to smell the spaghetti sauce that her friend had sent over, “Euphoric, I followed the strange but familiar fragrance of garlic, onions, plum, tomatoes, peppers and oregano down the stairs and into the kitchen. I was beside myself with delight. Instinctively, I was moved to take off my shoes. I knew I was standing on holy ground in my own house. I had discovered the miracle of the sacred in the ordinary, and my life would forever be changed.”
When such is our state of mind, life can seem like brilliant fun. We rediscover the childlike state of wonder that we were born with. Every moment is freshly minted, every experience freshly embraced no matter how often we have repeated it. Every cup of tea tastes divine, every breath precious, every step delightful. Enjoyment unfolds in all that we do. Life unfolds like a giant playground and possibilities explode within us. Whether cooking, cleaning, serving or sewing, our inner spirit surges spaciously with joy.
Today, the one word that resounds through my being is “Enjoy.” Everything is grist to that mill. When caught in a downpour I free myself of the fear of getting soaked and surrender blissfully to the rain. Working on this article was ‘enjoyment’ and the process of closing the issue, which once gave me stress, is today a source of ‘enjoyment’. Life stretches out, every moment of it, as a vast vista of fun, regardless of what it holds.
Says Osho, “Fun is the most sacred word, far more sacred than prayer. It is the only word that can give you a sense of playfulness, can make you again a child. You can start running after butterflies, searching for seashells on the beach, coloured stones.”.
I couldn’t agree more.