Say the word spiritual, and a deathlike solemnity settles over a crowd. Watch a gathering of good folks work overtime to know, feel, or say the right thing. I have watched triathlon competitors swim, bike, and run, and look no less intense or competitive than when I watch spiritual seekers attack their goal.
I have a gentle suggestion: Lighten up.
Yesterday in Detroit, Michigan, twenty-three “spiritual healers” gathered and, despite themselves and their expectations, laughed a great deal.
I introduced ‘Iokepa and I said, “When ‘Iokepa took this walk of faith, he gave away a great deal of money, a house on a lake, and his seven cars and a hot rod – which I happen to think is obscene.”
‘Iokepa leapt to his feet and answered me. “I loved those cars.”
Over the raucous laughter I heard, “How human!”
Later that evening I told the story about how long it took me, the week that ‘Iokepa and I met, for him to teach me a very simple notion. ‘Iokepa asked me repeatedly at the time, “What’s your key?” But it wasn’t until our last night together – New Year’s Eve, 1997 – that I nailed the simple answer, that I could remember it.
The prescribed answer was: “To ask out loud and then get quiet and listen.” Well, at this gathering ten years later, in Detroit, I flubbed it. Again, I couldn’t remember the answer. I blushed, seriously embarrassed.
‘Iokepa leapt off his chair, wrapped his arm around me, and interjected. “Did you see that recent news story about the man who taught his turtle to roll over and shake hands? It took him ten years.”
Everyone laughed and loved it. ‘Iokepa gave me an affectionate squeeze. My embarrassment dissipated – I laughed with him.
Many spiritual teachers arrive at our doors with the answer. Many spiritual seekers expect or demand that answer for the price of admission. Rigid instruction: the one way, the one place, the one teacher who can make it right.
But it is so much easier than that. Our gatherings are thus. We share our personal experiences; maybe a listener finds a word that resonates. In truth, it can never be that serious. Spirituality is human. We humans fumble, blunder, and inadvertently advertise our foibles. Human foibles are funny.
‘Iokepa says: “Laughter and spirituality are inseparable. Laughter is a huge part of life – the relief it gives us.”
I remember a bookstore owner who attempted to introduce us, and three times in a row forgot ‘Iokepa’s name entirely (despite assistance). Overwhelmed with her failure, Susan said to ‘Iokepa: “Now you have permission to forget my name.”
‘Iokepa’s retort: “My first three wives were named Susan – I won’t forget yours.”
The bookstore audience’s discomfort dissolved in unrestrained hilarity – and, for the record, there were no “first three wives.”
Now in Detroit, an earnest young couple about to embark on what they called a vigil to Hawai’i asked ‘Iokepa in all solemnity, “What should we bring with us?” Clearly they were contemplating instruments of ritual (feathers, crystals, stones?) – the proper shamanic accoutrements.
'Iokepa answered their solemnity with the same. He told them exactly what they would require. “Sunscreen, bathing suit, and beach slippers.”
What they didn’t need was a teacher who’d inject himself into their experience.