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What Kind of Fool Am I

Taro cards depicting the Fool, Stress, and the Sage
An easy way to lighten things up, or not...

A couple of days ago I was walking in the woods, quite close to my home, looking out for signs of spring, when I noticed on the other side of a small ravine, there was a furry animal curled up on freshly dug soil in front of a good-sized hole. I was pretty sure it was a fox, and moments later when another furball popped out of the hole and leapt on top of the sleeping one, I was sure. All told, there were four, probably about five pounds each. I watched with delight as they played around with each other. They would wrestle for a few moments and then head off into the dense thicket of branches from a fallen tree that served as a canopy to the entrance of their den, lie down and seem to fall asleep, and then start it all over again. It was a gift of cuteness and mystery I was grateful to witness.

As I headed home, one of the tenants in the building I manage called to say she had gotten locked out of her apartment, and could I let her in. Everything being more complicated than normal in the time of the corona pandemic, the simple act of letting someone into their apartment suddenly became awkward. Her key wasn’t working, so there was an exchange of keys and a touching of doorknobs that had to be negotiated. I’ve been relatively free of fear of getting sick in these times, but I know that’s not the case for everyone, and my sense of conscientiousness was on full alert. Honestly, these kind of simple encounters are beginning to feel like dates, where you are both trying to figure out just how interested the other person is, only in this case, it’s how freaked out the other person is, or whether they are as freaked out as you are. We can all take a lesson from the consent movement, “I would like to put this key on the ledge for you to take, is this okay? Yes. I will place my key here for you to take, is that okay?”

Essentially, my neighbor was doing just that, but with a big sense of humor. While she was trying to engage me in a bit of fun, pretend-playing as-if we were exchanging classified secrets, or illicit drugs, I was all serious and formal. She literally had to point out that she was trying to lighten up the awkwardness of corona etiquette before I snapped out of it.

Only minutes earlier, I had been entranced by the playful fox pups. But in the short amount of time it took walk to my home to solve a logistical problem, I had moved straight up into my head and out of the present moment. I was oblivious to the opportunity to engage in lighthearted banter. I was, completely out of touch with my inner, sacred fool.

The archetype of the fool is a well-known aspect of personality and appears in the stories of all the world’s modern religions and in myriad indigenous traditions. The Fool is often paired with the image of the Sage, forming a continuum from ignorance to wisdom. Although this pairing is at once an appearance of opposites, there is a deeper complexity, a beauty that lies in their similarities, the root of which is a sense of distance. The fool and the sage are free of over-identification with experience, they bring a curiosity about what is happening in the moment and are free from urgency and gravity. They are the embodiment of being rather than doing.

In Wild Mind, Bill Plotkin describes how the fool might show up, “The Sacred Fool…can appear anytime in your life when, against all odds, you suddenly lighten up about matters you had been treating so solemnly. When the perspective of the Fool breaks through, you’re able to laugh at yourself, appreciating your immediate circumstances from a larger perspective.”

The inner fool is an essential part of a balanced and dynamic personality. We can consciously tune in and assess how much we access this part of ourselves, and if it seems we haven’t been doing it much lately, then it’s time to take action (or perhaps better yet, take no action but shift into a more playful and innocent frame of being). Its clearer to me than ever that I neglect my inner fool, and that now more than ever, I need to nurture that part of me right along with compassion and beauty.

I’m grateful to all of the people who have shared their creativity and brought humor to bear on the experience of social distancing. The memes, the music parodies, the New Yorker cartoons, and the YouTube videos. It’s easy, when we are stressed, to react to levity as if it were denial or mockery but doing so is to be miss the point. The sacred fool shows up in our wisdom traditions for a reason, it is a quality that is adaptive, in deed, is necessary to help us get through difficult times. We have to come up for air. We need to bond over open and light hearts, not just over solidarity. A friend of mine once said, in response to my taking an exercise fad to extreme, “the point, is to live a long life, not make it seem long”. The pandemic is already long enough, may we not make it seem even longer.

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