The Fool is an ancient symbol. Some people say it's the image of innocence and openness. Others say it's the image of delirium. From a mindfulness perspective, when we get caught up in wealth and pride, we're all delirious Fools, ignorant rather than innocent. When we remember our last pair of pants have no pockets, we're free. Check out whether or not that's true, on today's podcast.
Hi everyone, this is Judi Cohen, and this is Wake Up Call #311, on July 29th.
Let’s look at Chapter 5 of the Dhammapada, which is called The Fool. I want to read you the last two verses of the chapter first, with some changes to relate them to being out in the world, like we all are:
Fools will want unwarranted status, deference from colleagues, authority in the profession, and homage from clients, colleagues, and everyone. [They will say,] “let everyone believe that I did this. Let them obey me in every task.” Such are the thoughts of a fool who cultivates desire and pride.
I love this. I think of how often I want people to know that my mindfulness practice is steady. How I love getting emails and calls asking me to teach, to be the authority. How much I love my email tag line: “Founder, Warrior One,” and, “Lecturer, Berkeley Law.”
I loved practicing law, too. Right after I started Warrior One, my husband and I were talking with another couple and they asked the usual American question: “What do you do?” And my husband said, “I’m a physician and my wife is a consultant.” I whipped my head around to see if there or someone else in the room, because, who was the consultant?
I saw then, in a way I had only guessed before, how deeply wedded I was to being known and seen as a lawyer. I was attached to the identity, the status.
It’s true that the verse says, “Fools will want unwarranted status…,” but maybe all status is unwarranted. If I think about it, it feels like that’s true; like all demands for deference are undeserved, all authority illusory, all homage unnecessary. It’s not that no one will be deferential, or come to us because we know what we doing and grant us authority. But if we “want” it, if we strive for it? The verse says, “Such are the thoughts of a fool who cultivates desire and pride.”
I think it says that first, because, sure, we think we are separate humans: lawyers and law professors who are “distinguished” – and “distinguished from” others, with accomplishments and accolades that are ours and that no one else has, and when we take this point of view, it points us towards wanting, and thinking we deserve, deference, authority, homage.
But in fact we never accomplish anything ourselves. Nothing we do, is something we’ve done on our own. So even though it seems like we’re the ones who deserve the credit, because we reeled in the client, opened our computer, powered up, thought, researched, wrote, argued, negotiated, won.
But taking a closer look, it’s easy to see the multitudes of other humans and even other beings helping us. The support staff in every direction. The people who keep our spaces clean and safe. Our friends and families, who help pay the bills or prop us up when we’re feeling down or give us a hug when we straggle in from whatever workspace we’re inhabiting at nine or ten or eleven at night. Plus all of the humans who support those humans. And the other people on the road obeying traffic laws so we can all arrive. The people at the grocery store and packing plants, and in the fields, and the people who support them. And who make the computers, and manage the electric grid. And on and on and on.
We are all just cogs in a wheel, parts of a whole that we can’t see. And when we see that, at least to me it feels better – it feels better to be a part of the whole, rather than the one demanding accolades. Marge Piercy, in her wonderful poem To Be Of Use, puts it this way:
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
So it’s not platitudes to thank everyone who made it possible for us to close deals and win cases, and we aren’t due any deference, and it’s not about authority or homage. It’s about seeing how interconnected we are, which is the same as saying it’s about having wise view, or wise understanding.
The second reason I think thoughts about deference and authority and homage “are the thoughts of a fool who cultivates desire and pride,” is because even to the extent that in this moment, we may be feeling strong, smart, competent, even invincible, everything is always changing. I was great and then my back went out. It was almost healed when a stomach flu found me and reminded me that this body is not invincible. Now I’m feeling good and no doubt another proverbial shoe will drop sometime when I least expect it. Life is impermanent. There’s pleasure but then the next thing you know, there’s pain. There’s gain but then the next thing you know, loss; praise, blame; fame, ill repute. Nothing is permanent and we can’t take anything with us, not into “forever,” and often, not even into the next moment or the next day. As my late father-in-law always said, your last pants have no pockets.
The Fool in the Dhammapada is wanting and striving. But there’s another Fool: the Fool in the Tarot deck, which is simply another view of the architype. In the Tarot deck, the Fool can be interpreted as someone who wanders through life, full of folly and delirium, not so different from someone who thinks they deserve deference or homage, or who tries to impose their authority, or believes they deserve it.
Or, she can be interpreted as lighthearted, joyful, spacious, and embracing beginner’s mind, embarking on the hero’s journey.
What if we kept in mind wise view, the view that we’re impossibly interconnected, that we inter-are? And that everything is always slipping through our fingers, so nothing we have, and no one we “are” or are “becoming,” is anything permanent? What if we did that with joy, spaciousness, and beginner’s mind?
Then I wonder if the desire for status, deference, or even authority – at least in the sense of power-over – would even arise much. I’m guessing it wouldn’t, or not as much.
And what a relief, to live with joy, and to be on our own hero’s journey along with everyone else on theirs, paying attention, laughing at mis-perception, and tapping and re-tapping into the fluidity and inter-are-ness of life.