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Sep 06
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Wrestling with the Funny/Sad Eternal Now

Mr. Huggins

Mr. Huggins

COLUMN: In Everyday Life

article by Aaron Crowe, Los Angeles

Los Angeles Shambhala member Aaron Crowe delves into the tender heart of sadness and humor.

This post is primarily about a depressed cartoon bear and his adventures with an overly zealous, rosy little hippo. There are, however, other matters to consider first.

There is the matter of wisdom, of suffering, of this present moment and of lineage streams. There is the matter of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and what he taught about sadness. There is the question of why my heart feels most held by jokes about it being broken.

I took up meditation because there was something wrong with my experience. During my first Shambhala Training weekend I was silent, longing for contact with my fellow participants but unable to make it.

During my thirty-first year of life, I had the strange experience of crash landing in a new reality. A woman on a CD was describing the symptoms of panic. I felt my heart drop: “I feel like that all the time.” I was anxious. Constantly. I hadn’t known that. I knew short breath, fast heart, no words. I knew cool detachment, not the terror it disguised.

In Going on Being, Mark Epstein describes the first noble truth as such: life has a pervasive sense of unsatisfactoriness. Exactly. It also has a radiant beauty — the great eastern sun, basic goodness, this fundamental rightness we Shambhalians come to know and love. I sought out meditation because my life was painful and I wanted it not to be. Over time I have learned that everything is as it should be. It just happens to hurt. This is the human condition. Everything is wonderful. And everything is terrible.

So, how do we hold this?

By telling jokes, of course.

Which brings us to lineage streams.

During my Drala weekend I was struck by a passage in which Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche talked about the lineage contained in a modern building. He pointed out the thousands of years of accumulated human wisdom necessary for successful construction. He highlighted how in all of those moments of wisdom it was now.

Downtown Mr Huggins

Mr Huggins and Snugglypoo

In all the previous moments I was filled with panic but called it something else it was now. Every time I wonder what to do about my troubled self it is now. Nowness won’t go away. Resting in this nowness reveals the great eastern sun, dealing with the moments that arise within it feels like more of an insult.

So if all of human history has manifested in the same now and wisdom has accumulated, what does that wisdom have to say about such matters? What does it have to say about everything being both perfect and perfectly painful? Is there a lineage stream for this? One that has stared into its own hopelessness? Is there a wise response to this short-breathed, dreading now — to my now?

Yes. Yes, there is. It is the wisdom of funny/sad.

The funny/sad lineage points to and soothes the beautiful/terrible truth. It accounts for both sides, for how they interact and influence one another. It reminds us that the whole damn thing just really does elude clear understanding.

In my eyes the root guru of this particular lineage is Kurt Vonnegut Jr. In particular, his holy trinity of God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, Slaughterhouse Five, and Cat’s Cradle. These books are wounded cries for the unbearable suffering of human beings and they are silly. They are sad, hopeless, poignant, and deeply reassuring. They are broken. They are full of life. They have brought me home, helped me want to go on. Vonnegut, and the rest of the funny/sad wisdom stream, straddles an impossible divide — the longing to be done with this world once and for all and the longing to know it as intimately as possible.

This is a lot to ask of jokes.

In order to honor the, admittedly unspoken, dictates of my guru I sporadically write a webcomic called Mr. Huggins & Snugglypoo. This a strip of which I am particularly proud.

Snug's Sunny Face


It started as an angry satire — what if a bunch of cute critters couldn’t stand their miserable lives? You know, because theirs were so much like ours. Their cuteness would make the ridiculousness and hypocrisy of our attempts to pretend we are not miserable stand out with brilliant clarity.

It has evolved from there. Or, to be more accurate, it never really lived there. By the time it found its current home I was no longer interested in angry satire, but in the burned out quality that settles in after angry satire has revealed itself unable to win the day. Often I don’t understand exactly what it is I am trying to express when writing a particular strip. A little less often I feel like it doesn’t really work. Pretty frequently I laugh at my own jokes. Here is one of those self-pleasing jokes, particularly the sixth panel.

Mr. Huggins and Snugglypoo is about life’s pervasive sense of unsatisfactoriness. Villeville, where Mr. Huggins lives, is a broken world. There is corporate greed, self-serving politics, mass indifference, odd meditation communities.

It is also about wonder. It is an examination of the lingering feeling that there is something inappropriate about how we suffer and the many ways we try to rectify this situation. After all, why is it that avoiding our suffering makes it worse? And why is it that being curious about what hurts gives us moments of real freedom?

This troubled mind of mine (and of Mr. Huggins’) is full of delusion. It seeks release, seeks comfort, wakefulness, soothing, excitement, maybe even enlightenment (at least in my case; Huggins is merely suspicious of such fancy notions). In the process this mind gets shown the never ending process of delusion. It is delusional to seek a release from delusion. This is sad. And funny.

Feeling basic goodness as my true nature is deeply relieving. It makes life magical, rich, deep. But it does not stop the world from being samsara, it does not stop the unsettled quality of my nervous system. These moments continue to arise, continue to torment me, continue to be a part of my access to the eternal now.

Aaron Crowe

Aaron Crowe with Mr Huggins

This is the human condition. Everything is wonderful. And everything is terrible. It is heartbreaking. It calls for mourning, for yearning, for tenderness, for jokes. I try to reflect my understanding of this as best I can. The final joke, of course, is on me. Vonnegut wrote about meditation, dismissing it in a single essay, choosing a good book instead. This wonderful man died before his ego could.

So it goes.

Aaron Crowe
has been a student of Shambhala since 2006 and working on Mr. Huggins and Snugglypoo since 2008. A Shambhala guide, a closet meditator since the late 90’s, an obsessive reader of developmental psychology texts, Aaron is interested in the intersection of psychology, spirituality and cartoons. He is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at West Valley Counseling Center. He can be reached at [email protected] and welcomes all questions, comments and criticism.

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