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Clownphobic in L.A. writes on the website in response to one of my poems:

I really don't like clowns, in fact, if it was not against the practice of Buddhism, I could safely say that I hate clowns. Now, you have to understand, I hated clowns all of my life, way before I met Pennywise in Stephen King's novel, IT. I feel the same way about circuses, and parades (probably because they are filled with clowns). I bet you know where this is leading. I couldn't help but notice that you seem to be quite comfortable with the red-nosed clowns, and expounded on the same in your writing. In spite of your obsession with clowns, I can tell you are a person of unusual wisdom, and therefore, I ask you this question. Is my aversion to clowns an obstacle on the pathway, and if so, what do you recommend?

Dear Clownphobic,

I understand. Clowns are a bitch to figure out. Even before Stephen King did his number on them with Pennywise, they have been seriously suspect. It's understandable. I mean, what could inspire grown men and women to dress up in gaudy costumes and makeup, put on big red noses and floppy shoes and prance around the center ring, making absolute fools of themselves?

Being modern, sophisticated people of the world, we certainly shouldn't believe the PR on clowns, that they do all this go through all this just because they're happy guys and gals, and want to share that happiness. That simply does not compute. This is the 90s. We don't believe in that sorta stuff. Nope, not us. We watch Dateline.

There must be some nefarious purpose behind it all, some kind of sinister cult mentality seeking to lure unsuspecting victims into a surreal psychic landscape in which pratfalls and silliness become the foreground of reality and suffering and hopelessness the background. Think about it. We know that the poor fools sitting around laughing at this clowning around have real problems in their lives, just as we do. But they seem to have forgotten them for the moment, lured into some kind of trance, lost in an unrealistic world in which laughter has become the highest goal. These clowns must be practicing mind control!

Well, Clownphobic, as much as I would like to set your mind at ease and tell you that clowns are just adults stuck in perpetual adolescence who get their kicks making other people laugh, I cannot. The truth is, all your fears about clowns may be correct.

Clowns really could be seriously depraved individuals, true sociopaths who believe that their mission in life is to lessen reality's hold on you. They really could have nefarious motives. A clown's intent could be nothing less than to rock your world, to play with your notions of reality, and leave you in a mindstate so confusing, so chaotic and disorienting, that you have absolutely no choice but to laugh at it. Do not be taken in by their bright red noses and painted smiles. They could be serious cultists, on a recruiting drive.

For all we know, these clown-cultists may seek nothing less than to lure normal, everyday folks people who are seriously into reality as Reality to their sick path of reality as Laughter. If they're like the other cultists we have seen on Dateline, they may want to convert us to their perverse philosophy, to (shudder) convince us that life isn't nearly as serious we think it is, while laughter is much more important than we think it is. In other words, your intuition could possibly be right on clowns could be Seriously Bad News.

On the other hand as Rama used to say there are five fingers. Clowns might also be exactly what they appear to be guys and gals who have learned not to take themselves quite so seriously, and just want to share that simple secret with us. Maybe, in the process of learning to laugh at themselves, they've learned something about Laughter itself that it is the aspect of ourselves that is closest to our Selves.

Naaaaaaaaah. I like the insidious clown cult better. It's funnier.

Then again, why should you pay any attention to what I think? I am not on Dateline every week. And far from being a person of unusual wisdom, I am just an amateur clown who lives in the desert and tries to write funny stuff for a website nobody reads anyway because it's more interesting than sitting around watching the cactus grow.

Heck, I'm not even a real clown. I've only dressed up as a clown once in my life, and that isn't nearly enough to earn me my union card in the International Brotherhood of Bozos. But I did learn a lot that day about being a clown, about laughter, and even about Rama, so because the cactus isn't exactly shooting up like bamboo outside my window, I'll tell you about it.

My brief career as a clown took place in Florida. I was on my way to visit someone in the hospital, not particularly looking forward to it, when I spotted a magic and novelty store in one of those endless Florida strip malls. I stopped and browsed around for awhile, trying to put off the inevitable. I toyed with the idea of buying some Shure Scratch itching powder to put on my coworkers' keyboards back home, but then thought better of it and walked on. I was just about to leave when I noticed a display of kids' clown costume kits by the door. They were on sale, so I bought one.

I drove the rest of the way to the hospital and took the clown kit in with me and made my way to the intensive-care ward. I don't know if you've noticed, but hospitals are not exactly the happiest places in the world, so when I paused outside the door of the room I was visiting to put on my floppy shoes, clown hat and big red nose, not one of the passing doctors or nurses or visitors laughed. They just stared at me as if I were weird. Go figure.

Anyway, I ignored them and opened the door, leaping inside with all the grandiose, circus-tent overacting I could muster. As it turns out, my entrance was even more clown-like than I intended, because I tripped over the floppy shoes and fell flat on my face.

No one laughed. The woman propped up in the hospital bed had her eyes open, and could clearly see my pratfall, but made no reaction at all. I didn't take it personally. The woman was in her mid-sixties, with short gray hair, and was terribly overweight. She had the kind of eyes you suspect would light up a room when she smiled, but she wasn't smiling, and her eyes, even though they were open, didn't see me standing there. The woman was my mother, and she had suffered a stroke a few days earlier.

I don't know how many of you have ever dealt with a stroke victim. It's very frustrating. The lights are on, but you can't tell if anyone's home. Given the severity of the stroke, the doctors were convinced that my mother was brain-dead, and that there was nothing going on behind those staring eyes. Even though I had seen nothing to contradict them, I was convinced they were wrong she was in there somewhere, and if I found a way to make contact, I could get her to respond.

So I had remained by her bedside for much of the previous few days, trying whatever I could think of to provoke a response. I talked to her, told her stories, read to her from spiritual books and from newspapers. I slipped earphones over her head and played her music classical pieces, pop songs, New Age stuff from Vangelis and Zazen. Since my mother meditated, I verbally walked her through the process and then sat meditating with her, hoping she'd remember how. No response. Nada.

So that morning I had awakened with the thought that I should try humor. Thus the clown paraphernalia. So far, it had not exactly been a big hit. I danced and gesticulated wildly, hoping that my movements would trigger some recognition. I pranced around, showing her my floppy shoes, punctuating my mock ballet by honking my big red nose. No response. This went on for hours. It was a tiring and frustrating process, but I had decided that I wasn't going home until she responded.

I tried harder. I did impressions, I talked in funny voices, I told her every joke I could possibly remember. I told her puns so bad they would raise the dead, but they didn't reach her. Finally, I remembered an old joke I hadn't thought of in years.

Mickey Mouse has hired a private detective to follow Minnie. The detective is delivering a report on her activities to Mickey: "Well, Mr. Mouse, I've been following your wife for a week or so, but I can't find any evidence that she's crazy."

"Crazy?!" shouts Mickey, "Who told you she was crazy?"

The detective says, "You did, Mr. Mouse, when you hired me."

Mickey says, "I didn't say she was crazy I said she was fucking Goofy!"

My mother loses it completely! She laughs and laughs, her huge, overweight body shaking like the proverbial bowlful of Jell-O. I lean over the bed and look into her eyes and there is life there. She still can't talk, but she definitely recognizes me. My mother squeezes my hand briefly, and gazes into my eyes, and smiles. I was right earlier it does light up the room.

After a couple of minutes, the awareness behind her eyes fades, and she slips back into whatever Bardo the stroke has trapped her in. But it's Ok that one brief moment of recognition made the whole day's efforts worthwhile. Soon visiting hours were over and, exhausted, I headed back to my parents' house to rest. After a shower, I sat to meditate, but had trouble settling down, because I found my mind full of thoughts of the day. Something was nagging at me, tugging as it were at the back of my mind, telling me that there was something strangely familiar about the day's events.

Then, suddenly, I recognized what felt familiar. The process of working with my mother trying literally anything to get her to remember who she is reminded me of Rama. To a limited extent, this must be what it was like for him to work with us. If what he said was true, when he looked at a room full of students, he saw not just who they were right then but multi-life beings, with an incarnational profile that extended for ages. He could remember who and what we had been in many shared incarnations.

The students, however, are sitting there brain-dead, remembering nothing, barely aware of the world around them, much less the brighter worlds within. So Rama talked to us, told us stories, read to us and played us music. He was absolutely shameless he did silly comedy routines, told jokes so bad that even I wouldn't tell them, cavorted and clowned around and embarrassed himself thoroughly. About the only thing I don't remember him doing was wearing a clown costume. He would do anything to provoke a response, try anything to get us to wake up, and remember who we really are.

That day in the hospital taught me that being a clown is hard work. But it's worth it. I remember the feeling of satisfaction I had when my mother woke up and laughed and remembered for an instant who and what she was. She never responded again to any of my clowning around, so that was my last significant interaction with her before she died. It's enough. It made making a fool of myself worthwhile. I hope that Rama, too, had moments like that, and that they helped make all of his hard work worthwhile.

That day in the hospital was also the full extent of my career as a clown. The floppy shoes and clown hat disappeared somewhere along the way, but I still have the big red nose. I don't wear it much, but it sits on top of my computer monitor as I write this, so I reach up to give it a few honks, and smile.

So, Clownphobic, while I understand your dislike of clowns, my brief career as one convinces me that you don't have that much to worry about, and that there are much better things out there to be averse to. Like reporters on Dateline. Now that is an aversion worth developing.

I don't know about you, but when I finally croak and am cruising the Bardo between death and rebirth, if a clown jumps out of the shadows and goes "Booga booga" at me, I think I'll be able to handle it, because I know from experience he is probably just trying to get me to laugh, and thus remember that my essential nature is laughter. But if I run into Stone Phillips, I tell ya, I'm gonna run like hell, and my recommendation is for you to do the same.



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