Humor is so necessary for spiritual practice. In order to have humor—genuine humor, not caustic wit—we have to be disentangled. We have to be able to laugh at ourselves, not just in a superficial way but from the depths of our being. When we have no sense of humor, we demonstrate that we are attached to and identified with the very ideas we should be making fun of and laughing at.
People who take themselves seriously tend to be career victims. These people self-identify as victims and think of the world in those terms; they see only themselves, and expect others to acknowledge them. At the same time, they see themselves as having no agency, and therefore not being responsible for their actions. That is their narrative.
The career victim wants “who she is” to be soothed and affirmed. So when she temporarily gives up her narrative, if things go well she feels deprived and belittled because it wasn’t “her” that people affirmed or liked. So she scrambles to get back to her narrative, because she wants her idea of herself to be affirmed. Anything else is victimization.
So to career victims, others’ attention can take only two forms: either attacking them or soothing them. If someone says something without softening or sweetening it, they are attacking the victim; if someone says something in soothing tones, they are supporting the victim. The victim sees and responds to the outward affect only, not the truth or untruth of the utterance. The victim says she can “hear” things better when they are presented soothingly, when in reality her narrative is the only thing doing the hearing. “Hearing” is done only on the most superficial level.
A powerful tool in the hands of a career victim is silence. If she does not speak while performing actions and does not respond to overtures from others, then in her mind she has done nothing wrong. Many years ago, a man pulled a knife on my son and me without saying a word; to him, he did nothing wrong because he never verbalized the threat. He saw himself as the victim because he was accused of having threatened us. And his response to being confronted with what he had done was silence.
If a career victim sees himself as having no responsibility, no agency, then there is no reason to be proactive about anything. He therefore exalts laziness. Others are constantly required to pick up the slack, and the victim sees their efforts as his due. If they confront him about his inaction and irresponsibility and how hurtful he has been, he will see himself as being unfairly attacked. He may respond with silence, or he may whine about being wrongly accused.
People who refuse to accept their own agency shy away from responsibility for their spiritual growth and just like to be dragged up the path, transformed as if by magic. Whoever insists on being dragged crashes at some point. Sadhana is not magic; it has to be a choice we make every minute.
We therefore are to work toward the third level of practice, which uses the will. Rather than magic, what matters is our choice of attention: where we put it, and how consistently we focus it. And directing our will requires that we take ownership of our agency. There is no place for career victims in sadhana.
At the core, the career victim is vain. She sees everything and everyone through the lens of her humorless self-regard. She pays attention above all to her ideas about herself, which she takes far too seriously—the real definition of pride.
Only when career victims truly care about someone other than themselves can they begin the process of disentangling from their prideful refusal of accountability. Caring appropriately for others can break us out of the closed circle of our pride. And then the narrative we once took so seriously can become something we can laugh about.
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