I had my first recognizable spiritual experience when I was twelve years old. After school, in the small Nebraska town where I grew up, I used to hang around the comic book rack at the local magazine store. Before television the comic books were a primary source of adolescent heroes and villains, and in the pages of Superman and Scrooge McDuck and Archie I found the images that filled my dreams. The cartoon body of Veronica was my first object of desire.
One day I was leafing through the comics when suddenly I saw a face looking out at me from the cover of a new magazine. I was immediately transfixed. It looked like a cartoon face, but there was something different about it. The face was not just funny—it went deeper than that. It was only later I realized that for the first time in my life, that face had given me a glimpse of the absurd. It was a major revelation. The absurd was in the face of my first spiritual teacher, Alfred E. Neuman, who was smiling out at me from the cover of Mad Magazine.
At first you might see the silly grin and freckles and think that this is just a stupid kid. But after careful study you begin to grasp that Alfred E. Neuman has both deep wisdom and realization. No matter what is going on around him, he remains equanimous. In the midst of incredible chaos with speeding cartoon characters in a blitz of foul ups and mishaps, natural disasters, wars, aliens from space, food fights—still his expression never changes. His face remains open and accepting, a detached observer of this Mad world.
His teaching is simple and direct. Three little words of wisdom. “What—Me Worry?” Alfred E. Neuman is the Meyer Baba of the West! Meyer Baba said, “Don’t worry. Be happy.” Alfred E. Neuman simplified it.
In some ways think my entire spiritual path has been an attempt to become more like Alfred E. Neuman. To be able to look at the absurdity of the world and remain calm and grin. However, when I ask myself what is meant to be a rhetorical question or mantra, “What—Me Worry?”, I still answer back, “Yes—Me Worry.” But I think I’m getting the grin down, and maybe once I’ve mastered that, the mental state will follow.
. . . In-breath . . . . out-breath . . . . I’m resolved to stay mindful this hour . . . . in breath . . . . just move the knee over a little . . . . there. . . . out-breath . . . . maybe I should count . . . . in-breath one . . . . out-breath . . . . in-breath two . . . . out-breath . . . . if I get to twenty-five I’ll start over . . . . in-breath . . . . whoa, did I miss one? . . . . can’t remember . . . . okay . . . . in-breath one . . . . did I just judge myself? . . . . out-breath . . . . judging the judging . . . . oh no . . . . judging the judging of the judging . . . . what a mess these synapses are . . . . luckily it’s not ME . . . . it’s just synapses firing . . . . sin apes, or sin snaps . . . . that’s cute . . . . write it down later . . . . okay, in-breath one . . . . out-breath . . . . in-breath two . . . . now we’re getting down to it . . . . out-breath . . . . “Let me take you down, cause I’m going soon, Strawberry Fields” . . . . what a great song that is . . . . I wonder what ever happened to sweet Sue . . . . the park days . . . . am I less optimistic than I used to be? . . . . optimistic . . . . optical mistake or optimal mystic . . . . that’s clever . . . . okay, time to meditate . . . . in-breath one . . . . out-breath . . . . in-breath two . . . . or is that three? . . . . I should try some Chinese chi circulation breathing . . . . quicker samadhi that way. . . . wish I could go to China . . . . live on one of those misty mountains . . . . Mao and the Tao and Me . . . . it’s a musical comedy . . . . “Living is easy with eyes closed” . . . . I’ll bet the Beatles weren’t doing this technique when they wrote those lyrics . . . . so sad about John Lennon . . . . all the assassinations . . . . so much pain everywhere . . . . just the fact that we’re all alone . . . . why do I separate myself? . . . . starving Ethiopians . . . . if I were really committed I’d be in jail . . . . or fasting to death . . . . got it too easy . . . . so, why does it still hurt? . . . . we suffer to grow . . . . yeah, grow into a coffin . . . . I am too cynical . . . . where do those new-age smiling people get their hope? . . . . judging, judging . . . . whoa . . . . in-breath one . . . . remember, I’m okay. . . . just impatient . . . . out-breath . . . . and I don’t work hard enough on myself . . . . “it’s very hard to be someone but it all works out” . . . . humming, humming, humming . . . . off the object . . . . I’ve been in the zone for at least five minutes . . . . my mind has been destroyed by rock and roll . . . . rocks in my head . . . . and too much thinking . . . . if that’s what you call this stream of lower consciousness . . . . I’m just a smelly chemical stewpot. . . . Descartes should have said, “I stink, therefore I am” . . . . got to remember that one . . . . the stinking mind . . . . okay, in-breath one . . . . out-breath . . . . in-breath two . . . . now we’re getting the rhythm . . . . in-breath three . . . . if I sit real good this hour then I’ll go for a walk . . . . out-breath . . . . or go sit in the dining room and watch yogis . . . . I wonder if that cute girl is with the guy she came to registration with . . . . what great posture . . . . and great eyes . . . . oh, oh, here come the dirty movies . . . . forget it, it’s not useful, not making me feel better, this lust . . . . lust . . . . lust . . . . lusting . . . . LUSTED . . . . hey, it went away . . . . mindfulness strikes again! . . . okay back to the breath . . . . get serious . . . . in-breath one . . . . I could die in the next minute . . . . out-breath . . . . in-breath two . . . . out-breath . . . . in-breath three . . . . out-breath . . . . alright, I feel the space in my mind starting to expand . . . . in-breath four . . . . out-breath . . . . in-breath five . . . . nice, nice, I like it . . . . out-breath . . . . in-breath six . . . . a little peace . . . . out-breath . . . . I should sit more often . . . . in breath seven . . . . “nothing is real, nothing to get hung about. Strawberry Fields forever” . . . . . . .
This past summer Pope John Paul visited the Republic of Central Africa, and on one occasion he appeared at a gathering of tens of thousands of African people. In full papal regalia, the Pope performed communion, symbolically eating his God—the wafer and the wine—the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Then the Pope gave a speech in which he told the Africans to stop practicing voodoo.
Just as in meditation practice, effective political action requires careful attention to detail, as well as deep commitment and effort.
The Nuclear Freeze movement has been quite effective. It is a simple and direct plan, and a good hook—THE FREEZE. But it has lost its meaning. On May 4, 1983, the US House of Representatives voted for a nuclear freeze. Only three weeks later, on May 24, the same House of Representatives voted money for basing and flight testing of the MX missile. The freeze melted into mush. Congress made it the BILATERAL MUTUALLY VERIFIABLE nuclear freeze. It is now time to move on. We cannot control what happens in the Soviet Union. As citizens and taxpayers, we are responsible for the nuclear weapons built by the United States. It is time to call for a UNILATERAL FREEZE. There is no doubt that if we unilaterally stop building nuclear weapons, we would gain the acclaim and support of most of the world’s people and nations. We would have achieved the soul force, the moral imperative, and it seems likely that the other side would soon be forced, out of shame or international pressure, to follow our lead. A UNILATERAL NUCLEAR FREEZE is the only reasonable thing to do, and a modest step toward sanity.
The slogan in the sixties was, “Make Love, Not War.” In the eighties the slogan should be, “Make Love, Not Money.”