Your Brain on Sarcasm
According to popular dictionaries sarcasm is the use of irony to mock or convey contempt. There’s a meanness to it; a bite, or sting. It can be effective if you’re a comedian; we’ve all laughed at it. But from a yogic standpoint, it’s probably not the most helpful habit for you to hold on to.
To engage in it requires you to focus on the negative; to focus on what’s wrong with the situation. Not only do you focus on it but you give voice to it. Double whammy!
The Urban Dictionary offers a new spelling for the word: Sarchasm, (by blending it with chasm) and defines it as “the gap between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.” If you look into the origins of the word sarcasm, in Greek sarkazein meant “to tear flesh; to wound”.
Some say sarcasm is the highest form of wit. Oscar Wilde called it the lowest form of wit but the highest form of intelligence. I think for most people, it’s just an unconscious habit that doesn’t serve anyone well.
In his New York Times article Banksy and the Problem With Sarcastic Art, Dan Brooks suggested “…what we call sarcasm, especially on the Internet, has become less a technique than an attitude: a contempt so settled that it doesn’t bother constructing ironies. I submit that this sarcastic attitude, which presents itself as the perspective of a knowing few, is actually one of the dominant aesthetics of our age. Sarcasm is our kitsch.”
Like so many thought patterns, sarcasm is addicting. You try to be a little clever and turn things around, like a riddle or a puzzle; only snarky, with daggers. And sometimes people laugh. But if you habitually look for and give voice to what’s wrong in your life and in the world around you, you will continuously experience what’s wrong. It keeps getting heavier and heavier as it sends out and reinforces patterns of meanness, complaining and negativity.
Your thought patterns are often a habit you took on without considering the consequences. Yoga is a rich, longstanding tradition of consciously cultivating thought patterns toward inner stillness and freedom.
You can’t experience true peace on earth if you don’t experience peace in your own heart and mind. Peace begins inside. This is why the yogic principle Ahimsa, non-harming, is essential to finding the inner stillness that will reveal your true nature.
If you have trouble being objective with your thoughts, you’re not alone. Your thoughts usually go unnoticed. They are like a tape that’s been playing in your subconscious mind forever. What happens after many years is you think it and you instantaneously accept it. So you have to start paying attention objectively, with equanimity.
As long as the tape plays quietly in the background, it can run the show, essentially holding you hostage. But once you notice it, you can question it and instantly, it begins to lose power. This is why, once you are familiar with the inner game of yoga, you will actually seek out the people who push your buttons - just to be able to see clearly and disengage from your own mental patterns.
One teacher who is enormously accessible in her approach to observing mind patterns is zen teacher Cherie Huber. Back in the day, she used to have email courses. I participated in a number of them and they never failed to knock my socks off. She has written 20 books that cut to the chase with your inner demons. The books are quick easy reads rich with insight and specific approaches to dealing with your inner bullies. She works a lot with observing inner dialog - the stuff we’ve thought so many times and we think so automatically we don’t even notice anymore. If you need help getting started, check out some of her work.
If you find yourself thinking sarcastic thoughts, or engaging in sarcasm as a form of humor, start to listen to it with more objectivity and equanimity. See how it may be affecting your overall life experience and the people you engage with. You don’t really have to do any more than that because in the light of consciousness, the things that no longer serve you will fall away with ease. Paying attention to your thoughts and your words can have a far more revealing and liberating effect on your life than a daily practice of yoga postures alone. Put them together and it truly becomes liberating.