Monday, October 4, 2010

The Dharma of Sesame Street

For those of you with children, you no doubt are familiar with "Sesame Street." In this morning's New York Times is the obituary for Dr. Gerald S. Lesser, a Harvard psychology professor, and chief adviser to the the long-running PBS series. Dr. Lesser helped create one of the most popular characters on that show: Oscar the Grouch. 

Oscar lives in a trash can. He helps show children that perspectives can exist in the world that may be radically different from their own. Whereas most people don't like a lot of loud noise, Oscar loves it. Most people think trash is yukky, but Oscar thrives in it. For me, one of the most memorable songs from the show was Oscar's magnum opus, "I Love Trash." 

The mind tends to put up preferences and judgments about things based on our personal perspectives. We can see these perspectives quite clearly in vipassana meditation practice. If I am meditating and a loud car goes by outside, I will probably have a thought something like, "I hate those guys with their loud cars who are always bothering my meditation!" However, if I was a big NASCAR fan, I might find the sound of a loud car to be a pleasant experience, evoking fond memories of some experience I had at the track.

When we note our preferences and judgments in meditation practice, or in daily life, we can take a moment to remember that they are habits of mind brought on by our perspective on the world. When we hold these experiences in this way, with a more open hand instead of clinging to some way we wish it were, or instead of trying to push the experience away out of aversion, we can be more relaxed and easy-going.

In his own way, Dr. Lesser has helped generations of young people to be more understanding of the perspectives of others. The hope being that, when they grow up, these kids will be more tolerant and compassionate toward those with different cultures, beliefs, and traditions. Because of his work, there is a little less suffering in the world.

To see Oscar singing "I Love Trash," click on this link:


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