I believe that laughter is the first sign of awakening. But it’s a special kind of laughter. It has its origins in the smile of the neonate. Wordsworth put it beautifully in his “Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” in the passage, “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting; The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting And cometh from afar; Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy!”
It morphs into the laughter of little children who continue to surf their imagination on the waves of the ocean of God’s own laughter. Alas, ‘life’ and school soon suppress this in favor of the inculcation of factoids.
There is an interesting passage in the Gnostic gospel of Philip, “Jesus revealed himself at the Jordan. It was the fullness of the kingdom of heaven. He who was begotten before everything else, was begotten anew. He who was anointed, was anointed anew. He who was redeemed, in turn redeemed others. As soon as Jesus went down into the water, he came out laughing at everything of the world. Not because he considers it a trifle, but because he is full of contempt for it…”
Christ’s laughter is not at the people who are trapped in the illusion but, rather, for the mechanism itself and its fabricators. Let me give an analogy. The very first ‘moving pictures’ were created in 1895 by the Lumiere brothers in Paris. Initially, they were merely 50- to 60-seconds ‘epics’ showing workers coming out of their dad’s factory. Then, they place a ‘movie camera’ between the tracks in the path of an oncoming locomotive ‘hurtling’ towards them at 15 m.p.h., and showed it to a packed audience in a theater. There was immediate bedlam as people ran for the aisles and jammed the exits to avoid being run over by the train.
Imagine, for a moment, that you are a time-traveler from 2018 seated in the balcony watching this chaotic panic beneath you. Your first reaction would be laughter – not because you are enjoying their discomfort but because you realize that they are caught in an illusion, though they are absolutely safe. That’s what it must be like to be fully enlightened. It is not about enjoying the fears of others but realizing that they are trapped in maya, though they are continually held in God’s loving embrace. And that is the sense of Jesus’ laughter.
Laughter, at its core, comes from the deepest wisdom, the innermost conviction that only God exists and only love is real. Armed with that knowledge, you can strap yourself into the roller-coaster of life and enjoy the ride, even as your stomach does somersaults and your companions scream in delighted terror.
The first laugh of enlightenment, then, is to liberate the self; and all subsequent laughter is to liberate others. It is the reason that the Spirit of evolution gives us imagination and intuition as well as rational thinking; and sends us children, storytellers, artists, dreamers and prophets. A hug is physicalized laughter – a life-raft thrown to a swimmer floundering in the choppy waters of incarnation. Laughter, then, is dreaming lucidly, realizing that you are immortal, indestructible and, if you wish, can even fly.
There is, of course, both healthy, loving laughter and unhealthy, unloving, ego-based laughter. Healthy laughter is spotting the incongruities in a situation. It should be a clue that you’ve touched the boundaries of the matrix and, therefore, is an invitation to break out of it into true freedom. It is to laugh, not in mockery, not as a sadist but in realization of the fact that all of your own fears and all the fears of others are based on a fictional reality. Since it is from fear that all human vices spring, and from awakening arise compassion and all other virtues, this laughter is true awakening to your core, divine nature. It’s the soul-smile of a parent watching his two-year-old child, on Santa’s lap, gaze in wonder. It has even been built into hierarchical systems to hold the ego’s of the leaders in check – the court jester, who was the only one allowed to criticize the king. The jester’s role was not merely for amusement or entertainment but to check the inflated self-image of the ruler – and invite him to pierce the veil of maya and recognize the divine equality of all God’s children.
It is the tool by which all hidebound ‘authorities’ control those who think outside the box: parents and teachers who use it to control children; scientists who mock the mavericks and their breakthrough ideas (Max Planck once said that science evolves one funeral at a time); religions’ treatment of the prophets; and the status quo reaction to great social movements like women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery. It is swearing allegiance, once more, to the matrix and the vilification of those who want to take the red pill.
It seems to me that life evolves in three stages, each with its own kind of laughter. Stage one, where we are sunk deeply in the illusion, and fear is the dominant reality. We oscillate between depression and rage; and laughter, from here, is filled with mockery, schadenfreude and humiliating others. In stage two, fear is still the dominant reality but now it oscillates between shame/guilt and eat/drink/be merry: between religiosity (as a fire escape) and addiction to sex/drugs/rock’n’roll (as a tranquilizer.) Its laughter is either escapism/entertainment and self-humiliation. In stage three, love is the dominant reality: it brings serenity in oneself and compassion for others; it responds to all life forms with Namasté; and its laughter is liberty and Truth.
I believe, then, that you can measure the level of your own enlightenment by the quantity and quality of your laughter. It is a measure of your compassion or cynicism; of your inner wisdom or your disenchantment. In brief, the very first sign of waking up, I believe, is laughter; quickly followed by compassion – a compassion that starts with forgiveness for myself, and ripples out to embrace others, then my ‘enemies’ and, finally, all sentient beings. And laughter is the difference between fanaticism and commitment. Any God at whom or with whom I cannot laugh is far too small a God for me. And the laughter is birthed by piercing the illusion that I am separate from God, separate from others and separate from nature. It is the sense of playfulness created by the realization that I had been seduced by mere appearances.
It unfolds in three stages: to look deeply beyond the veil; to laugh loudly at the illusions; and, then, silently to offer Namasté to all whom we encounter – from incarnated bodhisattvas to slowly-sliding banana slugs. Then we can begin to create less and less inaccurate maps of reality and allow unconditional love to lead us home. We will notice that the ever-patient ocean of God’s immanence has washed clean the pock-marked beach of yesterday’s feverish foot traffic, so that we may imprint new hieroglyphics – cosmically-inspired sacred writings – on the newly-rearranged sands of an awakened lifetime.