Quite a few of the people I know assume spiritual life means we sit up straight and are still. They are used to spending spiritual time, in public and in private, quietly. The idea seems to be to blend in and do what everyone else is doing. The practice of spiritual, even Sacred, laughing confuses them.
It may be a challenge to think about spiritual life as sparking laughter. We are used to thinking about spiritual people as fairly serious. A lot of spiritual people tend to be focused and intentional. They seem to be concerned about doing the right things in the right ways at the right times. Laughing might feel like a distraction or a temptation for them.
It may be easier for us to think about laughing at spiritual life than laughing with it.
Laughter, though, is very important and very Sacred.
Why Do We Laugh?
Many situations and emotions spark laughter in us. We may laugh in the face of danger, or because we are nervous. Some people laugh when they are embarrassed, or afraid. Even the idea of laughing because something is funny is more complicated than it sounds.
When we describe a situation, a phrase, or a person as “funny,” we may mean ridiculous. Some funny situations are silly or slapstick. Other things make us laugh because they point out ironies, or bring deeper truths to light. Situations which are seen as extremely funny in one culture are very serious in others. Some people describe a hapless character succeeding against the odd as comedy. They also characterize a heroic figure being defeated because of a fatal flaw as tragedy.
What makes you laugh?
I admit I enjoy laughing, and often laugh fairly loudly. People describe the experience of watching a movie with me when I relate to the characters. They say, regularly, they watch me and laugh at me more than they might laugh at the movie.
A Joyful Noise
My laugh gets people’s attention. My laugh can be loud and long, and sometimes takes my breath away. Some people may find it annoying, but I love my laugh.
I have been told people can recognize me in a group when I am laughing. Each of us laughs distinctly. Our laughs are personal.
My laugh is not something I have worked to develop or improve. There are times when I hold my laughter in as long as I can, and then it emerges. I have read that laughter is the best medicine, and that laughing is good for our health. I have also read the average four-year-old laughs 300 times each day, while the average 40-year-old only laughs 4 times.
Laughter is contagious, so infect as many people as you can.
Laughter is a Change of Perspective
Laughing is one of the ways we signal our perspective is changing. Whether we laugh because we are caught off guard or because something is funny, we laugh when we see things in a new light.
When people hire me for spiritual guidance and direction, I describe what I do in three parts. I tell them I am a good listener, and will listen as they tell me their stories. I also tell them I will ask questions to help them find what has been hidden to them so far. The third part of what I do is we will laugh.
As we work together, talking and listening, their perspective begins to change and we laugh. I help people examine their expectations and assumptions and gain new insights. We laugh and they say things like, “I never saw it that way before.”
Part of the reason humor makes us laugh is it opens our eyes. We see things in unexpected ways and we laugh.
Laughing and Crying
There is an intimate connection between laughing and crying. We can go from crying to laughing in the same sentence. For me, I can feel strong emotion, on the verge of crying, then embarrassment, which gets me laughing.
Deep feelings can push us into changing how we see ourselves and the world. We are overcome by emotion and realize we are not really in control. Sadness, pain, frustration can take us to the edge and we see our limitations in new ways.
There are times when our feelings are so strong our lack of control so great we can only laugh and cry.
Laughter is personal and complex. There are times and people with whom humor is not the best approach. Silly jokes and snappy lines are no better than trite clichés at times of deep sadness and loss. Even though crying often turns quickly to laughing, the transition is not something which can be forced.
There is a time to weep and a time to laugh.
Laughing as a Spiritual Practice
Laughter is good for us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Spiritual practices are how we discipline ourselves to be open to spiritual life. We anticipate and prepare for growing in new ways, exercising new gifts. Some practices emphasize the spirituality of our physical selves. Other practices help us become open to the spiritual life in our emotions or the way we relate to time.
Sacred laughing is a spiritual practice which helps us release our tight grasp on how we see things. We lock ourselves into certain perspectives, into knowing certain truths. The practice of laughter helps reawaken us to the wonder and delight of seeing things in new ways.
Spiritual laughter is a subtle practice. I would not recommend practicing laughing no matter what your situation. It may be preferable to practice on your own, rather than in a crowd.
As we learn to laugh, we begin to appreciate the deep diversity of the Sacred. Spiritual life is not dependent on our grasp of particular concepts. There are times when recognizing things have been stretched to absurd lengths is healthy. All we can do is laugh.
How much Sacred laughing have you done lately?
When do you practice Sacred laughter?
[Image by anuarsalleh]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.