The Spiritual Practice of Humor
We live in a time of tension and conflict, arguing and fighting for what we believe is true. Many of us are attracted to following spiritual practices simply so we can find a little peace. There are prayer practices and scripture practices, practices of contemplation and of action.
One of my favorite practices is the spiritual practice of humor. I probably follow the spiritual practice of humor every day.
Other people have noticed my passion for humor for as long as I can remember. Growing up I loved listening to stories and jokes and figuring out why they were funny. My parents gave me books of riddles and jokes and I spent hours reading and understanding them.
My own sense of humor is a tantalizing mixture of both my parents and other sources. I enjoy the flavor of irony, sometimes bordering on the sarcastic. Finding exactly the right words is important to me. Playing with words is one of my great temptations.
The spiritual practice of humor is a significant aspect of the work I do. Humor can be very powerful and help us understand things in new ways. When talking with someone about spiritual life, struggling to understand something, we often laugh. Our laughter, our humor, is a demonstration we are getting deeper.
We may have been working as hard as we can for a long time and we laugh when we see something new. The underlying irony of how we experience spiritual life makes itself know to us, and we laugh.
There are also times when we use humor to protect ourselves. Things we have believed in the depth of our souls show themselves to be false and we laugh. There is a release in the humor we see when we squeeze so hard things crumble.
What is a Spiritual Practice of Humor?
There are people who believe spiritual practices are serious business. They see them as spiritual disciplines and are convinced spiritual life needs to be disciplined. Some people almost believe the best spiritual practices for us are probably painful, filled with struggle. It is almost as if they they think we are not being serious enough if our practices are not painful sacrifices.
I believe in the sacred power of joy and humor.
Too often, we want to be so serious about spiritual life we rob it of its joy. Spiritual life is a celebration, an awareness of the amazing potential of every moment. It does not mean everything is a joke. Our lives are filled with struggles and injustices. Spiritual life inspires us to continue, to keep seeing the wonder in the midst of struggles and pain.
People come to me with serious difficulties and serious questions. Part of what they need is a new perspective on spiritual life. A spiritual practice of humor is not about making light of their fears, anxieties, or questions.
We follow a spiritual practice of humor as we talk together seeing things in new ways. Our humor is not a way for us to escape from the things which make us afraid. We want to strengthen our ability to see things in new ways, to develop our spiritual practice of humor.
There is healing power in humor. When we are able to respond with humor, we see things from a new perspective. There is deep irony in the sacred truths all around us. Recognizing the irony of spiritual life helps us appreciate ourselves and the people around us.
Humor helps us recognize and embrace spiritual life.
Strengthening Our Spiritual Practice of Humor
A spiritual practice of humor is not making fun of what other people believe. Humor is a tool or a skill which helps us become more open to spiritual life. Our spiritual practice of humor is not intended to close us off, to convince us we are right.
One of the essential aspects of humor as a spiritual practice is empathy. Humor allows us to identify with other people and draws us into closer community.
As I talk with people about spiritual difficulties or questions, humor helps me share what I see with them. When we can recognize the irony or absurdity in a situation we are beginning to see it in a new way.
People may forget a long explanation or teaching, but they will remember what made us laugh.
Our spiritual practice of humor also grows stronger as we share it with other people. Talking with another person helps us see the humor in what we are experiencing.
A Spiritual Practice of Humor in the Face of Pain
We talk about laughing in the face of danger even though danger is not funny. Sometimes we laugh when we are particularly nervous or embarrassed. I know people who laugh when they are intimidated.
Can a spiritual practice of humor help us in times of fear or pain?
My own spiritual practice of humor does not always make me laugh out loud. For me, humor is a spiritual strength because it shows me there are more ways of understanding.
Humor and joy are essential to spiritual life even though our spiritual experiences are often not particularly funny. Each of us faces fears we hide from other people. We feel we are alone. Our struggles may make us feel ashamed or embarrassed.
Many of the people who come to me with questions or difficulties feel bad about having them. They think they should be able to figure things out for themselves, on their own.
Ironically, when I tell them they are asking good, healthy questions and are right to ask them, they often laugh.
My friend Brenda Hanley and I host a conversation on Twitter which focuses on a word we live by each Sunday. Please join us on Sunday, July 8 at 6:00 PM Pacific Time as we explore humor. We will be using the hashtag #WordsToLiveBy.
When does humor show you the truths of spiritual life?
How will we begin a spiritual practice of humor this week?
[Image by avhell]
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.