Have you laughed today?
“If it’s not funny – you’re missing the joke” as I used to say.
As a teacher and in my personal life, I always find laughter to be not only healing & pleasurable – but a vehicle to freedom. It helps us “open.”
I’ve written & performed several one-person shows over the years, and when I am alone on a stage entertaining a hundred people, I’ve found it helpful to make sure there is some kind of laugh at least once every 2 minutes. It keeps the audience engaged and just “off-balance” enough (in a pleasant way) to keep the exchange fluid.
As a teacher, I’ve found that when I can poke fun at something (even/especially if it’s me) – it helps the “audience” let go of whatever habit patterns of judgment are usually running the show and, for the moment of the laughter, that person is free – or so goes my hypothesis – and that’s when I find I can “slip things in” – i.e. the theme, the message, the learning that will be helpful in that moment.
In moments of Insight, I’ve often laughed spontaneously at the “Universal Joke” and saw “Waking Up” as a kind of “Getting in on the Joke” – but I am meaning a kind, loving joke – that is at no one’s expense, and is more a form of play.
In fact, I remember the first time I heard the word “Lila” and was told it meant “the play of the Universe” – I was delighted to know that there was a word for it. Because yes, the more we tune into the play, the laughter, the more I think we soften the held habits of how we think things should be, what we should do, what is good/bad, etc.
It’s a lighter view – and laughter (something that each of us can do in any given moment) – is a beautiful portal to a softer, more fluid kind of energy & thought that can lead to helpful insights.
As an acting teacher, I make all my actors be able to laugh uproariously on cue. I think the ability to laugh – and laugh well (I do not allow fake laughter!) – is a tool that every actor should have – it’s simply too powerful not to use. We all soften to good laughter like we do to puppies. And what actor doesn’t want the audience to soften?
Later, at my second meditation retreat with Shinzen Young, I met a woman, Nicola Geiger, who loved to do laughing meditations. I had been making actors & meditation clients laugh for years, but I had not guided a group in a formal “laughing meditation” before.
Nicola had been part of the White Rose underground movement during Nazi Germany when she was young. She had been captured, tortured, (plus other real bad stuff) – but then, years later, she became what I’ve often heard Shinzen describe as “the first functioning Bodhisatva” he’d ever met. She lived in Japan and would befriend monks & mobsters alike. A vivacious, big German woman who’s laugh could give any Santa a run for his money.
I then started playing with the use of laughter in my guided meditations – using it differently than Nicola did – but definitely taking advantage of its potential to make us shift. I started to end meditation sessions with a few moments of laughter – especially when I wanted to shift the energy (possibly after a heavier event) – or maybe to help people tune into the kind of flow that they normally only experience after chanting (but I believe the flow after laughter is a bit more “full body.”)
Then, a couple years ago, halfway through a 21-day silent retreat led by Shinzen Young, I ended up leading a laughing meditation in the main zendo in the evening just before the dharma talk. It was the night before many of the participants who had been there for the first 10 days would be leaving. It was a surprise to all, and pivotal to many.
Recordings of that laughing meditation – as well as the one I offered at the end of the retreat – are available here: http://www.mindfulnessarts.org/LAUGHING_MEDITATION.html
If you’d like to follow along and laugh for awhile with a group of meditators – please do – and otherwise, I ask again,
Have you laughed today?