Life can be heavy. The events that we encounter can weigh us down like bags of dried concrete. It can sometimes feel that there is no let up. One thing after another. It’s like each event triggers another, which in turn triggers a whole sequence that spirals out of control. It can feel like there is not much to laugh about.
But I experienced a thought tickle this morning as I waited for my coffee to brew. As I sighed and anticipated everything that was coming my way later on, I was prodded with the command: ‘just laugh’. I had to laugh. Not out of despair. Not at the situation. Not instead of the situation. But DESPITE the situation.
Laugh and the Feelings Change
Laughter cures bad feelings. It reaches into the deepest suffering, and the darkest of our experiences and says that they hold no power in the face of laughter. Laughter connects us and is the way to make anyone feel at ease. It is THE single most important relational tool we possess as humans. I’m not talking about the ability to make people laugh, but simply the ability to laugh. It may not solve the underlying problem, and it may not cure anything, but it changes our response and our capacity to cope.
It’s humanity’s common ground, but in many of us it has also become one of the most repressed emotional responses. Both laughter and tears are the most healthy expressions of what it is to be human, and both become systematically repressed as we go through childhood. They become inappropriate or uncomfortable ways to express ourselves. In my opinion laughing together should be one of the first things on the school timetable.
Laughter is often taken as an insult by authority. Parents, teachers, those in the limelight. If they are speaking and you start laughing it will be taken as an insult. Seriousness is thought to be the opposite, and is seen as honouring, and respectful.
Laughter is also a powerful tool of subversion. Society doesn’t like it when laughter is not regulated. Just consider canned laughter on the TV. We don’t even have to do it for ourselves.
We are subliminally taught what is funny.
Laughter and Despair
I look after a friend who has dementia. It is desperately sad and an event that depresses me to my core. But there are moments of laughter. Laughter WITH him, which bring moments of intimate connection from within the deep and dark hold of the illness.
Laughter brings a moment of fleeting victory over its hold. It sticks two fingers up to the prison. It is not a permanent victory, just a small outlet that says, ‘despite the fact that I am in hopeless despair, and my world is caving in around me, I can still laugh with you’. No matter how bad things get there is something deep within us calling out to laugh with someone.
Laughter and Misery
We think we are not happy because we are miserable. We think there is nothing to laugh about. But it is the very fact that we do not laugh that makes us FEEL miserable. It’s the fact that we think we have to take life seriously that makes us FEEL miserable. Because things ARE pretty miserable when we step back. There is endless and what feels like hopeless suffering all around and within us. There is huge darkness, pain and desperation in this world.
But acknowledging this actually frees us to be able to laugh. When we mix seriousness into all of that we lose ALL hope. Only in adding laughter to the misery of life do we start to feel a little less miserable. Laughter and seriousness are both contagious diseases.
When there is laughter in the next room you want to go and find out what is so funny. When everyone else is serious we might wonder why, but we play along. We become serious, until we think there is a reason for it, and then we make sure every new person that enters understands the seriousness of the environment too.
The Sense of Humour
Humour is a sense. A sense of humour is something we release from bondage. It is the easiest sense to supress, like breathing through one’s mouth to avoid having to smell the world around us. Or wearing gloves to avoid touching the world. It is so easy to use seriousness to avoid seeing the world for what it really is.
Laughter strips away the walls that seriousness builds around our ideas of reality. Seriousness finds ways of supressing our understanding of one another and of suffering, brokeness and the meaninglessness of our existence. It builds meaning where there is none, and bondage where there is equality.
A sense of humour is vital for seeing the beauty, the truth, and the love in everything. Humour doesn’t belittle suffering, that’s what seriousness does. Humour is a fleeting moment of victory over the power of any person, structure or situation that is trying to dominate. They can take everything away from me except my ability to laugh, and is there anything more undermining that the feeling that someone is laughing at you?