Have you ever felt yourself resist laughter out of a desire to “stay put” in the way that you were thinking or looking at something? One of the most enjoyable aspects of cultivating the potential to have more power than your own beliefs is to learn to laugh about everything.This doesn’t mean to laugh AT everything. To laugh ABOUT everything is to be able to see the humor in even the most stubborn and proper, fixed and “serious” things in your life. This has become one of the most enjoyable parts of my life. My reason for cultivating this practice is not to become someone who ridicules or fails to act with proper regard for things when they call for it, but to develop the ability to detect when I am rigidly opposed to seeing the humor in something.
If I am attached to a particular way of seeing myself or another, to an argument I’m making, or a perception of a situation, so much so that I cannot step back from it and see what I’m doing, I’m probably not going to be able to laugh at it. Comedians are masters at making us look at the things we take for granted and do habitually. A good comedian can make us see what we do and think all the time, and when we see the nature of our own performance, we laugh. Everything is play. Even the most serious things in our lives.
When I can let go of the most serious, sacred, and intimately held aspects of my life, enough that I can laugh at the humor in them, I have learned I am far less likely to be controlled by them.
So, part of my practice to be more capable of responding authentically to the forces in my life, rather than responding out of a role or script to which I’ve become attached, is to watch comedies. A lot of them are my favorites, and I get a lot of help from watching them–mostly, if I am honest with myself, by relieving stress and just enjoying myself. My favorite comedies are in a way helping me to laugh at very familiar things, but probably also things that I’m already comfortable laughing at. The most helpful comedies to watch sometimes, are those comedies for which I cannot find a way to laugh, when it’s clear that there’s something funny going on. Especially when I can feel myself going to a place of judgment and rationalization about why I not only didn’t laugh, but “neither should anyone else.*” That’s when I have a sense of the things that I hold on to most rigidly. Some people have a hard time laughing at slapstick or physical comedy, others at comedy that makes light of body functions, still others have trouble when the humor in religious or patriotic practices is highlighted. I’m not talking about “making fun OF,” but noticing the humor.
Our minds are a wonderful thing, and they can help us to overcome the barriers to growth that we put in our own way. Just think of how many times you’ve probably heard someone say that you can reduce your nervousness in a public-speaking situation or an interview by imagining your audience in a compromising way–say, in their underwear. It’s the rigid framing of what we’re doing, who we are, the groups we belong to, and what we believe, and many other things, that slowly builds to create a strong orthodoxy in our social behavior. It’s hard to defy an orthodoxy that has its hold on our very capacity to think. Try laughing at something you are doing or thinking over the next 24 hours, and notice how you can actually feel yourself loosen up.
*(Note: I wish to make clear that I am not encouraging ridicule and humor aimed at hurting others, or bullying. In fact, that is the very opposite of what I’m talking about. In those instances, individuals are most often actually strengthening and reinforcing rigid categories and ways of seeing the world, rather than lessening how much they are controlled by these things.)