Friday, October 21, 2016

Language of Laughter

I am known for my laugh. I hear about it all the time. It’s most often loud and full, it comes from my core, a true belly laugh. It’s genuine. It is not affected. It just happens.

The principal of the school where I taught music years ago, once remarked that he could hear my laugh all the way down the hall from the teacher’s lunch room. At her high school play, my daughter’s friends remarked to themselves from behind the curtain, “Susanna’s mom is in the audience. You can hear her laughing.” This was before the play even began!

I once was the delighted participant in a laughter yoga session at a retreat…what a powerful experience of energetic release. The whole room escalated with the sound of our laughter at really nothing in particular. I saw others pointing to me and laughing harder as I leaned back in my chair, my legs extended out in front of me, my head resting on the chair back, laughing toward the ceiling with tears pouring down my face.

Photo by Ben White

At the end of another retreat, we were given the assignment to laugh for two minutes every day for the next thirty days. I highly recommend it!

My laugh has only infrequently been the source of misunderstanding by people who equate laughter with ridicule or who count laughter as something you only evoke from others, as in, you don’t laugh at your own jokes. For me it is not at all ridicule, but it might be an expression of pure joy that seeks to be shared. Or it may bubble up when I share a thought that strikes me as hilarious. To me, laughter is not about scoring or affirmation of ego. It is certainly not about putting someone else down.

I had a recent experience of the transformative power of laughter. It was the day before my big out-of-state move. I had spent weeks sorting, hauling, packing, donating. I had had the details in place for some time: moving pods to be delivered and the independent team of movers scheduled to load them. All logistics lined up. I felt ready.

But, like a row of dominoes going down, my “best laid plans” went awry when the pods, once delivered, were too few and too small. I was in a bind. After sorting through possible options, the independent movers would do the entire move with their truck (lose the pods), but their available dates didn’t line up with this last-minute re-organizing crisis and conflicted with several important commitments of mine. I received that particular call in the line-up of back-and- forth contacts during the middle of my art class, and took my cell phone to the back hallway for the duration of that conversation. Overwhelmed with the stress of the situation and with the additional unplanned expense now looming over the move, I remained in the back hall for some time after hanging up to allow the tears of frustration that I could no longer hold back.

When I re-entered the art studio, thinking I had a least a shaky grip on my emotions, I sat down in front of my painting and took up my brush. But it was no good. More tears needed to arise. Feeling self-conscious even among these good people, I put my head down on the table and let them come. A bit later, after I had given some semblance of an explanation to the others and had taken up my brush again, one of my fellow art students began recounting a long story about her sister-in- law in some such similar situation involving the stress of a move. It was quite a detailed story of things going wrong, and as I listened I thought to myself, “Why is she telling me all this? The last thing I need to hear right now is any more about stress and moving!” But when her story came to an unexpectedly funny ending (one of those situations where the credit card that this person couldn’t find anywhere was tucked right into the holder with the cell phone she was using even at that moment to relay that it was lost), I had to laugh.

Photo by Brooke Cagle

Right out loud. From my core.

She smiled at me, and said, “There, at least you can laugh. Don’t you feel a little better now?” And the amazing thing was that I did. I felt MUCH better. Nothing about my outer circumstances concerning the move had changed. But my own inner experience of the situation had changed instantly. Laughter took me up and out of the depths of fear and frustration in a matter of seconds. And everything did eventually work out, as it so often does, in one way or another. I will always remember and appreciate her gift to me.

Laughter is good medicine. There truly is healing in it. Laughter is vibrance and spirit and joy. I invite you to try it often! Begin each day with smiling at yourself in the mirror. See if you can conjure up a laugh, even if you don’t feel like it. (And not out of ridicule or sarcasm.) Find occasion for it. It is worth seeking out, more than a pot of gold.

Photo by David Schap

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