Angus and I often remember a story we once heard, though we have no idea any more where we heard it or who told it … In the story, a Peruvian traditional healer’s methods are shared. Whenever a patient visits, he asks three questions: “When was the last time you laughed? When was the last time you danced? When was the last time you told stories?” Only once these three fundamental issues have been resolved does he turn to other physical causes of whatever ailment is troubling the patient.
It’s a brilliant reminder of the simple, grounding, bonding pleasures of life – and how far removed our culture today has taken us. Do we still dance? Do we tell stories? And when was the last time we laughed uncontrollably, without inhibition?
We recently participated in a meditative process which began with a week’s laughter. For three hours a day, we simply laughed. Most people ask us “but what did you laugh at?” – and although there were triggers (memories, or other people in the group’s laughter), overall, we were learning to let go and just laugh for no reason at all.
Sometimes it was exhausting laughing away for 3 hours on end (it’s a great workout!); other times the laughter just wouldn’t come. And at the end of it all, laughing so freely had opened us to other deeper emotions which we would work with in the next stage of the process. But since then, I’ve noticed that I laugh more easily, and when I do laugh, I am more likely to laugh more, the kind of laughter which comes by itself and can’t be stopped. I have also noticed that my approach to life’s challenges is – slightly, but clearly – lighter, and I am a little more likely now to laugh at the ridiculous-ness of a situation rather than get hung up about it than I was before.
We learned how our culture frowns upon uninhibited laughter. Some members of the group even remembered specific occasions on which they hadn’t been allowed to laugh. Though I didn’t discover any such memories, I can certainly see how in many professional, and even social occasions, it is permitted (even required) to laugh to a degree – but not to lose control. If I listen to people around me, I also hear a lot of “polite laughter”, nervous laughter, and forced laughter, and it has a fundamentally different quality from the real thing.
While it might perhaps be clear why we have repressed so much our so-called negative emotions, it seems odd that society would have suppressed something as positive and natural as laughter – but look around and you will soon find this to be true. Ancient or “primitive” cultures appear to have understood this better. In Ancient Athens, the annual dramatic festival was made up of comedies and tragedies – the point being the combined catharsis this allowed everybody rather than the pure entertainment value. (We had to take ourselves off to a 3-week course in India for roughly the same effect).
Laughter clubs are becoming more popular, and recognized for their mental as well as physical benefits. But whether or not we choose to participate in something like that, I think we can all be a little more conscious of how, when and why we laugh. And in particular, how, when and why we don’t laugh. Let us embrace opportunities to really let go and laugh without restraint, and encourage one another to do so. Let us be careful when we admonish our children, or anyone else, for laughing too much, too loudly – does it really matter so much? And why would we want to curtail such a beautiful expression of pure joy? And let us remember to laugh at ourselves too …
Live, laugh, love, let go ….