Humor as Spiritual Practice

Blaumännchen mit Helm grüßt

by Gregory Toole

Humor is something that has always come quite naturally to me, perhaps influenced by growing up in a family where there was a lot of laughter. In high school, I was always trying to get a laugh in class, much to the dismay of my very serious Chemistry teacher. And now as an adult I can often be counted on to provide some comic relief.

Spiritually, humor is a way reduce our attachment to outcomes and to enjoy the process of life more, to see that what is happening right now doesn’t define us, nor is it permanent. It is a way to be in greater surrender, to recognize that we are not in control of everything, and to acknowledge the sometimes fragile nature of our humanity.

There are so many places to find humor and to bring ourselves to laughing in day-to-day life. For example, if we just finished preparing ourselves a couple slices of toast with our favorite jam on top and then clumsily drop them and watch as they land face down on the floor, do we break out in laughter at the ridiculousness of the situation or do we blurt out a cuss word? There really is an opportunity to laugh at ourselves there.

I remember many years ago having just bought a new outfit – shirt, slacks, and blazer – and going out to dinner. I was feeling good in my new outfit. I ordered a Piña Colada with dinner and when our server brought the drinks to the table on a tray, the Piña Colada, seemingly of its own accord, came flying off the tray and landed in such a way as to spill on each article of new clothing. The other drinks on the tray remained intact and undisturbed. I admit that I didn’t laugh immediately, but I did laugh shortly thereafter, especially after the manager offered drinks and dessert on the house and to take care of the cleaning bill.

The Jewish holiday of Purim has been called the Jewish Mardi Gras. It is a festive, upbeat, and joyous holiday. Ironically, it was born out of tragedy. It is a celebration of the Jewish people being rescued from a plot to exterminate them as told in the Biblical book of Esther. Mark Twain said, “Humor is tragedy plus time.” Rabbi Noah Weinberg refers to Purim as the official “Jewish day of laughter.”

The Mayo Clinic has written about the long-term potential benefits of laughter, including improved immune system, pain relief, increased personal satisfaction, and improved mood, among others. Here are a couple suggestions from the Mayo Clinic to tap into humor:

“Find a few simple items, such as photos or comic strips that make you chuckle. Then hang them up at home or in your office.”

“Find a way to laugh about your own situations and watch your stress begin to fade away. Even if it feels forced at first, practice laughing. It does your body good.”

Those who practice Laughter Yoga laugh just for the sake of laughing. They come together in community just to laugh. It may be strange to watch people breaking out in laughter on cue, but it seems to have great benefits to those who practice it.

How could you find more ways to laugh in your life? Perhaps there is even some humor in that situation that has really been nagging you and disturbing your peace. The invitation is to not take ourselves nor our situations in life so seriously, to step back a little and observe the ‘movie’ that is our life and enjoy it a little more, even with all of its drama.

Enjoy the journey.

Copyright Gregory Toole 2015. All rights reserved.

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