Laughter - Your Key To Balance
by Celia Straus
"A sense of humor will help both you and your daughter distance yourselves from your emotions. It also gives you the time and space to be more objective about the situation at hand. Don't be afraid to use humor in the midst of pain. As long as you are laughing with your daughter, not at her, and your humor is respectfully given and received, you will enjoy a bounty of benefits." Loving Your Teenage Daughter Whether She Likes It Or Not, by Debra Whiting Alexander
I believe most of us, no matter who we are, often take life too seriously. Our souls yearn to feel, once again, the simple innocent pleasures in life that we experienced as young children. Each time, as adults, we can relax enough and trust enough to spontaneously laugh together with another person, our spiritual selves are released from the confines of our rigid public persona and, in that moment of laughter, connect. We laugh for any number of reasons, but the reason offering the most opportunities for connections with spirit comes from our heightened awareness that life is basically uncontrollable and yet filled with happy surprises. This realization of our human condition does not engender hopeless, bitterness or cynicism. It creates just the opposite. As adults, seeing the humor in our daily lives strengthens and sustains us by giving us new perspective and balance.
Personally, I find that it takes some letting go of old habits and patterns of behavior to celebrate the simple and spontaneous in life with laughter. Instead of working so hard to get life right, I am forced to admit that, basically, life is already right, and I just have to trust it's rightness. Giving up control is not easy for most of us, yet, when we do so, we become a little less self-absorbed. It is then that laughter from our inner self may bubble forth, and we are able to respond to our state of being as we often did as little children. We are graced. The next step comes when we are able to share this grace, or "lightness of being", with our children.
The laughter I'm describing is not what accompanies hurtful teasing, taunting or sarcasm at the expense of another person or oneself. My father used to tease me continually all through my childhood. It was his way of relating that did not require him to show his true emotions, and he had learned it from his parents who teased him in the same way. I don't think he meant to hurt me at all, but whenever he teased me about, say, my boyfriends, taste in clothes or lack of athletic ability, I felt that I had two choices. I could pretend to laugh or become defensive and then be accused of having no sense of humor. In either case my self-esteem would go down a notch.
As a sixth and seventh grader I was teased unmercifully by other girls in my grade, partially because I was a newcomer, and also, because I tried so hard to be liked, I was an easy target. At one point I was invited to try out for middle school cheerleading, a guarantee of peer acceptance, even homage, if you made the team. I was thrilled, instantly accepting without a clue about what I would be doing. Being a complete klutz, on the day of tryouts I couldn't perform any of the required acrobatics like a cartwheel, split, or even one of those leaps where you kick your legs up and arch your back, ideally with pom poms in each hand. I was the first to be disqualified, and the girls who had invited me were hysterical with laughter. I'm not sure how this unhappy incident influenced me in later life other than keeping me from entering ballroom dancing competitions, but I'm guessing we all had experiences like this as teenagers. Just as our children are sometimes reluctant to share the inside jokes and funny experiences that occur at school, they are often hesitant to admit to being teased. Perhaps if we let them know that we know what it's like to be teased, and that the laughter teasing elicits is not funny, but cruel and therefore has no value, they will feel better about themselves, and about talking to us. Perhaps, if they are afforded the opportunity to tease other children, they'll think twice.
Laughing at ourselves with compassion and understanding is a deeply spiritual response to life that we all might practice more often. If we cannot find ways to accept our foibles and flaws with the acceptance that comes with discovering the humorous in what we do, we end up fearful and defensive. We worry that other people might laugh judgmentally, with derision or scorn, if we drop our guard and reveal the true us. Being ourselves is often silly or outrageous, but it is also trusting, joyful and infinitely more appealing to others, if only in terms of sheer energy, than the guarded self who is always predictable, defensive and serious. Nourishing our own childlike sense of humor and fostering it in our daughters enables us to, not only better cope with the process of living, but to also better enjoy the process. When my girls were younger, laughter was a natural occurrence, woven into much of what we did on a daily basis. My task is retrieve those humorous moments we shared and use them as connections when times are tough.
When Julia was three, I made up an incredibly stupid song to sing every day when I drove her the mile or so to a local school where she had three weeks of nursery summer camp. Each morning she was tearful, certain she was going to have a miserable time, which she seldom did; certain she would hate whatever I had packed in her brown bag lunch, which she never did, and certain I would not come to fetch her home, which I always did. The song, which was essentially tuneless, had to do with bunnies and went something like, "Julia loves baby bunnies. They play, play, play all day. They dance and sing and poop on the ground and then they run away." The verses were endless and got progressively more ridiculous as we closed in on the camp so that by the time we pulled into the parking lot, Julia and the bunnies had done everything a three year old could possible think was funny, and Julia was usually beside herself with laughter. However, this mindlessly inane song was more useful when, ten years later, she came home in tears because all the so called "popular" girls refused to sit with her at lunch, and after holding her tight for a while, and then suddenly bursting forth with the bunny song, we both began to giggle and as a result, feel better. And it was most useful when she called, forlorn and homesick four years later, after her first week living with a family in rural France, and I sang it to her over the phone.
Most of us have become masters at laughing at life's little ironies, and at the stage in our lives, when our children are no longer little, irony is often how we demonstrate our sense of humor. A tad more jaded and world-weary than when our children were toddlers, we laugh knowingly at the sorry state of: the universe, the world, our neighborhood park, our teenager's bedroom. We shake our heads in mock despair over: junk email, endless "to do" lists, ever again purchasing a bathing suit, the boss's irrational need to micromanage, our outdated wardrobe consisting primarily of different shades and lengths of monochromatic jackets and skirts, the last time we had a romantic weekend with the man in our life, the last time we had a man in our life.
We joke to our children, saying, "It figures I would have a fender bender one week before the lease is up. How else would I be able to pay the extra $1,000 to give my car back to the dealer?" "Of course the basement flooded while we were away on vacation. If it had flooded when we were home, then we'd have had to stress over trying to save all the carpeting and books that we can now simply throw away." "Now that you've lost your favorite fleece, I guess you'll finally be able to wear the jacket we bought you last month." With irony we teach our children how to put setbacks into perspective, and how to cope with the fact life is often unfair.
"If you don't try to make light of things, but simply find the humor which is there, self-importance is eased without pain. It is helpful to seek out the humor in everything you do - perhaps even to write down the most heroic, tragic, painful, nostalgic, meaningful, important things in your life and look for their funniness." Simply Sane - The Spirituality of Mental Health by Gerald May.
Since life is often unfair, we will always have opportunities to make "light of things" with our children; however, we need to take care. Irony can easily turn into or be interpreted as cynicism, a popular attitude with teenagers because they think it makes them appear "chilled out" and impervious to life's setbacks. Eventually they become numbed to the joy and pleasures of life as well, unwilling and unable to celebrate their victories. They assume masks that become difficult to take off, and their laughter comes at the expense of others more and more often.
One way to counter the lure of cynicism, is to rediscover how we laughed as children and to expand our laughter, so that we role model the freedom and joy that an awareness of the absurdity of our human condition gives us. Is it possible to find humor in our "heroic, tragic, painful, nostalgic, meaningful, important things"? I remember a time it was possible for me. It was when Julia, age eleven, and I had a terrible car accident in which, in order to avoid an oncoming car, I swerved and ended up rolling over twice in our Pathfinder, basically flattening it. We were both pulled out of the car from the passenger side window by two landscapers who happened to be behind us on the highway. Although we were trembling with fear and shock, we emerged, one after the other, without a single scratch; not a nail broken. In a very small shaky voice Julia asked, "Mommy, don't ever, ever, ever buy another red car."
When spirit is involved, we can overcome cynicism by discovering what is absurd and funny in life. Tilden Edwards points out in Sabbath Time that, "Laughter is a special kind of play. Laughter can be escapist, contrived, or cynical, but not when it is God laughing through us. Then it is a simply restful celebration of the life that is. Such laughter is schoolmaster, too. It teaches us humility and deflates pretension." When our spirits connect through laughter, we feel the simple playfulness of our divine nature. We find common ground in the spontaneity and pleasure of the moment as if we were both trusting children again. When "God laughs through us", we cannot help but bond.
Let me take from this moment
Just one memory I can treasure
When everything came together
In the brilliance of the day
Let me capture joyous laughter
How I felt and how I acted
So when all else is subtracted
I'll recall I felt this way.
Let me throw off all my burdens
Inhale deeply all the magic
Use it when there's something tragic
When I'm lost or gone astray.
~ More Prayers On My Pillow ~
Copyright 2002, Celia Straus