“What’s your limitless word,” she asked me, in front of a new group, as part of the workshop. A big smile with an escaped laugh - I thought for a brief moment before the answer came, and I told the group my word.
A sweet man present pointed out that laughter was my first choice and should be my “limitless” word. This man didn’t know me, but he caught that perfect, obvious truth. I LOVE to laugh. Laughter is expansive heart medicine and change agent.
Laughter is subversion and reclamation of Joy. In a magic akin to alchemy, it dulls the edge of sorrow, awkwardness, even grief, and reduces the grip of heartache. It exalts and celebrates minutiae and the ridiculous, and ever contagious, laughter binds and creates connection. All in contrast to a cultural narrative bent on speed, stoicism, and individualism.
But, possibly the most radical potential of laughter - It thwarts death. In that gasp while you catch your breath between guffaws, in that ethereal, liminal space, time.is.paused and, with it, the slow creep of entropy. For better or worse, that’s what we are all busy doing – aging, dissolving, dying.
“I was blessed with a birth and a death and I guess I just want some say in between” (-Ani Difranco).
Our culture is terrified of death, and we often don’t do well with its symbolic parallel – change. There’s a lack of control and unknown with the wildness and disobedience of change and death. Literally and figuratively. Our cells are aging. Systems are changing. Relationships are modified, matured or dismembered. Comfortable or not, change and death are absolute. But it is far from dour – change, the death of what-once-was, in whatever form, is a doorway to a new way of being.
Laughter then in the face of darkness and demise, the unknown and undisciplined, is revolutionary and resiliency. By wresting the reigns of story back to Self, laughter puts Agent back in the driver seat of their narrative. Rather than spiritual bypassing, or an all-is-light demeanor, it honors the uncomfortable, the passing of the Former, the ridiculous and taboo by allowing the individual the possibility to be present with the difficult.
Hedonistic, irreverent of stoicism and blunted feelings, revolutionary - laughter is empowering and healing. It is heart medicine.
An attitude problem:…..I won’t be bowed…..
My sense of humor is dark, sarcastic, even off-putting, with the potential to injure. This happened recently, my inappropriate humor inadvertently hurting a dearest one. (And in some kind of emotional mathematics, heartache doubled while being divided by love). I didn’t mean to. But intent isn’t balm for mistake.
I see how I use laughter – to mollify and soften what I find uncomfortable. Example, that I’m new and late and everyone is looking at me (see the opening story). Example, that a dearest one is free, can leave, and will always be, despite days.weeks.years, Mystery – a threat that is incredibly scary, but that I can sculpt with comedy. Example, that sex, a taboo topic and space of vulnerability can be awkward and messy and utterly ridiculous – how can that not be a space welcoming to laughter?
In laughter, I can sit with the possibility of darkness and pain, change and undoing. My joy in lockstep with hurt, giving me subsistence so that I don’t completely shut down or shut out. An admonishment of pain and declaration of delight. Perfectly, deliciously irreverent. Revolutionary.
…..I choose laughter…..
Questions and contemplations for the reader:
- What makes you laugh?
- Do you use laughter as medicine? How?
- What brings you joy, delight, pleasure?
- What is your limitless word?
- Laughter is sound and reminds me of naad yoga and mantra – sacred and repeated, it opens you to new levels of consciousness. What would happen if laughter became mantra?
- Have you heard of the Japanese art of kintsukuroi? – the smashing of ceramics and repairing with gold powder. How does laughter as medicine and change agent mirror kintsukuroi?
Recommended Resources for exploring the complementarity between joy and the difficult:
Gay, R. The Book of Delights
On Being Podcast with Ross Gay: https://onbeing.org/programs/ross-gay-tending-joy-and-practicing-delight/
Wiman, C., ed. Joy: 100 Poems
Written by Dr. Allison Mitch, PT (DPT). All work is copyright protected, please cite accordingly. Picture was taken by Jana Blue Photography (https://www.janabluephotography.com/ ) at The Resiliency Institute during one of our sacred circles (summer 2019). Video is mine, of Becky Shanks, Presents of Mind Hypnosis (https://presentsofmindhypnosis.com/) , and I playing healing sound bowls in the edible garden at The Resiliency Institute. *Proof of the contagiousness of laughter and smiles and my ever-present giggle*
For questions, please email Dr. Allison Mitch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author’s note: I first visited this idea about laughter as a medicine against my own discomfort in a social media post from December 2018, while in a shamanic practitioner training with Donna Callaghan (https://www.journeyofthesoul.net/) . At the time of this piece’s writing (September 2019), a dearest one and I are getting to know each other and they are learning the true extent of my sarcasm (and gifting me with awareness on how to soften here); they are causing me to circle back to meaning of laughter, laughter as a way of Being – change agent and heart medicine. In these lessons, we are walking each other home.
Thank you for reading.
Video of Becky Shanks and I playing sound bowls:
(Nature art or mandala made by a child at our Mother*-daughter circle)