Article for Connections Magazine, April 2011
We all love to laugh. When we are laughing we are not thinking and this brief relief from thought adds to the feeling of happiness that we get from laughing.
A confirming sign of awakening is to laugh so hard you can barely breath as you look back on what you thought was your life. This sort of laughter is very contagious and spreads the deep bliss of the moment to all who join in.
However there are different kinds of laughter as we know, and we all know the difference between laughing at someone and laughing with them. At one point in our relationship my wife pointed out that I had a negative personality. I was shocked. I was no longer the angry aggressive person I had been, so I did not know what she was pointing at. I decided to make a mark each time in a day that I was negative. At first I did not see it. She would say, “that was negative,” and I thought I was being funny. That is when I woke up to a form of humor that I had learned as a child. When I examined it I saw that it was sarcastic. It was a subtle put-down. When I investigated, I found it was based in fear.
Growing up on the streets of New York it was important never to be gullible, to be taken in by some con. Instead, cynicism was a signal that I saw it coming. I was a “wise-guy” to stay safe from ridicule. This pattern had stayed with me for most of my life, until I started to consciously notice it. The first day it showed up half a dozen times. Soon, days were going by with no marks of negativity on my pad at all. I felt better. I felt more innocent and freed up from judgment on a level whereI had not noticed it was operating.
On the other hand, laughter is a great medicine. I remember being in the chemo lab, undergoing heavy chemo-therapy and having to receive blood plasma as well. I saw that the blood was coming from Oklahoma and the nurses said it would change my taste in music and I would suddenly start loving Merle Haggard and red-neck country tunes. We all laughed so hard it caught on in the room and soon several patients were laughing as they received their infusions. My doctor would make good use of it as well. Being a German from Heidelberg Medical School he would joke with me, when he wanted to try an experiment of something new, by saying he would like try a little “Mengle” on me.
While it is easy to laugh at someone else it is a sign of true maturity to be able to laugh at oneself. When we can laugh at all that we had taken so seriously in our life we are free of it. When we laugh whole-heartedly at ourselves we are free of the constrictions of self-importance. While all laughter is temporary and a temporary Samadhi, or bliss state, it can point to the possibility of living our life by not taking it personally. In this we are free.
I will finish with a little story. One day an elderly woman in New York goes to a travel agency. When told she wants a ticket to Nepal the agent tries to convince her that she should go to some place sunny and warm, but she insists on Nepal. “I want to see the guru,” she replies to all other offers.
When she arrives, she is offered all sorts of sight-seeing for tourists but she insists on hiring a Sherpa and hiking back into the mountains to find the guru. At last she arrives at a monastery high in the hills. She is told the guru is in a meditation retreat and will not see her. She refuses to leave until she sees the guru. Finally the devotees agree that she can see the guru but only for one minute and she can only speak three words. She agrees.
The guru appears and she says, “Eli, come home.”