Peacemaking work can get heavy especially when one always has to be right. Hard nosed politically correct peacemaking is related to its cousin, hard nosed religiously correct spirituality. Both communities have had some impact upon my life and I have learned that I apparently close down in both environments. In closing down I erect my own borders because of my fear of rigidity. When they come together the two can reenforce each other and get lost in the thicket of oughts, have tos, and shoulds. Closing down means that my mind turns fuzzy, uncreative, and sleepy. When it catches me by surprise I suddenly find myself detached from the world, alone, so alone that I can’t even think of good pun or joke.
Religious faith can be morbid and heavy when there is too little joy. I have come to see that true spirituality lives in the uncharted territory between the sacred and the profane. Laughing allows me to go into the unknown. By sidestepping my fear I enter into that place where the walls designed to protect me either dissolve or cease to inhibit me. This is the place where creativity can find a home and new possibilities become visible. Humour shifts my perspective and allows my body and mind to imagine.
Laughter experts tell us that humour is a very good medicine because it allows our bodies to release a fresh set of chemicals that affect our mood and our outlook. Over the years I noticed that peacemaking work can be like a harmonious eco system when there is a little lightness and laughter. I also noticed that teams and work groups can stagnate when the walls of fear are erected. Often this can happen when just one person insists on their vision. That person may be the “leader” but it might be anyone. In some groups that person is called a blocker. These moments of immobility are not expunged by a bristling discussion of the evils of authoritarianism although it might feel good for a time and the analysis may even be correct.
I grew up in a home where there were frequent visitors. Some of those visitors were from the Amish community who lived 20 miles north of our Ohio home. Occasionally the visits were characterized by incredible story telling, spats of laughter and general levity, not the popular understanding of Amish people but nevertheless true. Amish who have a firm belief system often have a joyful life together full of laughter, tricks and teasing. At other times those visits from the Amish were morbid and heavy.
Often my father would take the guests into the living room, shut the door and tell me to go somewhere else. Of course that was the signal to me that something interesting was about to happen, a time that the boundaries of confidentiality needed to be tested. So I would listen at the door, trying not to get caught and thereby get a handle on the unfolding mystery. Usually I got bored with the long sad sentences and weight of a conversation full of blame and guilt. After a time I just went away. As I child I thought that I was banished because I would get in the way of heaviness. I believed that truly spiritual people were heavy. But now, as I remember those events I suspect that my father was protecting me from a moment of spiritual and personal heaviness.
In recent years the study of laughter has been baptized with a really tantalising combination of a Greek words, gelotology, the study of humour and its physical affect, laughter, as well as the psychological and physiological effects on the human body. I don’t think that word got used in our home, however occasional bouts of humour were a part of my formation. Laughter is not always ignited by jokes especially the type that are not funny or worse still, manipulative. Humour invites us to carry our belief systems with the kind of respect that prevents us from placing burdens or guilt upon others. Laughter may signal to others that we want to be part of the group and turn interactions in a positive direction.
Laughter can bring clarification to hard questions that require the invention of new thoughts and more creative ways to communicate those thoughts. Often laughter is contagious and occasionally brings tears although the geolotolgists (if that is what laughter theorists or therapists are called) remind us that the chemical make up of tears of laughter are different from sad tears. Some comedians are our best prophets because they live in that place beyond fear and they get us to laugh at our walls of separation. Laughter comes from that place beyond, where space is providede for the transforming power of kindness, truth telling, sympathy, and compassion.
Just in case you want to learn a little more about the tantalising effects of laughter you may want to check out How Laughter Works by Marshall Brain even though it does not promise complete bliss.
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