Laughter to Support you in Suffering
As we all know life is filled with joy, suffering, and neutrality or boredom. This is THE WAY IT IS! Or, as a very good old friend often reminded me: “It is what it is!” In Buddhism we preach a middle way in various areas of practice;
the same path is true in conscious awareness of self-suffering. This post is NOT recommending that you do not pass through grief and loss processes, or that you should attempt to deny/suppress experiences of suffering. What it is suggesting is that you recognize this is simply all part of normal life experience for us humans. It is also suggesting that you learn and use various “wise mind” skills and practices (mindfulness, meditation, RAIN, yoga, walking meditation, etc.) to help yourself feel and do/be better in life. Rupert Spira in various writings highly influenced by classical Vedanta boiled it down into a few very important understanding – understanding about the way things are, and how we consciously experience the way things are. In the use of laughter to nudge you out of suffering, we may want to pay attention to some of his key ideas. Along with the recognition of wasting lots of emotional energy trying to change what happens to us in primary suffering, it may help to recognize that just allowing or radically accepting what our experience is in this present moment is a form of ultimate truth. Emphasizing neither the body nor the mind in experiencing suffering, we may want to realize that it is simply our conscious awareness of present-moment suffering that makes it so hard to be with it in peace. Being more aware and being more able to just be with your experience no matter what it is are important skills in life. Preferences for pleasant self-objects, other people as objects, things as objects,emotions as objects, and our personal experience as objects – all these associated desires and related cognitive-emotional-behavioral consequences simply produce greater suffering. Once we are skilledenough to just be with our suffering as a part of life, we may be better equipped to become a happier person. Inner quiet, equanimity, liking and loving, loving kindness, compassion, as well as a deeper understanding of reality are all part of moving though suffering and, perhaps, into more happiness. The conditioned mind and body may still seek sense pleasures (short-term joys but ultimately long-term causes of suffering), but eventually we may understand that trying to attach/hold onto pleasant emotions and trying to avoid unpleasant emotions gets us nowhere. Pleasant and unpleasant are simply part of the larger life-picture of what is. So what about laughter in all of this?
Current research from Georgia State University suggests that combining laughter with exercise may be a potent counter-force against suffering. Brief aerobic exercise improved mental health related mood, physical endurance, personal motivation to “do” something, and weight loss. Adding “forced laughter” via laughing yoga or eye-contacted, face-to-face laughter did get people to laugh. Since people had to decide whether or not to cooperate, the terms “forced laughter” may be inappropriate. Since, according to certain neuroscience opinions, the body cannot recognize differences in authentic laughter and forced laughter – this research may be quite meaningful. Also, again from neuroscience research, we know that facial emotional expressions find their way into the brain. Like the body, the brain (other than exaggerated executive criticism) cannot differentiate natural laughter from other forms of laughter. The more and longer people laughed, the better the outcomes were.
So the take-aways here are do more exercise and find more ways to laugh. Perhaps you will want to find and join a laughter yoga group. When you exercise and laugh, emotional life improves.
For more information refer to J. Smiechowski (Retrieved 10-11-16). How many calories can you burn laughing? Easy Health Options. For more complex understandings about non-dual reality, see Spira, R. (2008). The Transparency of Things. Sahara Publications and New Harbinger Publications.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness