Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers and the Dalai Lama)

A friend gave me this picture of the Dalai Lama sitting and talking with Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers. It is taped to the bulletin board at my desk, and  is a magnificent snapshot of joy and the epitome of contentment.  It is two masters simply enjoying each others company.  Its inspiration derives from its simplicity.  They are intently absorbed in a conversation that is making both of them heartily laugh.  It is both incredibly intimate and wonderfully public.  Cameras were clearly present (for we have the photo) but it appears as if, for each of them, nothing but the other person exists.

I remember a section in “Readers Digest” that I used to read as a young person called “Laughter, The Best Medicine”. Mostly I would find the magazine at my grandmother Yankee Doodle's house.   She got this moniker because when we were little she would sing us "Yankee Doodle".  The name stuck with me and my siblings until she died when I was in my twenties.  Only my siblings and I called her that, the other cousins did not.   At grandma's house, while reading "Readers Digest" there were two sections to which I always looked forward; one was the drama in real life and the other was laughter is the best medicine section.

Laughter is good medicine. There are many studies concluding that laughter as medicine is indeed good for people physically and psychologically. It boosts the immune system, relaxes the body and protects the heart.

When was the last time you laughed?

Our sense of humor, like our fingerprint, dna or retina are our own. What may make one person laugh often makes another cringe.    What we laugh at bears our individual conditioning.  It is both uniquely ours and simultaneously beyond us.

Have you ever wondered where laughter comes from? It is easy to think its our own that it belongs to us, but when you laugh do you choose to laugh or does it simply come. Why are some things funny to you and others not?  They may even be funny at certain times and not at others.  It is clear that certainly some of why we laugh is conditioning. Perhaps even most of it is conditioned.   Translated jokes often fall flat because the meaning is lost in the translation; a particular idiom in one language does not always carry over in another. If you have been conditioned in a particular way you are more likely to find some things funny. At the end though, laughter, like sorrow, passes through us. We cannot say exactly why something is funny it just is funny.

I often said that for me crying was always easy because it always simply felt like something bigger than I was moving through.  I believe it might be the same with laughter. Laughter is an amazing gift. In essence it is the ability to truly see something and celebrate its existence in a manner of speaking. It is a moment of taking off the mask that this life is so serious. It breaks down the subject / object construction. When you are caught up in laughter it is very easy to simply sense there is only this.   Boundaries become more porous amidst great laughter.

That is some of the beauty of the picture between the Dalai Lama and Fred Rogers.

What about the dark side of  laughter? Are some things just NOT funny? Are some things OFF limits?

Answer: It is often said that tragedy and comedy are two sides of the same coin. That said,

I don’t know – how would you answer that question for yourself? Are you trying to cede the authority over your own sense of humor? Do you want permission to laugh at something? What is holding you back from laughing? I would venture its someone’s approval or disapproval? What does that mean or suggest?

The last time I laughed was  Saturday at Star Trek. There were a number of places where I laughed out loud.   My laugh is quite boisterous.  My partner speaks of knowing she loved me when she loved my laugh.  I often laugh at parts that many others do not laugh or in anticipation of a joke that is about to come.  I am often amused by that observation.   Laughter sits in many ways at the nexus of some interesting ontologies.   It is both an incredibly private act; what makes you laugh is uniquely derived from the conditioning you've experienced but at the same time much of that conditioning is subject to societal and cultural influences.  On the other hand, jokes and humor rely upon shared perpsective and understanding.  Perhaps that is why jokes and what is funny can often be such a touchy subject.  "Inside joke" comes from the ability of jokes to circumsribe social roles, include and exclude and consequently influence how people feel.   Peoples feelings get hurt when some jokes are told.  Jokes are often used as a social navigation tool.  "We are like them - they will find this funny - those people over there they won't find this funny therefore I won't share it with them".  How often have you not shared a joke or limited who you shared it with  because you were afraid?

It is very easy to take a joke serioiusly.  It is very easy to take a joke to actually mean something.  A joke, if it reflects anything, reflects its teller's idea of themself much more than it reflects anything that might really be true.  That said, they can still hurt.  It is very hard to remember this in the moment.   The power of humor, and  jokes and laughter can be used for ill too so this is not subscribe to anything that makes you laugh is necessarily good.  Jokes can be incredibly mean spirited. Because  most people are not aware of who they really are, they are susceptible to others words triggering pain. Jokes can hurt immensely,  they can exclude and make one feel alone,  they can tap into our unresolved issues, hurts and deep seated fears.  Beacuse we carry the conditioning of culture and few have worked through the pain of the many, many messages in society that would hide or undermine who we are in our glory,  jokes can diminish and they can be used to exclude and ostracize.  But for all of that, it is important to note that ultimately joke's only have the meaning and power we give them and to note that they do not touch who we are in our core. 

If a joke triggers something in us, is that not a place where we are giving ourselves a substance that might not really be there?  Is it the case that we are taking ourselves too seriously? Is it not to be falsely duped by a mirage? It is a mirage that nearly all in culture and society ascribe to but a mirage nonetheless.  Though this may be difficult, notice what happens internally and externally  the next time someone tells a joke?  Does it exclude?  Do "you" belong to the inside experience in the joke or the outside?  How does that change (or not) your experience of the joke?  The joke can be your practice.

So if a joke ultimately means nothing does that mean that we have license to create and repeat mean jokes or that if something mean is said that I should do nothing, since its not real anyway?

Is that what your heart tells you to do?  Reality is capable of holding all.  It is only a dualistic mind that wants things to be one way or the other.  It is the dualistic mind that says well if its not real why should I bother.  It is the dualistic mind that reels in the freedom of not having a presription for what to do.   Reality often says "both and".   In the absolute,  "meanness"  does not exist,  but if you conclude from the that that action is useless, or that you can then be mean then you have missed the point. You are no longer in reality.  Reality asks a nimbleness of us it says it is all possible but that it might be is advisable that one take action after a joke that is mean spirited, even if that joke does not ultimately mean anything. 

Laughter is a truly amazing gift.   Laughter is a signature for our unique humor.    This is perhaps a tad blasphemous and certainly irreverent but I don't sometimes wonder if life itself is not a grand joke.  I don't in fact mean it the way that many might take it.  I mean it in the most generous way.  I mean it as something that is filled with such intense wonder, humor and joy.  I mean it as a great comedy show that is always producing amazing gaffes, fantastic ironies, jolting jokes and phenomenal twists.    If we could slow down for just a moment, and realize that its all going to be ok I suspect we might be laughing a lot more.  

Find the funny and laugh!

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