Last night there was a public, free offering of Laughter Yoga as part of the Indian Summer festival in Vancouver. My friends had arrived and set up their blanket on the grass barely 10 feet away from the throng of new laugh-yoginis. The leader, a 30s women who could have been easily coaching a group of 8 year olds to act happy and behave, set the tone of merciless positivity. How much do we not laugh when we could? How much more fun could we have?
I felt my own negativity-guilt pull at me, saying “oh, maybe this will be healing!” or “you’ll be isolated if you don’t put on a happy, laughing face!”. But I stayed on the grass. I listened to the forced laughter, which was pleasant enough to listen to, but didn’t remind me of the lightness of joy. It more reminded me off the steam let off when someone lets out a tight lipped giggle in a tense room and the dominoes of giggles that fall in the blowing off of steam.
After about 15 minutes of watching and rolling my eyes increasingly, I decided to join in my own way, to laugh in response to what was going on. I laughed a crazy, maniacal comic book laugh, as if I was Doctor Dastardly about to tie up a maiden on a train track. I let it grow in a crescendo, giving a full embodiment of Dastardliness. Yes, I’ll get you yet, my pretty Laughter Yoga teacher! While a part of me expected to be singled out as the “party pooper”, I didn’t get noticed at all that way; in fact there were a fair number of people around me that were really laughing now in response to me.
I guess real laughter comes from truth. Yes, there’s the giggling that’s just releasing a bit of tension, but the great humor comes from honesty and reconciling seeming opposites. I suppose my maniacal laughter said things like “OH YEAH? How about THIS laughter?” – a fuck off to the leader speaking as if we were young children. It was a finger to any implication that there is a right way, a spiritual way to laugh, that we have to smile, that we have to have fun by obeying. That healing is about following, doing something in the right way instead of listening to my own voice. Maybe others were laughing from understanding that too.
Later on she asked people in that same pedantic voice to listen deep within and say a word or phrase that came from within. Those that spoke to her said such positive words as “joy”, “freedom”, “play”, and “openness”. From behind the crowd, I spoke my phrase of “fuck off”. But I said it with a smile on my face. I then had a wonderful discussion with a friend on the value of that phrase, how important it is to welcome that energy too. It also made people around me laugh honestly. What better way at times to say “I don’t want to be controlled by an ideology or by peer pressure to be positive – I want to march to my own drummer.” I certainly don’t want to disrupt others’ experiences, but that was truly my inner voice’s honest phrase. Speaking it loud enough to be heard was fun.
Over 10 years ago, I did a clown intensive for over 3 months, 15 hours a week. In every class we did a related exercise : we lied own on the floor and made emotive sounds and movements for half an hour. Words were forbidden, but we could laugh, cry, or anything in between. The teacher, David MacMurray Smith, called it the cycle of agony and ecstasy. It was a meditation on just allowing emotions, sounds, and movement to flow and change. Laughter would only last for a time, then it either calmed or moved into crying sounds, baby-like curious sounds, or even the odd tantrum. But with the freedom to fully allow each to bloom, nothing lasted, and more, each was genuine. And in a room full of other people, it was fun to be affected, to see where the group energy was going. When there wasn’t control over what we should experience, every emotion became fun. Sometimes the movement from crying to laughter and back again happened many times in a minute, because crying was fun too. It was a celebration of that part of humanness.
I love emotional expressiveness, I do. I suppose I also love the expressiveness of saying “fuck off” to unspoken rules of conformity and control. Anything that helps is going to help me to be natural, to let go of assumptions, and find the fun of being true to whatever’s there in the moment, while listening to the environment and bringing respect (of a sort) and compassion. I’ll gladly do the laughing/crying “yoga” any day, but the next time on a hot day I see someone teaching laughter yoga that way, I hope I have a Super Soaker to spray her with. Maybe that’ll help get some genuine laughter going.