Yesterday I awoke and noticed snow falling softly outside my window. It made me smile. It was actually gathering on the ground for the first time this season. The cool winds of change I have been feeling of late seemed to have suddenly delivered winter. I decided to change up my regular morning regimen and attend the Montreal Laughter League instead of doing my usual yoga and meditation. I figured the laughter would provide a work out of its own, so I suited up and headed out. I had been meaning to join the Laughter League for some time, having noticed their poster up at Burritoville. They meet on the first and third Sunday of every month and I was glad to be finally dropping in. It was only about a ten-minute walk from where I am living right now. As I approached the door I noticed a gentleman crossing the street headed straight for the same place. We greeted one another and entered together.
Sporadic laughter was already issuing from within. I introduced myself to the few folks already gathered and felt immediately welcome. A few more folks trickled in and we got started. We went around the circle introducing ourselves and breaking into laughter afterwards. We were encouraged to put it forward even if slightly forced, allowing the laughter to become more genuine once it got rolling. I wasn’t immediately fond of the notion of forcing a laugh, but the power of momentum surprised me more than a few times. The phrase ‘fake it until you make it’ came to mind. I was amazed at how quickly forced laughter became real. I occasionally pictured my Mom and a couple of cackling Aunts getting carried away in their hilarity, which consistently spurred me on. Even just looking around at the others in the room was often enough for a laugh. The sheer ridiculousness of the setting and our behaviour became a common cause for continued laughter.
We practiced several specific styles of laughter, interspersed with rest periods. We passed laughter around the circle at random; we partnered off for close eye-contact laughter; we pointed at ourselves and laughed, and we even tried to suppress laughter as if we were ‘little schoolgirls’. My cheeks were hurting early on and I was grateful for our moments of down time. We were guided through breathing exercises and encouraged to shake our sillies out from time to time (laughter often emerging from the silence). We also stopped to study the phenomenon of laughter itself.
We learned a lot about laughter. It seems to be a global language. It is a natural reaction to life. It is not something that we strictly pick up from social cues. Even deaf and blind babies laugh naturally, never having ‘learned’ it. We watched our bodies as we laughed to see where it was coming from, belly, chest or throat. We identified a few basic variations of laughter – the HA HA HA, the HEE HEE HEE, and the HO HO HO – and observed the unique characteristics associated with each.
I got really going a number of times and I was sweating before long. Experienced laughers spoke of the importance of dressing in layers so you could gradually strip down when you got overheated. I was grateful for the pitcher of water on the table in the middle of the circle, but we were warned to drink with caution as it could easily go down the wrong pipe with even the slightest chuckle.
After about an hour or so I noticed that my brain was hurting. It wasn’t exactly a headache but it was becoming slightly uncomfortable. It was pulsating pretty intensely and I felt like new parts of it had been ‘laughed to life’. My neighbour mentioned a similar sensation just as our leader began winding us down for the closing meditation. I was grateful for the rest.
As we fell quiet (for the most part), the meditation melted my body and mind. I felt a million miles wide. Already having a great deal of experience in meditation (often following the exertion of yoga), I was surprised at how deeply I relaxed. I feel it was such a deep meditation because of the stark contrast with the intense workout. All that laughter had been quite a release. It was a different sort of exertion than I was accustomed to leading up to my meditation. As we wrapped up, we decided as a group that ‘she who laughs lasts’. It felt like a valuable nugget to walk away with.
As I strolled slowly homeward I thought about the importance of contrast. It seems we are constantly oscillating between opposites, often to extremes. The very nature of growth seems to bounce us between tension and release. In exercise of any kind we first strengthen before trusting our muscles. Learning to let go of our ‘picture of perfection’ and to simply accept life as it is can be such a skill. We can develop and deepen seeds of peace through active surrender, accepting the fluctuations of life’s various storms and seasons.
The ultimate contrast we seem to be experiencing is between being and becoming. Though it can seem chaotic at times, the wisdom of a wider perspective can help us to embrace this strain with a smile, perhaps even a laugh. A favourite teacher of mine, Nisargadatta Maharaj, said that “it is in the nature of being to seek adventure in becoming, as it is in the nature of becoming to seek peace in being.” This feels intuitively true and it has certainly been the case in my life. What we can come to appreciate as we bounce back and forth is the strengthening of our centre. Our balance can become both broader and stabler as we continue learning and growing, oscillating between the extremes of rest and adventure. Patience and persistence are ever our allies on this journey. But it is helpful to remember that resistance to life’s vicissitudes can halt our development. Simply accepting what is seems to be the wise way forward (as difficult as it can be).
As I look out my window again this morning, I smile to see the softly falling snow. I am reminded of all I love about winter, knowing also that summer wouldn’t be what it is without it – the cold affords the warmth. I am willing to suspend, for the moment, thoughts about winter’s less attractive traits, grateful to laugh and see that this snow is beautiful in itself. I accept this gift as it is right now, looking no further forward.