It has been exactly one year since I constructed a brick patio and before I laid the pavers, was ‘tamping’ the ground, which is actually stomping the surface with a heavy square on the end of a long handle. Because there was a pretty large surface area I had gotten into the ‘groove’ of stomping. Suddenly, a small hump of soil made the weighty end shift abruptly and the handle solidly smacked me in the side of the head. Moments later I found myself on the ground, picking myself back up.
While I was to have a ‘goose egg’ on my temple later, I didn’t really feel the pain at the time and I started laughing. If you had been watching me, it would have been a perfect Three Stooges routine, done all by myself. It still makes me smile when I think about it.
So I got to thinking about the way the mind works about topics of great gravity, and our habitual attitudes about being serious and its opposite, on a deeper mind level.
Important Equals Serious?
The mind takes things literally. Fortunately or unfortunately, in the English language, there are usually several meanings to one word. For serious, there are even more – grave or humourless; important or major; acute or critical; earnest or determined; and thought-provoking or meaningful. So that mind can interpret one meaning while we (or someone else) might actually be implying something else.
Have you ever been told to take something seriously? What does it mean? Usually, when done in grade school, it means to stop giggling and focus on the important work at hand. Because the mind works by association, sometimes these repeated messages connect one aspect to another – that when something is major or meaningful we need to be solemn about it.
But is that a message that works for everything?
Take a moment to think about something you love to do – something that brings joy to your heart, a skip in your step or a smile to your lips. It may be a hobby or pastime, or it possibly is a vocation or significant contribution to your family or community. While it might be ‘just for a laugh’, there may be something more weighty to the action or involvement.
Often when we are fully engaged in something that we are committed to or love to do, it feels more like play. I love training and writing, and I have fun doing it. Does that mean that it may not hold valuable nuggets of information or insight? I hope and believe not.
Could we ‘lighten up’ some of the daily tasks we do to make them less grave yet no less worthy? While not making fun of a situation, how would some of our ‘chores’ seem if we approached them with a levity that removed the heavy feeling from the deeds?
Physical Comedy (or Does Humour Travel?)
When I was in University I knew some wonderful and funny friends who did stand-up comedy. They worked at the clubs in the city of Montreal, where there were two working languages – English and French. I remember one friend recounting a ‘less-than-stellar’ (read failed?) show when he took a routine that did well in the English-speaking community and translated it for a French-speaking audience. It wasn’t the language as he was fluent in both, but it was the content that seemed to flop.
While we might imagine that we are global children, we have still been brought up with the sensibilities of those around us – most specifically, our beliefs, values and sense of what is funny and what is not. Watching comedic programs from your non-origin country may have you scratching your head while others are rolling in the aisles.
When we are dealing with others, even within our own culture (and even families), the experiences we’ve had, the challenges and opportunities, all affect the way we see ourselves and others. With humour we need to be considerate of the way that our past encounters may tint our way of seeing what’s funny in life and what’s not. In certain countries I’ve suddenly had less of a sense of humour, not because I have changed, but because there seems to be a relative lack of resonance with others around me about what is entertaining and what is not.
When we are faced with this, it is important to remember that there’s nothing wrong with either the deliverer or receiver, just that they may be on different jesting paths. It’s also helpful to remember that the more you want to understand and be understood, the simpler you need to go and the more common ground you need to connect with in the subconscious mind, which might mean you pocket your knock-knocks while you get to know someone new.
Comedy? Tragedy? Two sides of the mask
Within the mind is the concept of perception. Perception is, in many ways, not reality – it just FEELS like it. Often people are asked to measure their perceived exertion during tests for fitness or performance. It is different for everyone. I might be running at the same speed as my husband, but my perceived exertion might be an 8 (higher) while his is a 4 (lower).
Our perceived effort is a scale on which only we can determine the magnitude. For example, pushing a lawn mower is actually more physical effort than pushing a vacuum, but for me, I’d much rather mow the lawn than vacuum the floor – it’s easier and more enjoyable for me. The actual, objective or external effort doesn’t really matter within the confines of my mind.
Sometimes when we feel challenged by things in our lives, they seem a lot harder. And it tends to follow that when it’s harder, while some revel in the test, most feel like all the delight is squeezed out of that particular journey towards our goals.
Sometimes it can come from an inheritance or early belief. “WE are not good at that…” “You’re just like your mother/father, not able to…” and so on.
Sometimes we fall short of a goal, and combined with the suggestions others give us or we give ourselves, our perception shifts and becomes more tragic rather than comedic. Going back to knocking myself out with the tamper – while I didn’t control the tool correctly, I saw it as a combination of my taking my eye off the project at hand for a moment combined with a well-timed ‘bump in the road’. I could have berated myself, or mourned my now-marred head, which would have slowed or even stopped the construction project. But I didn’t.
I’ve seen people overcome huge and seemingly disastrous experiences, coming out of the incidents with a sense of humour that makes me shake my head in disbelief. When moving forward, shifting perceptions, accepting that some things cannot change in our past, uses up less emotional, physical, and mental energy than being stuck in our own horror story, so it may make more sense. As long as we can learn the lessons even as we lose, it allows us to see that we are capable of making it through some challenging circumstances with grace. Now that is something to smile about.
Is there another way of looking at a past situation, event or relationship that may shift your perspective? Even if it starts as an eye-rolling, shake of the head, “I can’t believe that happened” type of approach, you may be heading in the right direction to move on and move through. Sometimes the worst flubs of a movie are often the funniest (even if they were cut from the final film). I know I’ve got a reel of goofs (like the tamper) that keep me amused on long bus trips… Can you start making your own collection, for your own amusement?
Some of the people I prize as being the ones who have it all together (or seem to), are not the glum or stiff ones, but those who are sincere and cheerful.
They have the skills to turn a dark situation into one with greater light (cloud and silver lining?). They tend to be able to find a common ground with others to find the funny side of things, laughing with, not at themselves and others. They hold their work, relationships and responsibilities as they would a butterfly in the hand – lightly and with great wonder.
I often catch myself looking at life (and myself) too critically. And I wonder – does my gravity ever stop me from flying?
As Elbert Hubbard is quoted as saying, “Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive.” Whenever I rediscover my own sense of humour and follow the steps that those who ‘live lightly’ have springingly taken, it feels that the world is brighter and the possibility of more laughter increases very quickly.
For me, it’s even worth a bump on the head as a reminder.