When I surf the Internet sometimes, I tend to search for a comedian’s work – brief snippets of stand-up that cause me to pause, listen and laugh. Robin Williams, in particular, is a favorite of mine. Over the last few months, I watched a few highlights of his comedy routines and laughed so loud that tears started tickling my eyelashes. One clip led to another and after about thirty minutes, I realized I spent most of it ambushed by laughter.
As I reflected on this light feeling, it felt foreign. My natural inclination is to gravitate toward the intense and serious, while my bouts of laughter occur sporadically, like that once in a while visit from an old friend who lives out-of-town. I accept that there is an undercurrent of discomfort that is part of my internal fabric. This relates to my general restlessness, the pendulum that swings between sorrow and happiness and the apprehension I sense as time passes from one moment to the next. This inability to get completely comfortable creates a source of tension that prevents me from enjoying the present.
To alleviate my tendency toward the somber, I try to find refuge in meditation and running. The common trait that threads both these practices is breath. Breathing in and out, with a slow and steady pace, the object is to try to be more present. I am trying to attain that state as I’m moving one foot in front of the other or while I’m sitting Indian-style in silence attempting to quiet my mind. I am conscious of attempting to gain an awareness of sinking into the present.
But when I am laughing, there is no effort. No errant thoughts are darting in my head. The past is not screaming, nor is the future shining a flashlight in my face. Instead of trying to coax the present into entering into my veins, while I am laughing, I am firmly in the moment. There is a flow. The body is fully engaged with a happiness that I not only hear in the cadence of my laugh, but feel in my core.
So why is it hard to make room for laughter? I am still grappling with the answer to this question, but I attribute it to downplaying its importance in my day-to-day life. Yesterday during Mother’s Day, I engaged in some horseplay with my daughter. Running around the house, collapsing on the bed, I started to tickle her. She gave in to the laughter and then turned the tables on me. As we laughed together, I didn’t feel the pressure of thinking about the past, but slipping my toe into the stream and letting the emotion of the moment wash over me without any hesitation. I recall experiencing this feeling weeks earlier when a mundane task became one where I felt so alive. Listening to my daughter’s laughter helped me remember. As I drove her to school, my car maneuvered through the puddles in the road. Water splashed high and in an instant, I could not only hear the soothing sounds of her giggles, but it caused me to chuckle too.
Victor Borge once said that “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”
It may also be the shortest distance to one’s self as well.
Image: “And the Little Dog Laughed” by Tom via Flickr
Parts of this post appeared on the First Day.