By Sean O’Donnell
“To me, there is nothing more sacred than love and laughter, and there is nothing more prayerful than playfulness.” –Osho
The Vibration of Laughter
In Ramana Maharshi’s Self-Enquiry method, we learn to continually ask the “Who am I?” question. In Ramana’s words, “The question (…) is not really meant to get an answer, the question (…) is meant to dissolve the questioner.”
In my experiences in 10-Day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreats, as well as through other deeply spiritual events in my life, I have often found that asking myself this question under the right conditions shifts my perception. It brings me to a place where everything around me vibrates, and all the levels of my being are also vibrating. Everything interacts with everything else—the smallest particles of my physical body, emotions, thoughts, and intentions dance with one another and dip their toes into the sea of vibrations around me, rippling out and affecting everything infinitely. At the same time, the ground, the wind, the trees, the birds, and the bees are also vibrating. Those ripples are being received and having an effect on every layer of my being. In this state, it is very easy to comprehend the idea that our perceived separateness is an illusion.
In a meditation retreat, we remain silent order to allow ourselves to more easily perceive these other vibrations. In a Dark Room Retreat, we take away external sound and light to reveal even deeper levels of perception. However, these deeper levels of perception are always present—most of us just need reminders and practices to cultivate our continued awareness of them.
My takeaway from these experiences is a confirmation that we are all, always, in constant communication. How easy is it to tell that someone is in a bad mood before you’ve even asked them how they are doing? How many times have you met somebody who was radiating love as you passed them on the street, and you knew this without ever exchanging a word?
When we start to incorporate vibrational communications into our tool box, it is easy to see how much they influence our surroundings. They are powerful! And one of the most powerful incarnations of these vibrations comes in the form of laughter. Whether it’s an uncontrollable giggle or a belly-laugh so strong that it hurts, laughter can jump around a room and build to a crescendo after starting with just a single seed.
Laughter is contagious, and in a state of freedom, I’ve yet to meet anyone who is immune to it!
Laughter as Medicine
Something I notice is that when I’m upset, or lost, or in a heavy place, or worn down―whatever the case may be―it becomes really hard to laugh. Even when something is objectively funny and clever, I can acknowledge it, but the laughter just doesn’t come very easily, or I block it out. On some level, I believe that the ego just doesn’t want healing to be that easy (but, that is a topic for another time…).
By the same measure, when life is great, we’re in love, everything seems to be going our way, and we’re walking on the clouds, it seems so easy for the littlest blessings to bring a chuckle to our day.
One of the things I find fascinating about laughter is that we laugh the same in every language. It is something that transcends any learned behavior or culture. It is a universal expression. It is a root human experience that we all share.
When something happens that is funny, or somebody tells a good joke, a huge amount is communicated. Laughing with someone is a bonding experience. Ah, yes! Somebody else is experiencing the same feeling in the same way as me, at the same time as me, based on the same sensory inputs! Connection! Unity! Love!
Unconsciously, I believe these experiences are what make laughter such powerful medicine. It is a reminder, universally understood and beloved, that we are not separate.
Laughter and the Spiritual Heart
When I first came to the Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte, my trip was preceded by a year of self-work. I started really holding myself accountable for what I put in my body. I started really tasking myself with controlling my reactions to situations. I started to really budget and criticize how I was using my time every day. All of this self-work became just that: work! Serious business! And all for a reason. But, I always wondered if this seriousness was sustainable. It was certainly necessary in order to get closer to an effortless balance point, and I was doing it all in the name of healing, but I had shut something out that had always been a very important marker of my personal health: levity.
This realization had poked me a couple of times in the year but didn’t really break through until a month after I arrived in Mazunte, near the end of my first 10-day retreat. Sahajananda spoke about returning to and living from a natural state. The part that was music to my ears was his proclamation that “the natural state is a playful state.” It was that simple! Why didn’t somebody tell me this when I first got here? That revelation, perfectly timed, opened up the floodgates for me. I had taken this state of determination, devotion, and stoicism into my retreat. I went through a lot in the meantime, but when I came out, the personal message I chose to receive was that if I wanted to go deeper with this practice, I needed to stop letting my power be consumed by the seriousness that brought me to this place.
The first place I started was with myself. It really helped to start making fun of myself again. In many respects, if you can’t make fun of yourself for something, the ego is probably highly involved in the matter. It really helped to acknowledge the seeming absurdity of many of the decisions that led me to this point in my life, and to laugh at them!
Which led to being in awe of them. Which led to being in love with them. Which made it easier to laugh at them all over again! And a much healthier, more sustainable, and more playful samskara was created. Suddenly, I found myself able to enjoy the sacredness in sitting around a table with people from all over the world, taking turns pronouncing the word “banana” in dramatically different English dialects, but laughing all the same, together.
I’ve always known that I’ve loved to laugh, and I’ve always known the beauty of making others laugh and of laughing together, but I may have taken it for granted at times. Through my experiences at Hridaya, it has become clear to me that laughter is yet another pointer, and our openness to it is yet another marker. A marker and a pointer towards our True Nature, towards the Divine, and one of the most powerful manifestations of spanda that we can access at any given time.