We all know about the healing power of laughter. It is a well from which we draw every day, to relieve the stress of an uncomfortable moment, to dispel the burden of an oppressive situation, to lighten the general heaviness of life. Laughter’s healing power can even border on the miraculous, as in the well-known story in which Norman Cousins apparently healed himself of cancer by watching old Marx Brothers movies.
If laughter really does have the power to work miracles, then it is no wonder that A Course in Miracles refers to it—43 times in all. In the best-known reference, the Course says that the separation from God began when “the Son of God remembered not to laugh” (T-27.VIII.6:2). If laughter could have stopped the separation from occurring, it must be powerful indeed. When one takes all 43 references to laughter and places them together, there emerges a profound view of its healing power.
Why does laughter bring relief?
Before we can really appreciate the Course’s view, I think we need to delve into the nature of laughter itself. When you think about it, laughter is a very strange phenomenon. We laugh at situations that don’t make sense, that contain incongruity and contradiction. Since laughter is so enjoyable, we are apparently finding enjoyment in contemplating the nonsensical, the crazy. But why would we find that enjoyable? It is much easier to understand why we would find pleasure in contemplating the beautiful or the inspiring. But the crazy? Watching the Keystone Cops fall all over one another is just nuts. But we like it (or at least some of us do). Why?
I don’t claim to understand the answer. But I do have an insight which I think holds at least some of the answer. I think we all carry a basic assumption that our emotions should mirror what is real (or what we consider real). If something tragic happens, we assume that we should feel appropriately awful. When something wonderful happens, we assume that we should feel wonderful. If something bizarre happens, we assume that we should feel strange. What is seen as real commands corresponding feelings inside of us.
I want to focus on two qualities that give something power to elicit feelings in us. The first is importance. The more important something is, the more feelings it tends to provoke in us. The second is rationality. If something is rational, if it makes sense, then we feel it is worthy of our respect and consideration, perhaps even our obedience. Both qualities are intimately connected to our concept of reality. When something has a big effect on reality we say it has importance, and we assume that reality at least ought to make sense. We assume that what makes no sense does not deserve to be real. In summary, something that is important and rational carries the hallmarks of reality, and so possesses a certain power over us. Its inherent gravity carries weight inside of us. Imagine two people, for example. One in your eyes is very important and makes a great deal of sense. The other you see as a trivial fool. Which one would carry more weight inside of you?
Let’s apply these insights to laughter. We laugh, it seems to me, when what presented itself as important and rational is suddenly portrayed as trivial and nonsensical. For some reason we experience this shift from one side to the other as pleasurable. Why? Remember that what is important and rational carries weight inside of us. It has power over our emotions. When it is portrayed as trivial and nonsensical it immediately loses that weight, that power. It no longer deserves to control our feelings. We are freed from its power. We are released from its weight. That burden off our shoulders, is, I suspect, what we find so pleasurable about laughter. It is like getting out of school. It is like getting off of work on Friday.
For example, my first philosophy professor was a large woman whose equally large sense of dignity was, in my eyes, overbearing. It was oppressive. She carried herself like a marble pillar in the halls of philosophy. One day she walked into class, opened her mouth to speak in her usual dignified way, and a huge glob of drool escaped from her mouth and plopped onto the front of her black dress. I must confess I found that event extremely funny. Her overly dignified bearing had been punctured by nonsense, made to look trivial, and, for a moment, I was free of the weight of it. It felt really good.
If laughter can release us from a small weight such as this, what about larger burdens? What about things that seem tragic? There is a wonderful story in How Can I Help? by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman. It is told by a man (who sounds like Patch Adams) who started volunteering in children’s wards in hospitals and dressing up as a clown to cheer them up. One day, however, he came upon a child in a burn ward who, he says, “looked like burnt toast. Pieces of his face weren’t there. Pieces of his ears were missing. Where was his mouth?” The clown who was there to cheer the children up came completely unglued. He was stricken with horror.
All of a sudden, this other little kid comes whizzing by—I think he was skating along with his IV pole—and he stops, and kinda pushes around me, and looks into the crib at this other kid, and comes out with, “Hey, YOU UGLY!” Just like that. And the burnt kid made this gurgling laugh kind of noise and his face moved around, and all of a sudden I just went for his eyes, and we locked up right there, and everything else just dissolved. It was like going through a tunnel right to his heart. And all the burnt flesh disappeared, and I saw him from another place.
You can probably see in this story the very points I have been making. There is the oppressive weight of a painful situation, captured vividly in the reaction of the clown. And then that weight becomes lifted when someone sees the ridiculous in the situation. Suddenly it seems not so heavy and important. The importance of the burnt face shrinks and takes a back seat to the importance of the person behind the burnt face.
A slightly different kind of example comes to mind from my teenage years. I was driving along with Susan one day and there in the road ahead of us was a tan heap. It was clearly a dead animal, probably a dog. I was getting very sad and started moaning plaintively, “Oh, a dead animal!” As we drew closer and closer, we were filled with dread. Who knew how mangled the carcass would be. Suddenly a gust of wind came along and the “dead animal” started stirring in the wind. It was a paper bag! So I started moaning, “Oh, a dead bag!” And Susan added, ” Poor bag!” And we almost died laughing.
Here we see the same things. A situation that seemed oppressive and dreadful is revealed to be trivial and silly, and so the weight of it is gone. Yet, as I said, there is a difference between the two stories. In the first story, the boy’s burnt face suddenly seemed less oppressive, but not entirely so. After all, his face was still burnt. The oppressive condition was still real (in conventional thinking) and so could not be seen as entirely unimportant. Consequently, the laughter could only take away some of the oppression, not all.
The second story is different. There, the oppressive condition—the “dead animal”—is revealed to be totally unreal, and so, in this case, the laughter could lift the weight of it entirely. How could we be depressed by a death that didn’t happen?
This difference between the two stories points out an apparent limit on the healing power of laughter. There are some places where laughter just can’t go. Remember those two qualities I said were prerequisites for laughter: the nonsensical and the trivial. There are countless situations in the world that are clearly nonsensical, even utterly ridiculous, but are hardly trivial. Rather, they are extremely important, often tragically so. And so laughter simply does not seem to apply to such situations, however much we could use the relief it brings.
Think of the Holocaust, for instance. The idea that by getting rid of the Jews a nation’s problems would magically be solved is absolutely absurd. It would be laughable, if it weren’t so tragic. Laughter assumes triviality, and the Holocaust was anything but trivial. For this same reason, you may have questioned whether laughter was appropriate in relation to the boy’s burnt face. I loved the story, but I did initially have to ponder whether I thought it was appropriate to laugh at such a grave situation.
To summarize, laughter applies when a situation that seemed important and rational is shown to be trivial and nonsensical. As long as a situation is real, however, it will have some degree of importance, perhaps a great degree, in which case laughter will apply only partially (as with the story of the burnt face), or not at all (as with the Holocaust). This means that the healing power of laughter is severely limited by the apparent fact that tragedy is real. As I said earlier, what is seen as real commands corresponding feelings inside of us. As a result, laughter could release us entirely and always if every seeming tragedy were revealed to be unreal. To put it differently, laughter’s healing power would be truly unlimited if all dead animals were really just dead bags.
The tiny, mad idea
This leads us into the Course’s view of laughter, for what I just said is its view. According to the Course, laughter has unlimited power to heal because all tragedy is an illusion. The Course, in fact, contains a scene that is very similar to my story of the dead bag. A child is in bed, frightened half to death because he thinks he is surrounded by scary creatures. Then his mom or dad comes in and explains to him that the ghost he saw was really just his curtains, that the monster was only a shadow, and that the dragon was just part of a bad dream. The child sees his mistakes and, in his relief, “laughs happily at his own fear” (T-11.VIII.13:3). This, says the Course, is a parable for how we can react to all the frightening things in the world.
To better understand this approach to laughter, let’s look at that well-known place where it says the separation began when we forgot to laugh at the tiny, mad idea. That passage is actually part of an extended discussion (found in T-27.VIII.5-9) that mentions laughter several times, along with related words like “jest” and “joke.”
This section (“The Hero of the Dream”) says that when we look on the level of effects, on the level of the happenings of the world, it all looks so serious and tragic. We see war and disease and famine and death. We see a world that evokes tears more readily than laughter.
It is not easy to perceive the jest when all around you do your eyes behold its [the jest’s] heavy consequences, but without their trifling cause. Without the cause do its effects seem serious and sad indeed. Yet they but follow. And it is their cause that follows nothing and is but a jest. (T-27.VIII.8:4-7)
This passage says that the key to miraculous laughter is seeing beneath the world’s events to their underlying cause. What is that cause? Earlier in this section we were told that the cause of the world’s happenings, and the world itself, is an idea, a “tiny, mad idea.” Notice the first two words of that phrase: “tiny” and “mad.” Do they ring any bells? We said earlier that the prerequisite for laughing at something was seeing it as trivial and nonsensical. Isn’t that the same as tiny and mad? “Tiny” means insignificant, trivial (the passage above says “trifling”). “Mad” means crazy, nonsensical. Thus, the tiny, mad idea is actually the trivial, nonsensical idea; the laughable idea.
If we really saw the cause of the world as a tiny, mad idea—a joke—how seriously could we take the world’s happenings? An effect cannot contain anything not within its cause. If the cause of the world is a joke, then the world itself must be a joke. By appearing as concrete images—as physical objects and events—this joke seems to become real and assume tragic proportions. But that does not change the fact that the images we see are just the outward pictures of a trivial joke, nothing more.
Imagine looking out at the vast, gory spectacle of the world, all the killing and death, all the hate and suffering, and recognizing that it is nothing more than a visionary painting of an idea, an idea that is a joke. Imagine being able to laugh in the face of the world’s most tragic occurrences, knowing they are merely pictures of an idea so ridiculous, so out of touch with reality, that it could never produce anything real. Imagine looking out at the world and getting the joke. Just think of the laughter that would follow!
Examples in the Course
To understand this concept better, let’s go through four examples of such laughter that we find in the Course.
Example #1: It seems so serious when our idols (those external things we think will make us happy) do not obey our wishes. Think of the disappointment when our new car breaks down, or when that special someone does not return our feelings, or when we don’t get the job. The Course likens this to a child’s distress when his toys don’t behave the way he thought they were supposed to.
A child is frightened when a wooden head springs up as a closed box is opened suddenly, or when a soft and silent woolly bear begins to squeak as he takes hold of it. The rules he made for boxes and for bears have failed him, and have broken his “control” of what surrounds him. (T-30.IV.2:2-3)
When the child finally realizes they are just toys and cannot hurt him, his fear will turn to laughter (note how similar this image is to the earlier one of the child who was scared of ghosts and monsters). Likewise, when we realize that our idols are just harmless toys, we too will laugh when they do not obey us. “You can laugh at popping heads and squeaking toys, as does the child who learns they are no threat to him” (T-30.IV.3:6). Wouldn’t it feel great to laugh at our car breaking down because we recognize that it is no more than a squeaking toy?
Example #2: Our bodies seem like such serious business. They seem to be houses that actually contain our minds, so that when the house is damaged, we, the imprisoned occupant, must suffer the consequences. The Course, however, says the idea that the body can contain the mind is ridiculous. “For nothing could contain what you believe it holds within” (T-27.VI.4:4). The Course actually makes fun of our belief that the body houses the mind:
It is as if you thought you held the match that lights the sun and gives it all its warmth; or that you held the world within your hand, securely bound until you let it go. (W-pI.92.2:3)
The distress we feel when we notice our body aging or getting sick stems from the idea that our body can make our mind suffer because it actually contains our mind. Yet we can laugh instead, for that is like thinking that our hand can hold the entire world. How hilarious to think that my tiny body can enforce suffering on my vast mind!
Example #3: Who of us has not felt self-pity? It is easy to see ourselves as impoverished in one way or another, and it is tempting to see ourselves as exiled, shut out from where we really belong. Lesson 166 captures this sense by portraying us as a penniless homeless person, weary and hopeless, trudging ahead to nowhere. The Course, however, adds more to the picture: While we stumble on full of self-pity, God is actually walking with us as our travelling companion, and behind us follows a pile of treasure worth more than the entire world (W-pI.166.5:5). We are not alone and we are not poor, yet for some reason we adamantly refuse to notice our great Companion and are determined not to look back upon our treasure.
It is as if we are a king who one day decides to leave his castle and wander the roads in poverty and homelessness. Yet wherever he goes his family goes with him, and his entire entourage follows him, carrying chests full of his treasure, ready for the slightest need. Now imagine this king sitting down, overcome with self-pity over the hard times that have befallen him. It is a comical scene, is it not? The Course is saying the same thing about our self-pity:
You cower fearfully lest you should feel Christ’s touch upon your shoulder, and perceive His gentle hand directing you to look upon your gifts. How could you then proclaim your poverty in exile [which is what you want to do]? He would make you laugh at this perception of yourself. Where is self-pity then? (W-pI.166.8:1-4)
Wouldn’t it be liberating to realize that God walks with us and that His limitless gifts go with us always, and then have a good, healthy laugh at our self-pity?
Example #4: When we give of our time, effort, money, or possessions, we often give with reservations. We weigh carefully what we are giving away, calculating whether we can do without it. To be honest, giving seems like a sacrifice. It may be blessed to give, but it is a mixed blessing. The Course teaches, however, that giving leads not to sacrifice, but to receiving.
Never forget you give but to yourself. Who understands what giving means must laugh at the idea of sacrifice. (W-pI.187.6:1-2)
Have you ever given a big chunk of time to help someone out and then looked back and thought, “Was that time that I could really spare? Maybe that was a sacrifice I just couldn’t afford.” Imagine remembering at this moment that you received just as much as the person you helped received, that all the time you gave you gave to yourself. Picture yourself thinking, “How insane to think that my giving could be a sacrifice! What a ridiculous idea!” And then see yourself having a good laugh at the whole insane notion that you could have lost by giving.
In all these examples we see the same thing. There is some external appearance that looks heavy, depressing, even tragic. But then we see that this appearance does not express the truth, but rather expresses a ridiculous idea, something that could never be true. The appearance, therefore, must be false. And as this cruel and heavy appearance is revealed to be nothing but the outward face of a tiny, mad idea, we are released from its burden, and so we laugh.
When laughter is inappropriate
We are talking about laughing at the very kinds of things we normally wouldn’t dare laugh at. The Course speaks of us laughing “at pain and loss, at sickness and at grief, at poverty, starvation and at death” (W-pI.187.6:4). I initially found this list shocking. Clearly the Course is challenging the limits we place on laughter. Yet those limits seem to be placed out of respect. We refrain from laughing at someone’s sickness out of respect for that person. Laughing at a sickness seems to imply not only that the sickness is trivial, but that the person who suffers from it is trivial as well. Thus, to laugh at “sickness and at grief, at poverty, starvation and at death” seems to be a clear statement that we are simply uncaring.
The Course, however, is definitely not promoting callous or insensitive laughter. The Course encourages us to laugh at things we normally would not, but it also discourages us from laughing at things we normally would. For instance, in the Course’s view we should never laugh at people:
When you laugh at someone, it is because you have judged him as unworthy. When you laugh at yourself you must laugh at others, if only because you cannot tolerate the idea of being more unworthy than they are. All this makes you feel tired because it is essentially disheartening….The strain of constant judgment is virtually intolerable. (T-3.VI.5:2-4,6)
This passage is reminiscent of things we have already said. To laugh at something implies that it is unworthy of our respect and caring, that it is trivial. To laugh at a person therefore implies that she is unworthy. According to the Course, however, she is infinitely worthy, whatever the outer appearances may say. To judge otherwise literally tires us out. It causes us to lose heart, because it makes us see ourselves as heartless.
Not laughing at others was underscored by Jesus when he spoke to Helen once about a particular situation:
You were wrong to be pleased with WG’s criticism of T, and should not have enjoyed WG’s description of J’s caricaturing of her. You could have laughed with [WG], but not at T. Real courtesy never does this. You should know that all God’s children are fully worthy of complete courtesy. You should never join with one at the expense of another. (Absence from Felicity, p. 263)
I find this to be a very confrontational piece of guidance. I should never take pleasure in someone’s criticism of someone else. I should never enjoy someone else being made fun of. I should never join with one person in laughing at another. For I “should know that all God’s children are fully worthy of complete< courtesy.”
So, we are supposed to laugh “at pain and loss, at sickness and at grief, at poverty, starvation and at death” (W-pI.187.6:4), but we are not supposed to laugh at people. Why the distinction? Why laugh at one class of things and not the other? The reason is simple. One class is unreal and the other is real. According to the Course, pain, loss, sickness, grief, poverty, starvation, and death are unreal, and thus trivial. On the other hand, people are real. While their bodies and personalities are not real, behind those masks is a divine dreamer, a Son of God, who is infinitely real, and therefore anything but trivial and laughable. Laughter applies to illusions, not reality.
Laughter’s whole purpose, in the Course’s eyes, is to trivialize the one side in order to exalt the other. Course-based laughter makes the statement: “How laughable to think that I could be hurt, humiliated, or taken from! Those things that would harm me are mere illusions. What a joke to think that I, a part of God Himself, could be hurt by such trivial things!” Do you see how ultimately affirming this is? Rather than laughter that denigrates, this is laughter that elevates.
Laughing at sin
This exalting laughter is especially visible in the connection between laughter and forgiveness, which we will explore in two passages.
[Forgiveness] does not countenance illusions [which here means sins], but collects them lightly, with a little laugh, and gently lays them at the feet of truth. And there they disappear entirely.(W-pI.134.6:2-3)
I’ll try to translate this stylized image by presenting another image. Imagine being in a roomful of people and each of you are holding a piece of paper on which is listed your worst sins. Jesus is walking around the room collecting these lists, as we might imagine he would do. But what is crucial is how he is doing so and why. How he is collecting them is “lightly, with a little laugh.” Why he is collecting them is to relieve you of their awful burden. Once collected, he will throw them away without even looking at them. His laughter captures his entire attitude. It says, “You thought these sins were so weighty, so serious, but they are really such a light matter. What an amusing idea to think that you, the extension of Holiness Itself, could ever be sinful.”
Join him [your brother] in gladness, and remove all trace of guilt from his disturbed and tortured mind. Help him to lift the heavy burden of sin you laid upon him and he accepted as his own, and toss it lightly and with happy laughter away from him. Press it not like thorns against his brow, nor nail him to it, unredeemed and hopeless. (T-19.IV(D).16:4-6)
Notice how similar this passage is to the previous one. In both, the forgiver is shown relieving someone of the burden of his sins lightly and with laughter. Take a moment, if you will, and visualize this passage. Think about a person in your life on whom your resentments have placed a heavy burden. Picture this person staggering under the cross you laid on his shoulders. Now you have a choice. You can finish the job and nail him to it, while also pressing a crown of thorns into his scalp. Or you can lift the burden off his shoulders “and toss it lightly and with happy laughter away from him.” Really try to visualize this. Feel the cross in your hands as you lift it and toss it easily away, as if it were made of cardboard. Hear yourself laugh happily as you say to your brother, “It seemed so heavy, but see how light it is! How silly to think it belonged on you! And how happy we both are, now that you are free of its weight!”
This is the opposite of laughing at the person. Here you are not laughing at how sinful he is, you are laughing at the very idea that he could sin. What a difference! Can you imagine actually laughing in this way? This kind of laughter expresses such love, such absolute forgiveness, such liberation from all the heaviness of sin. It would be so freeing to be able to laugh in this way!
The healing power of our laughter
If you could genuinely laugh at someone’s sins in this way, think of the effect it would have on that person. She may be expecting you to be angry over what she has done, but to her surprise she sees you gently and lovingly laugh at the very notion that there is anything to be angry about. Such laughter would have to heal. Of course, you would want to take care that your laughter is not misunderstood—it could easily be mistaken for insensitive laughter. You may even choose to keep it to yourself at times for this very reason. And you definitely would not want to fake this kind of laughter. It would have to be a spontaneous expression of genuinely recognizing the “quaint absurdity” of sin (W-pI.156.6:4). If it were, you can probably imagine this kind of laughter working miracles.
That is exactly how the Course characterizes it. Remember that list I discussed earlier: pain, loss, sickness, grief, poverty, starvation, and death? The passage in which these are mentioned speaks of someone seeing their unreality and laughing at them, and then says, “and in his gentle laughter are they healed” (W-pI.187.6:5). Laughing at the unreal has the power to dispel it.
Lesson 100 also talks about the healing power of our laughter. It says that others will “hear God calling to them in your happy laugh” (W-pI.100.2:6). If others know that you have devoted your life to God and they see you filled with laughter, rather than being somber and weighed down, what will they conclude about God? Won’t they feel pulled in His direction? In that case, your laughter has become His call.
This same lesson says that if you decide to be unhappy, “no one laughs because all laughter can but echo yours” (W-pI.100.3:4). Being able to laugh at the ills of the world because they are unreal is not exactly a common thing. If you don’t become the living example of this laughter, how will it ever catch on? And if you do, you may just find your world resounding with echoes of your laughter.
Just as the Course speaks of our laughter being healing, it also speaks of our healing causing laughter. There is a wonderful scene in “The Obstacles to Peace” in which mourners are marching in a grim funeral procession, wearing black robes, dragging chains, and chanting hymns to death. They are so weighed down by their sins that the only future they can see for themselves is death. In fact, they are marching in their own funeral. However stylized this image is, we can probably think of people who do walk through life in just this dreary, defeated way. The Course implies that everyone does, to one degree or another. It also says, however, that we can walk onto the scene and change the whole thing:
Touch any one of them with the gentle hands of forgiveness, and watch the chains fall away, along with yours. See him throw aside the black robe he was wearing to his funeral, and hear him laugh at death. (T-19.IV(C).2:5-6)
What a powerful image! Why is he able to laugh at death? Because he has been touched by forgiveness and his sins are gone. Knowing his innocence, he knows that he deserves only life. What power can death possibly have over him now?
You could say, then, that our function is to gently laugh in the face of apparent sin and tragedy, and to thereby infect others with our laughter, so that where they used to weep now they laugh. If this in fact is our function, the following line from the Workbook could become our prayer, a kind of Course version of St. Francis’ famous peace prayer:
I would behold the proof that what has been done through me
has enabled love to replace fear,
laughter to replace tears,
and abundance to replace loss. (W-pI.rI.54.5:4)
The world will end in laughter
This image of laughter replacing tears is a favorite one in the Course, occurring a total of seven times. To go from weeping to laughing is such a complete reversal, yet laughter by nature is a reversal. In laughter we go from heaviness to lightness, from burden to release. The Course’s references to laughter are therefore filled with individuals experiencing profound reversals. One minute they are in the depths of depression, feeling homeless and destitute; the next minute they are laughing at this view of themselves. One minute they are marching mournfully in their own funeral procession; the next minute they are laughing at the impotence of death.
If laughter can bring about reversal on an individual scale, why not on a larger scale? The Course contains several references to laughter as part of a global reversal, as part of the healing of all things. We often think of the end of the world as a tumultuous time as nation arises against nation and plague and pestilence sweep the earth, or perhaps as an asteroid slams into the planet. Yet the Course sees it as a quiet time in which the violence and tumult that have dominated for so long are replaced by their opposite. It also sees it as a carefree time, in which God has wiped away all tears and replaced them with happy laughter:
The world will end in laughter, because it is a place of tears. Where there is laughter, who can longer weep? (M-14.5:5-6)
It is easy to miss the profound point contained in this brief passage. It doesn’t just say the world will end in laughter—which is an admittedly fascinating point by itself. It says, “The world will end in laughter, because it is a place of tears.” Sorrow is the nature of the world. As Buddha said, life is suffering. We can express this truth in the form of an equation: the world = weeping. Hence, if laughter brings the end of weeping—as we know it does—it must also bring the end of the world. Read the above passage again and, in order to really make sense of the second sentence, mentally add on this third sentence: And where there is no weeping there is no world.
Laughter, then, is no little power. We usually think that it cannot solve the really big issues, because those issues are so serious. Laughter, in our eyes, cannot end wars. It cannot cure terminal illness. It cannot heal strife in the Middle East . It cannot end poverty and racial tension. From our point of view, it brings relief within very confined boundaries. It applies only to the trivial, not the serious and significant. But what if the entire world is trivial? What if the world, so filled with death, is nothing more than a dead bag? What if the world is just a snapshot of a trivial, crazy idea? If that is really true, and we truly realized that, what would the power of our laughter be then? Is it possible that we could actually laugh the world away?
An exercise in laughter
The kind of laughter the Course speaks of carries obvious benefits, yet it may feel a little out of reach. I myself love laughing at the little matters of life, but somewhere I draw a line between the little and the big, and on the other side of that line I tend to be extremely serious. How can I bring laughter across that line? To broaden the question: How can we learn to laugh at matters that we now consider deadly serious?
The Course provides a practice that may prove helpful. It is designed to get us to laugh at things that now seem terribly real. In order for us to fully understand the practice, I will need to go over some ideas.
The practice is designed to help us laugh at what it calls the “terrible effects” we witness. These are the painful situations in our lives. They express a certain view of reality, and this view of reality is what the Course calls the cause. It is the cause because our belief in this view is what actually caused the outer situation in the first place. The idea in our minds manifests the outer situation, which then becomes a spokesperson for the idea. To use a courtroom metaphor, the idea in our minds puts the situation on the stand as a witness for itself.
Let’s look at some examples I used in the article. When our car breaks down and causes us trouble, the view of reality this expresses is that a mere toy (the car) can hurt us. When our body gets sick, the implied view of reality is that our tiny body actually contains our limitless mind, and thus can cause it to suffer. When our lives look impoverished and it seems there is nowhere that we belong, the implied view is that God’s Own Son could be made poor and homeless. In all three situations, the view is what actually caused the outer situation, which then becomes the view’s spokesperson, speaking for the truth of the view.
Notice that I have expressed these views in a way that assumes the Course’s teachings about reality. I have assumed that our car, like all things of the world, is a mere toy. I have assumed that our mind is actually limitless. I have assumed that we are God’s Own Son. This is crucial, for when stated in this way, you can see how laughable those views are. You can see that they could never be true. The outer appearance, the situation as we see it, is thus presenting a false view. The appearance itself, then, must be false. It is nothing more than a spokesperson for a view that is not true.
With all this in mind, we now can approach the exercise in laughter that the Course provides:
In gentle laughter does the Holy Spirit perceive the cause, and looks not to effects. How else could He correct your error, who have overlooked the cause entirely? He bids you bring each terrible effect to Him that you may look together on its foolish cause and laugh with Him a while. You judge effects, but He has judged their cause. And by His judgment are effects removed. Perhaps you come in tears. But hear Him say, “My brother, holy Son of God, behold your idle dream, in which this could occur.” And you will leave the holy instant with your laughter and your brother’s joined with His. (T-27.VIII.9)
When you read this carefully, you can see that it is asking us to do something. It reads almost like a Workbook lesson instruction. So let’s treat it like that and try to do what it says. The following four steps are my attempt to draw out and make plain the instructions in the above passage:
First, think of some “terrible effect,” some outer circumstance in your life that you perceive as pressing suffering onto you. Describe this circumstance to the Holy Spirit.
Now look upon the situation with the Holy Spirit. You have been gazing in anguish on the outer appearance, but He looks straight past that appearance to the idea that underlies it. He reduces the outer appearance to the view of reality that it seems to express. Perhaps the view is “Mere toys can hurt me,” or “My tiny body actually contains my limitless mind,” or “I, God’s Own Son, can be rendered homeless and lacking.” Whatever this view is, it is the actual cause of the outer appearance. The appearance has no reality in itself. It is just the outer picture of this idea. It is just the idea’s spokesperson.
Try to see through the Holy Spirit’s eyes, so that you too can see the view—the idea you are believing in. What view of reality does the outer situation imply? The Holy Spirit sees it clearly. Try to join with Him and see it with Him.
Now hear the Holy Spirit say to you, “My dear brother, behold your silly, harmless dream, in which such a ridiculous thing could occur.” Try to see the idea you believe in as He sees it. Try to join with His perception and see just how preposterous the idea looks, how laughable it is. Hear Him laughing in your mind, gently and lovingly, and feel yourself being drawn into His laughter. Can you see it from His perspective? Can you see how it all looks so silly and so trivial? Can you see how completely ridiculous it appears? Who wouldn’t laugh? Now you have brought your “terrible effect to Him that you may look together on its foolish cause and laugh with Him a while.” So do just that. Laugh with Him a while.
After you have done this with one “terrible effect,” you may want to go ahead and do it with more. You may, in fact, want to make this a regular practice, in which you go through several painful situations in each sitting, and laugh with Him at each one. In this way, with time, you may just acquire the gift of miraculous laughter.
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]