How I Learned to Laugh at Misfortune
We’re all familiar with that famous passage from the Course that begins with this line: “Into eternity, where all is one, there crept a tiny, mad idea, at which the Son of God remembered not to laugh” (T-27.VIII.6:2). It is a highly metaphysical passage about how the dream of separation began and how it remains in place. But recently, I connected with the idea behind this passage—the idea that anything that appears to be contrary to God is utterly laughable—it in a way that I hadn’t before. This has led me to a new practice in which I literally laugh at misfortune.
I’m sure this sounds strange and perhaps even inappropriate (and it would be inappropriate if done in the wrong way). But in fact the way I’ve learned to do this is practical, loving, and has had a big positive impact on my life. In this article, I’d like to describe this new practice of mine and the benefits it can bring us.
Wrestling with misfortune
My journey to this new practice began with various misfortunes that occurred within a short period of time, including an unexpected tax bill and a fender-bender auto accident. I’m not doing especially well financially, so these events set me back a bit. In addition, a friend reported a tragic incident in which someone she knew lost her seven-year-old son in an auto accident caused by a drunk driver. Beyond these specific misfortunes, I do home care for the elderly, so I’m confronted with the ongoing misfortune of old age, suffering, and death every day. In short, I’ve been wrestling with misfortune. How could I use the Course to address this?
A series of fortunate events
As I was wrestling with all this, a series of events and thoughts came to me that led me to a new view of all this apparent misfortune, and a new practice that reinforces this view. The following is a brief account of what happened.
Nothing compromises love
It started with a new insight by Robert, which he shared with our online Circle Course Community. The insight was a new understanding of the central idea of A Course in Miracles, an idea Robert summed up with a single sentence: “Nothing compromises love.” Fleshed out a bit, the idea is this: God is a God of total love who created us totally loving and placed us in the totally loving environment of Heaven. We appear to have compromised this total love through separating and making a world of attack, suffering, and death. But all this apparent compromise is pure illusion, because nothing can really compromise love. At its heart, A Course in Miracles is a spiritual path which teaches us the glorious truth that nothing compromises love. It aims to help us let go of all that seems to compromise love, so we can return to the awareness of the total love we never left.
The healing power of laughter
The next step was going to an event at the Unity church I attend. The theme of this event was the healing power of laughter. The presenters shared with us some of the many healing benefits that laughter has on the body and mind. These benefits can apparently occur even with fake laughter, going through the physical motions of laughter without actually having something in particular to laugh about. The bulk of the event was devoted to exercises designed to get the group to laugh together: both genuine laughter at funny things, and fake laughter which, because laughter is contagious, often morphed quickly into the real thing.
Laughter in A Course in Miracles
This got me to thinking: If laughter can bring healthy benefits to our bodies and minds even when we’re faking it, how much more would it bring benefit if we really had something to laugh about—especially if it’s something the Course itself wants us to laugh about?
This line of thinking brought to mind an article by Robert on laughter in A Course in Miracles (“Laughing the World Away,” available on the Circle’s website). In this article, Robert draws upon the Course’s passages on laughter—including that “Son of God remembered not to laugh” passage—to present a picture of the Course’s view of laughter.
A central point of Robert’s article is this: We laugh when something that looks both important and rational—some-thing that appears seriously real—is suddenly revealed to be trivial and nonsensical. The Course takes this basic idea and applies it to our whole experience of not only misfortune in this world, but of the world itself: It is all laughable because it stems from the “tiny [trivial], mad [nonsensical] idea” of separation from God. Therefore, to paraphrase the title of Robert’s article, we can literally laugh the world away, because the whole idea of separating from God is a trivial, absurd joke.
It is a joke…
Thinking about his article naturally reminded me of that “Son of God remembered not to laugh” passage, because this is what that passage is all about. It gained new life for me when I plugged in the ideas that I’ve described above.
The passage is saying, in essence, that nothing can compromise love, and the idea that anything can compromise love is totally laughable. The separation started when we had the “tiny, mad idea” that we could compromise love. In truth, that idea is totally ridiculous. “It is a joke” (T-27.VIII.6:5) to think that eternal Love could be compromised in any way. It is absurd to believe in “A timelessness in which is time made real; a part of God that can attack itself; a separate brother as an enemy; a mind within a body” (T-27.VIII.7:1). All of these things would compromise infinite love, so they cannot really exist.
Since the idea they could exist was a joke, what we should have done when it first arose in our minds was laugh and dismiss this foolishness entirely. But instead, we “remembered not to laugh”—in other words, we forgot to laugh. We forgot that the idea that love could be compromised is an absurd joke. This is why we groan under the yoke of this painful world and experience so many misfortunes: “In his forgetting did the thought become a serious idea, and possible of both accomplishment and real effects” (T-27.VIII.6:3).
Given how horrible things look to us now, it is very difficult for us to believe that nothing compromises love: “It is not easy to perceive the jest when all around your eyes behold its heavy consequences, but without their trifling cause. Without the cause do the effects seem serious and sad indeed” (T-27.VIII.9:4-5). It’s like when someone pulls a cruel practical joke on you in which you are fooled into believing something terrible has happened to you. When you don’t know that it’s only a joke (the trifling cause), you are devastated by the apparent effects (heavy consequences).
But fortunately, we can learn to laugh again. We can realize that love truly cannot be compromised, and with Jesus’ and the Holy Spirit’s help, we can perceive the jest and laugh at both the trifling cause and its ridiculous effects. The passage ends with a practice in which we bring all the grim effects—the misfortunes of the world—to the Holy Spirit. He knows that their cause is nothing but the ridiculous, absurd thought that love could be compromised, and so they must be meaningless illusions. Once we learn this from Him, we can laugh them away with Him:
In gentle laughter does the Holy Spirit perceive the cause, and looks not to effects….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.9:1, 3-8)
My practice: “How ridiculous to think that __________ could compromise love!”
All of this came together in the practice I came up with, which is really a variation on bringing terrible effects to the Holy Spirit and laughing with Him at their trivial cause. It is a “response to temptation” practice which I apply to anything that appears to me to compromise love—all those “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” What I’ll do when something like that comes up is this:
- First, I’ll say some version of this: “How ridiculous to think that ________ could compromise love!” (I’ll invite the Holy Spirit or Jesus into my mind as I say this, asking Them to help me see its truth.)
- Then, I’ll expand on this idea in a way appropriate to the specific problem I’m dealing with.
- Finally, taking a cue from the event I attended in which I learned that I could fake laughter and turn it into the real thing, I will laugh at the absurdity of believing love could be compromised, laughing either internally (if I’m with other people) or externally (if I’m alone).
For instance, if an issue having to do with my financial lack comes up, I might say: “Jesus, how ridiculous to believe that something as trivial and insignificant as the amount of money in my bank account could possibly compromise love! God loves me, and has given me everything. In Heaven, I have literally everything. And even in this world, God has promised me that if I accept the function in salvation He’s given me, He’ll give me everything I need to fulfill that function. Even a loving human parent, with all of his or her human fallibility, would do that. How much more so does my infinitely loving Father do that! What a joke to think He could possibly do otherwise! Ha ha ha!”
I’ll enhance this process by using relevant lines and ideas from the Course. I actually did that in the previous paragraph (using versions of T-4.III.9:2 and T-20.IV.8:4). So with the money issue, I might use this line, which points out the absurdity of our belief that lack money would render us destitute: “You really think that you would starve unless you have stacks of green paper strips and piles of metal discs” (W-pI.76.3:2).
Whatever I use, I try to get in touch with the pure ridiculous absurdity of believing that the Love of God could be com-promised. This is important, because the practice is much more powerful to the degree that the laughter is genuine. Fake laughter, after all, can only get you so far; if it were totally fake, it would be nothing but a form of denial. It is when my laughter is connected with real content, real meaning, that it becomes most effective. The better I can connect with the real absurdity of the idea that love can be compromised, the more genuine my laughter will be, and the more powerful the practice will be.
The joy of learning to laugh at misfortune
This practice has had a major positive effect on me. I feel lighter, and more in touch with the part of me that really knows that nothing compromises love. It has enabled me to actually laugh at misfortune. I’m not quite sure why it has been so effective. It may have something to do with the fact that I have always enjoyed humor, and people have told me that I have a good sense of humor myself. I’ve always been amused by the absurd, and I’ve enjoyed comedy movies where people deal with humorous misfortunes (knowing, of course, that it was only a movie). So, this particular angle seems to fit my personality.
I think another reason this little “joke” I’ve created works for me is that the logic behind it really does make sense to me. I believe deeply that God is pure Love. This belief is not mere wishful thinking, but a conviction that has solid evidence behind it. I have felt God’s Love myself in a powerful way in my peak spiritual experiences. I have seen and heard convincing testimony from others who have had such experiences as well. Lately, I’ve been especially moved by the accounts of near-death experiences (like the one I’ll share below).
So, I have a deep, evidence-based conviction in the loving nature of God. And if God really is pure Love, a Love that is infinite and without the slightest hint of anything that is not love, it makes perfect sense to me that none of the unloving aspects of this world could possibly be real. It really is absurd to think that such things are compatible with God’s Love. So, something deep in me responds to this practice and says, “Yes, that must be so.” The whole idea of misfortune of any kind is indeed laughable.
Of course, just to clarify, when I speak of laughing at misfortune, I don’t mean laughing out loud at other people’s mis-fortunes, or laughing at the fact that they (or we) are experiencing suffering. Needless to say, the Course doesn’t want us to laugh at suffering in a mean-spirited way. It tells us that God Himself weeps at the fact that His children are experiencing suffering (see T-5.VII.4:5), however illusory it may be. It calls us to be kind to all, and to be truly helpful to our suffering brothers in whatever way the Holy Spirit directs.
Nor is this kind of laughter intended to forcibly bludgeon unpleasant feelings into submission. It’s not a way of “stuffing” or inappropriately denying what is going on for us, though it could certainly be misused that way. Rather, it is a way of gently but firmly shining the light of truth upon whatever feelings we are experiencing. The purpose of this practice for me is simply to bring my mind to a place where I can recognize the ultimate triviality and unreality of suffering in the grand scheme of things, even as I compassionately address and alleviate it on a worldly level. I’ve found that this has actually enabled me to be far more effective in being truly helpful, especially with the elderly people I work with.
Can we really learn to laugh at any misfortune?
A question naturally arises when contemplating this practice: It may be great for fender-bender auto accidents, but could this really work for bigger misfortunes? How far can this laughter go? We all know the Course says there is no order of difficulty in miracles, so it’s safe to say that as far as Course theory is concerned, this practice would work for literally anything. All misfortunes are equally illusory, and therefore equally unable to compromise love. They are thus all equally laughable in the end.
But can we find real-life examples of people experiencing this realization in their own lives? I recently read about a near-death experience (NDE) that provides a powerful example of how this can really work. A pregnant woman named Ann had an NDE while giving birth to her child, Tari. During her NDE, a radiant being of light told her that he would come to take the child back with him in four days. In other words, Ann’s child would die.
Normally, of course, this would be the most devastating news imaginable to a new mother having her first child. But rather than feeling distressed, Ann had an amazingly different reaction:
“My child?” I asked, scarcely believing able to contain my joy and happiness over the news that one of my own children would be going back with him!
She later describes the “sheer joy” of the being of light’s message as “the greatest moment I have ever known.”
Sure enough, Tari was born apparently healthy but soon sickened and died. The nurse brought Ann the dreadful news, and what happened next boggles my mind every time I read it:
“Are you okay?” she [the nurse] asked.
“Yes,” I told her much too calmly under the circumstances. “This is the fourth day!” (I felt joy!)
In the weeks following, I felt no grief of my own loss, but felt sorry for my friends and relatives who didn’t know where Tari was, and couldn’t believe—really believe—that my “experience” [the NDE] was anything more than a vivid dream.
Ann says she had to “pretend” to grieve the loss of Tari in public, just so people wouldn’t think there was something wrong with her.
Later in her life, her husband and son also died young, but her experience with Tari softened the impact of these losses as well. People told her she was in shock at the time of the incidents and would grieve more later. Later, when they saw that grief wasn’t forthcoming, they said she must be so strong to be able to bear so many hard losses. But she had a very different explanation for her calm in the face of so much apparent misfortune:
Neither statement was true….They aren’t dead. They are all alive, busy and waiting for me. Our separation is only temporary and very short, compared to all eternity. (Lessons from the Light, by Kenneth Ring, pp. 260-61)
Wow! Here is a case of a person who had perhaps the worst misfortune anyone could have—the loss of a child. On top of that, she later lost her husband and another child. To say that it appears love is compromised here is a dramatic understatement. Indeed, such a series of apparent tragedies would lead many people to seriously doubt that there could be a loving God at all.
Yet because of her NDE, Ann recognized that these misfortunes weren’t really what they appeared to be. Love was not compromised; in fact, in her eyes, love was gloriously affirmed by these events. I can easily imagine her saying, “How ridiculous to think that these seeming deaths could compromise love!” And given the joy she describes, I can easily imagine her laughing at her apparent misfortune. I am truly amazed that such a thing is even possible. Maybe there really isn’t any limit to the degree of misfortune we can laugh away.
How about you?
Most of us haven’t had an NDE, so it may be more of a challenge to really take to heart the same realization that Ann did. Of course, we shouldn’t feel guilty if it takes us time to get there. As we wrestle with the many misfortunes of life on earth, we may go through a lot of grieving on the way to the light. But I think the testimony of experiences like Ann’s and the assurances of A Course in Miracles itself give us solid reasons to believe that we can at least move in the direction of that light.
So, given the immense potential benefits of remembering to laugh, I’d like to recommend that you try my new practice yourself, and see if it works for you. When you experience some misfortune in your life, large or small, invite Jesus or the Holy Spirit into your mind and say some version of “How ridiculous to think that ________ could compromise love!” Expand on the idea in a way that helps you really get in touch with it and connect it to your specific situation. Finally, laugh inwardly or outwardly, whichever is more appropriate. It’s okay if that laughter feels fake, especially at first, but try to make it as genuine as possible by really getting in touch with the ridiculousness of your situation from the perspective of the Course’s view of what is really real.
I hope that with me, you can come closer to really being able to laugh at misfortune. After all, if we truly do believe in a wholly loving God, how could misfortune be real? If God is truly Love, then it really is ridiculous to think that love could be compromised. Why not live and laugh as if that were really true?
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]