Recently I learned about the Navajo ceremony that honours a baby’s first laugh. Whoever is the first person to make a baby laugh is expected to throw a dinner party on that baby’s behalf. In one account of this tradition, the person who had to throw such a party (the baby’s aunt) also had to give that baby the gift of turquoise.
The Navajo believe that when a baby is born, she belongs to two worlds: the spirit world and the physical world. The first laugh is seen as a sign of the baby’s desire to leave the spirit world and join her earthly family and community. Further, the Navajo believe that laughter is a sign that people understand the meaning of k’é (kinship).
This ceremony (and the belief around it) delights me for so many reasons. First, it feels so meaningful to give laughter such an elevated place in one’s spiritual journey. (Maybe that’s why some of my funniest friends are Indigenous – they know the value of laughter.) Second, while it’s an expensive commitment, I love the idea of placing the responsibility for hosting the celebration on the laugh-instigator. Playing with a baby takes on a whole new meaning when you might be the one to set this all in motion. Third, I love the idea of community gathering for a feast in honour of laughter. It seems that a community built on that foundation has a lot going for it.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to appropriate this ceremony or belief, I wonder how we could let it inform us. How might it change our spiritual practices and gatherings if we believed that laughter is as spiritual as prayer or anything else? What if we gathered for feasts to honour a person who’s been on a hard journey and has learned to laugh again? What if those of us who are facilitators and community-gatherers put laughter on the list of priorities for every gathering?
Though I grew up in a spiritual tradition that’s not known for placing laughter at the centre, I was lucky enough to be part of a family that knew the value of laughter. Whenever we gathered, especially if my dad’s sisters were present, there was certain to be laughter in our midst. The sound of my aunts laughing is one of the things that feels most like home to me.
We’ve all been through a lot in the last year and a half, with the pandemic separating us from our communities and diminishing our opportunities for laughter. I think that right now, as we emerge from this pandemic, we’re in a moment in history when we are especially in need of the healing power of laughter. We need to gather with our families, friends, and communities and we need to feast and laugh until our bodies feel reconnected with each other and with the spirit world.
In yesterday’s post, I shared how I need to stop being so serious all the time and bring back the silly. Well, it clearly resonated with people, because lots of you rallied around and shared your silly with me. On Facebook, Twitter, and in the comments, I got silly movie and book recommendations, links to silly Youtube clips (remember Elaine’s dance on Seinfeld?) and articles in The Onion, an invitation to meet a horse guaranteed to make me smile, an invitation to go on a road trip, and a host of other ideas.
Thanks! You all made my day! I think I was grinning until the minute my head hit the pillow.
Today I have to get some work done so that I can take some time off next week to hang out with a visiting friend (who is guaranteed to make me laugh repeatedly), so I don’t have as much time to waste on social media. But none-the-less, I wanted to keep the invitation open to SHARE YOUR SILLY! (Thanks to Barbara Winter for the idea for a new name for this month of silly.)
This morning, as I brewed tea in my new elephant teapot, I decided that the elephant needs a name. And so, for today’s Share your Silly, your task is to help me NAME MY ELEPHANT!
Leave a name in the comments of this post, and if I pick yours, I’ll send you something silly in the mail. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’ll find something!
By the way, if you’re new here, and you’re wondering what all this silly stuff is doing on a site that’s dedicated to something serious like leadership, well, haven’t you heard? In the new world of Sophia leadership, silly has EVERYTHING to do with being an effective leader!
Last night, when my husband thought it was wise to send me out of the house for some “me time”, I headed to my favourite bookstore to buy more smart books. As you can tell, I love smart books. I have bookshelves full of them, and a night stand nearly caving under the weight of them.
I had a gift certificate, so I could buy them guilt free.
I wandered through my current sections-of-choice – leadership, women’s studies, spirituality, writing, and inspiration – grabbed a handful of possibilities, and found a comfy chair to get lost in.
After flipping through a few of the books, I felt something familiar creep into my gut. A heaviness. A tight ball that was being wound even tighter by the seriousness of the books I was looking through.
“Ugh.” I thought. “I don’t want to read one more serious or smart book. I don’t want any of these.”
And in that chair, with my arms full of books, I started to weep. I wept because I suddenly realized that I no longer know how to find books that will bring me joy. I only know how to find books that will make me smarter, bring me closer to self-realization, or challenge me to serve the world with greater justice.
WHEN DID I BECOME SO DAMN SERIOUS?!?
It’s not just books. I listen to smart music too – music written by “social-justice-minded” or “plunging-the-depths-of-your-soul” folk artists.
And (I’m embarrassed to admit) when I buy jewelry, I find myself looking for some kind of spiritual meaning behind the symbols I wear, rather than just buying something for pure love.
I’ve even noticed it in my art journal. Instead of simply having fun with paint, I’m trying to inject meaning into every single page.
This is serious people. I think I have a disease. And I might very well be the last to notice it.
My dear friend Michele recently filled out a questionnaire about me (that I had requested) and she said some beautiful things that made me weep. What made me weep the most, though, was this: “While I admire your persistence and the vigour with which you approach your work, sometimes even your ‘play’ seems like work to me.”
Gulp. She’s right. I have forgotten how to play just for the fun of play.
I ask again… WHEN DID I BECOME SO DAMN SERIOUS?!
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that this past year has been punctuated with serious things like a suicide attempt, breast reduction surgery, and the transition from employment to self-employment. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I’ve spent the past six and a half years writing primarily about social justice issues and visiting some of the most devastatingly poor areas of the world. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I’ve decided to build my career on the issue of wisdom and I feel like I need to be wiser than I am to do it.
SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE! I have GOT to bring back my sense of play. It’s time for a shift, people. No, I’m not going to become a comedian overnight, or abandon my passion for wisdom, but I AM going to inject a little more fun into my life.
I started last night at the bookstore. I knew I couldn’t even trust myself to buy a novel (I’d probably end up with a tear-jerker set in war-torn Afghanistan), so I headed to the gift shelves, bound and determined that I would buy the silliest, most impractical, “make-me-smile” things I could find on the shelf.
And that’s why I now drink tea out of an elephant’s trunk and wear mis-matched socks on my feet. It’s time for a little FUN!
Because really, when it comes right down to it, what good is all of this wisdom if we don’t know how to laugh?
I hereby declare December the “Month of Silliness”. I am adjusting my mental image of Sophia – this month she’s got a big stupid grin on her face and she keeps bursting out in random giggles. When I put my head on her chest, I can feel the vibrations from her deep-body giggle.
PLEASE send me recommendations for books, movies, activities, WHATEVER, that are guaranteed to tickle my funny-bone and bring back my sense of ha-ha.
AND… does anyone want to knit me a tea-cozy? My elephant needs a colourful coat! 😉