Your Most Important Spiritual Tool (It's Probably Not What You Think)

How can something as simple – and as silly – as being amused be a spiritual technique? 

Yet the ability to find some humor in whatever you’re dealing with is one of the most important skills to have in your arsenal. It’s the most general tool I can teach you, but it’s the one that strengthens every other tool. 

Finding even a little bit of amusement helps you handle situations and people in both the past and the present.

Simply put, amusement gives you a little perspective. When you’re overwhelmed, amusement disarms what’s overwhelming you. With that inch or two of breathing room, you can find a more neutral perspective on what’s getting thrown at you or what you’ve been carrying around.

And a feeling of amusement, of mild readiness to laugh, is especially helpful to activate when your powers of awareness start getting stronger and you start consciously noticing energy that’s demanding more than you want to give.

As you learn and practice specific spiritual techniques for handling energy, use amusement as your trusty ally, who’s always ready to help, who can color the situation more comfortably for you. Let amusement be the Robin to your Batman, the Sancho Panza to your Don Quixote, the Rhoda to your Mary Tyler Moore (as a diabetic, I really wanted an excuse to mention Moore, a formidable diabetic warrior woman).

Amusement is the first step to separating from the energy streams all around you.

When you are slightly amused, you find separation from what you’re experiencing and even what you’re looking at. Suddenly, there’s a little bit of distance between you and it or him or her. You don’t have to gird yourself to resist the impact of the person or the situation. You don’t have to become the effect of it either. Suddenly, you simply remember that you are yourself – not what’s happening to you – and that you have your own experience of being alive at this moment.

So place the invisible, powerful tool of amusement inside your new spiritual mechanic’s toolbox. Mentally keep it handy: the slightly effervescent readiness to sense what’s funny about any situation.

Finding amusement can mean calling up a thought or an image from your storehouse of mental pictures to lighten things up. Imagine that the person you’re dealing with is wearing a duck suit. Think of the funny face of your kid, the goofy thing your cat did. Even better, the goofy thing that you did. Even a nonsense rhyme or a ridiculous phrase can work (I like to think of Steve Martin saying “Those wild and crazy guys!,” for instance, and Digital Underground’s rendition of “The Humpty Dance”…am I dating myself here?). Whatever tickles you, get used to pulling it into your awareness. Norman Cousins, who wrote a pioneering book called Anatomy of an Illness documenting the healing power of humor, recommended watching a lot of funny movies. Try pressing the imaginary remote control and replaying in your mind a segment of one of your favorite funny movies, wherever and whenever you need to.

Amusement is a technique that lifts your energy.

Amusement really does lift your energy. When you see a tinge of humor in the situation you’re in, your awareness rises from the lower energy centers of your body, those concerned with survival and emotion, to the upper parts, those concerned with communication, clear seeing, and wisdom.

Notice that I keep referring to finding a bit of amusement as a technique, not a spontaneous response or an aspect of your character. The good news is that the way we are wired as humans means that we can physically trigger amusement. We can fake it, and it will start to emerge. If this seems implausible, try it. Your body and energy systems will respond to that little physical command of a smile, however tentative. Paste on a little smile. Feel the upper part of your cheeks lift up. You can’t help it: you start to feel that there’s something a little bit funny going on.

Most likely, a difficult situation feels chaotic. In that very disorder is the seed of comedy. Within every challenge you face is a funny side. Look for it. Think of a situation that’s weighing on you to practice on. Is there something about it that’s so out of whack that it’s a bit funny? Try on that attitude. Try on the smile. Does your body loosen up a bit; does your perspective change?

Let’s take a common, if not consequential, scenario: you’re in a glacial line at the grocery checkout counter and all you want to do is to get home. The checker is maddeningly slow. The people in front of you with their massive products piled up in carts have become your hated enemies. Decide to zero in on something amusing about the situation. How absurd that we’ve come so far from the immediacy of hunting and gathering, and yet you feel like a trapped boar right now in a herd of other idiotic trapped boars. How strange it is that most of the food has colored packaging around it. Isn’t there something a little bit weird about that, really? How great it is, in fact, that we get to buy this big load of stuff. Or even this little pile of stuff. See where I’m going? Feel your space lightening up a bit? The weight of anger and resentment dropping off at least somewhat?

Yes, that means you’re not in the role of the victim anymore. You’re in the role of someone who is exerting some control over your experience of the situation. I don’t mean to minimize victimization: we all have been the butt of unfair treatment, some of us more horribly than others. That is real. The horribleness persists within you, and that is real too. What you can change is your attitude toward it. Once you gain more perspective on a situation that’s out of whack, even wrong, you start to gain more power in relation to it. You can consider your options, and choose to act on one.

There’s something funny in even the most serious challenges.

I also don’t mean to say that the challenges we face aren’t serious. The more serious the situation, the greater the need to find at least a speck of amusement about it. Allowing yourself to be demoralized, impaired, or immobilized by tough circumstances helps nobody. Your goal is to feel, and to be, more empowered. Feeling overwhelmed is to be in a state of disempowerment.

To put it another way, if you’re waist deep in something ugly that smells bad, the last thing you want to do is drown in it. The absurdity, the ridiculousness, the grand scale, the something-is-really-off-here about it can be the thing that gets you to pick up one foot, and then another, and get to a better, more fragrant, place.

Here’s an example from last weekend.

I had to replace the lock on my back door and I wanted to do it myself instead of calling an expensive handyperson. By comparing the lock with the same model on another door, I had managed to diagnose the problem. This was a big deal for me, a mechanically inexperienced and unconfident person. A very nice man at the local hardware store validated my conclusions and sold me a new center mechanism for the lock – I didn’t even have to replace the whole lock, just that piece in the middle of it! I felt triumphant!

But back home, I was out of my depth. Manipulating words, yes; manipulating mechanical things with my hands, a big stretch. And my boyfriend, while a good cook and an accomplished martial artist, is even more inept at things like lock installation than I am (which, I must admit, he was not amused by, though not as upset as I became over my situation). After a few failed attempts at assembly, and fruitless tries at reading the tiny, inscrutable instructions – and what the heck was this collar thing, and how did I move this little size switch thingie, and should I want to? – I stood with multiple parts in hand, baffled at how to put them together.

My smarty-pants diagnosis of the problem had faded into history. Now, I felt overwhelmed by panic and frustration. I’m someone who loves to be independent and to succeed at what I try to do, yet here I was, proving to be incompetent.

This activated unpleasant feelings and packets of uncomfortable, stuck energy all over my energy space. I could barely think. I started to cry. What a failure I had proved to be at this. And I didn’t even have help – harrumph – which made me cry a little harder. I felt myself falling apart as if I were that disassembled lock. I felt as unprotected as that unsecured door. And as pissed-off as a seventh-grader who couldn’t even be effective in the world. I was a wreck.

Then it dawned on me – this after 25 years of intuitive work – that, duh, I had some spiritual tools I could use here. The very first one I reached for amid the maelstrom of my emotions was my sense of amusement. Blindly I cast about my reality and managed to find a speck of awareness of myself standing there, freaking out over a handful of door lock parts. It was kind of funny. I grumpily blew on that little tiny ember of humor, so to speak. The warming comicalness of my situation, and my sobbing reaction to it, spread within me. I involuntarily smiled at the predicament I had gotten myself into. I took a deep breath. I remembered that I was me – not the equipment, the outside look, the inside doorknob, or that damn cylinder with its various plates and screws that was supposed to hold the whole thing together. I was me right here in the present – not the little baby that wanted to put together the two blocks but couldn’t see how, or the woman who wasn’t so independent after all.

Traveling up from the fight-or-flight hullabaloo in my first chakra at the base of my spine, my awareness slipped back into the middle of my head, behind my eyes. I remembered to create a grounding cord to anchor my panicked body to the earth. I put up the image of a rose to define the front edge of my personal space. Now, from this vantage point, the lock parts in my hand didn’t look so bad. (We’ll look in depth in subsequent blog posts at each of these tools -- or contact me for one-on-one coaching!)

Eventually – OK, after another trip to the hardware store for more explanation by the nice employee, who instantly put the whole thing together as we stood in the aisle; one trial-and-error assembly attempt after another back at home; one final desperate hope that maybe it was the crookedly screwed-in screw that now was the only thing thwarting us (it was); not to mention some help and sympathy from the boyfriend – I got the new lock installed. It worked! My house’s back door was secured! And my energy space wasn’t doing so badly either, with a little spiritual perspective.

None of this would have been possible without some amusement. The seeming seriousness of the situation would have kept producing its overwhelming triggers to my reactions so that I literally could not see a physical solution. Once I got out of overwhelmedness, I could figure out a next step in the process. And I could feel better taking it. And the next one, and the next.

Like most things, finding amusement takes practice. But at least it’s fun.

Is a loved one yelling at you but unable to listen to your response? As your stress rises, inwardly step back and smile a secret smile about the comically loud racket; that way you don’t have to match the person’s level of fury, and in the ensuing calm, you can both talk through the issues with the seriousness they may deserve. Or maybe it’s your own cluelessness that suddenly strikes you as funny. Whatever works.

Didn’t lose that pound you were trying to lose? The unfairness, despite your best efforts! It’s absurd! But like Charlie Chaplin’s tramp, like a kitten who keeps jumping but can’t quite make the chair, you’ll keep trying. Is there humor there somewhere, maybe just in the image of you standing hopefully on the scale once again with that look on your face?Look at yourself with the fondness you’d feel toward the tramp or the kitten, with a charitable perspective that somehow sees the sweet comedy in your stalwart efforts.

With perspective, you arrive at neutrality, where forgiveness is in reach.

What an amazing feeling: you don’t have to succumb to whatever is in front of you, or welling up inside you. You don’t have to override it either. With perspective and some humor, you just acknowledge what’s happened and give yourself a break. It’s a relief: though you may be part child and part superhero, your task is to just be a human right now. That you can do. With a little amusement, you remember: all you have to do is to use the tools you have and take the steps you can take.

copyright © 2012 Lisa Bernstein


  • Caroline
    I've heard about this use of amusement before as a spiritual tool but this post makes it much clearer than anyone has expressed it so far. thanks!

    I've heard about this use of amusement before as a spiritual tool but this post makes it much clearer than anyone has expressed it so far. thanks!

  • Bill D.
    Bill D.
    You're right on the money here. I also find that using humor in interactions with unpleasant people (not just internally within my own awareness) often defuses the situation and keeps it from turning into something contentious or even aggressive. And THAT'S a serious benefit!

    You're right on the money here. I also find that using humor in interactions with unpleasant people (not just internally within my own awareness) often defuses the situation and keeps it from turning into something contentious or even aggressive. And THAT'S a serious benefit!

  • Mary P.
    Mary P.
    good, i'm going to have to stock up on some funny movie scenes to think about....

    good, i'm going to have to stock up on some funny movie scenes to think about....

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