Fun is important, and not just to kids and comedians. It’s important for all people and all species. Animals get this. Magpies wrestle, foxes jump on trampolines and elk frolic in puddles. Bears charge rivers, monkeys somersault down hills, and elephants doodle with sticks in the earth. Fun even crosses species lines. Polar bears horse around with dogs, and monkeys play chicken with tigers. Fun is a universal instinct.
A study of Alaskan grizzlies showed that the ones that played the most were the ones most likely to survive. Another study showed that if you take play away from lab rats they develop behavioral problems and become impotent. And we can’t have that, can we?
We’ve lost some of our funny these days. Most ancient cultures and traditions emphasized fun. There is a Japanese proverb that says, “Time spent laughing is time spent with the gods.” In the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, laughter is important. There is a quote usually attributed to the Buddha that says, “When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.” It’s a great thought although not quite accurate. It likely comes from a Tibetan text that says,
Since everything is but an illusion,
Perfect in being what it is,
Having nothing to do with good or bad,
Acceptance or rejection,
One might as well burst out laughing!
(From chapter 1 of The Great Perfection’s Self-Liberation in the Nature of Mind, by Longchenpa (1308-1364)
A beautiful image comes from the Sufi poet Hafiz who said, “Me and God are two giants in a tiny boat, bumping into each other, and laughing.” Imagination and fun are gateways to wonder and possibility. To quote nobody in particular, “Without great fun, there can be no great awakening.”
One of the reasons for this is because fun plays with your assumptions and society’s rules. Laughter and fun give you ways to tear apart the straight jacket of personal and social conformity. Life is not always predictable, our rules and conclusions are not always as permanent as we imagine, and it’s always possible to take alternate perspectives. Through the power of laughter, you open up a kaleidoscope of new possibilities.
Fun is not only fun. It can also be transformative. The transforming power of fun is that you can try out a different reality in your mind, see how it feels, get comfortable with it, rehearse it, and live it into existence. You release the tension out of a situation and inadvertently find new solutions that you hadn’t even thought about. Some people have a rare gift of introducing fun into tense situations, but we all have the ability to do it if we are mindful.
There is so much death and suffering in the world. Is it insensitive or extravagant to have fun when so many are suffering? Maybe it’s one of the most powerful things we can do. It’s like raising a fist to despair as if to say, “You can’t have me. I won’t give in.”
Its like Guido in the movie, Life is Beautiful? The story is set in the time of the holocaust, and Guido, his wife and 5 year-old son are being held in a concentration camp- Guido and his son in one camp, and his wife next door in the women’s camp. Guido breaks the oppressive spirit of the camp with humor. In one scene Guido takes over the PA system in the camp and sends a message to his wife, who doesn’t know if he is dead or alive. Guido speaks Italian so the soldiers can’t understand him. In another scene Guido volunteers to be the translator for the German soldier who is barking orders about different rules that the prisoners must follow, or else be killed. Guido translates it completely differently. He says that this is all a game, and if you follow the rules of the game, you can win. The son’s eyes grow wide as he listens to his father, while the soldier barks out order about death. In the midst of unthinkable sadness, Guido gives his family hope.
We all need a little Guido in our life. Thank goodness for laughter and for those who are able to create fun in tense situations. Are you burdened by unsolvable problems? Are you overwhelmed by the sadness and suffering in the world? Laugh, not AT the suffering and not in a callous way, but in such a way that you remind yourself that a new reality is always possible. If you can’t find anything funny, conduct a preemptive strike on fun. Laugh on suspicion of something ordinary and every day. Laugh at your own monkey mind. Laugh at your over active imagination. Then surrender to new perspectives that only open up because you let the air out of your nervous energy. Fun is a pathway to spirit, rerouted surprise, laughter’s short cut to the sacred. LOL!