Following on the last principle that pleasure needs to be supported in order to balance pain, this principle focuses directly on humor as an especially key type of pleasure. Besides being a talented musician and a gifted healer, Ilana Rubenfeld has always been something of a cutup, and throughout her life has used humor as a key component in healing. (Lightbulb jokes seem to be a particular favorite.)
Not all Synergists are comedians, of course, but one of the subtler parts of our training is in recognizing genuine moments where laughter can be made available to a client. Something I hear people in pain say sometimes is “you have to laugh or you’ll cry.” In RSM, I’d say the principle is more “you have to laugh so you can cry,” or “you have to laugh as well as cry.” Laughter, after all, isn’t that far off from crying: I know there have been many times when I’ve heard laughter from another room and not known for a moment whether it was an expression of mirth or sorrow. Often people talk of laughing until they cry, and certainly at times of difficulty, I’ve been able to be taken from tears to laughter very easily by a caring partner or friend. And of course, there are tears of joy:
This is not a distraction or a way of avoiding difficult emotions: it’s yet another way to express and relieve them. Emotions, after all, are a movement of energy through the body, and can be released in many ways. Suppressing them ultimately numbs all experience of emotion, not just the ones you are trying to avoid. Expressing them, we find that the line between great joy and great agony is fine indeed.
The important thing to clarify about humor in Rubenfeld Synergy is that we strive not to engage in sarcasm or bitter humor. Anything that could seem like mockery, that could belittle the client or the client’s feelings, is not the type of humor we’re looking for. Neither is participation in a client’s bitterness, which may come out as wry remarks or jokes at the client’s own expense. What we’re looking for is the kind of humor that offers the client release, lifts the seriousness of a situation for a time, and helps open the door to other emotions that may be blocked.
I’ll never forget a session I had with a young woman who was in the midst of breaking up with her boyfriend. She came into the session exhausted and blocked, feeling worn down and with very little energy. As I made contact with her head, which felt very rigid, she said she felt a sense of darkness and safety, like a sheet pulled over her face. Then suddenly, she let loose with a cry of “Bullshit!” As she did so, her neck loosened amazingly, and I could suddenly roll it back and forth easily. As I moved to various parts of her body, we found this feeling of anger everywhere – expressed sometimes as “Bullshit!” and sometimes as “Fuck it!” This became funny pretty quickly. “Yeah, bullshit!” I’d respond, as I felt some other part of her loosen and let go, and as she moved that frustration out she’d laugh. “There’s another one – fuck it!”
Finding those points of frustration and anger in her body and giving them a voice was vitally important, and the fact that her body relaxed when she did it was my signal that it was what was needed. But laughing at the swearing and the ferocity of the responses, not to mention with relief, helped make the expression safer for her. She needed to know that I could handle her anger, which apparently wasn’t heard or expressed in her relationship. And she needed to balance that anger with laughter.
In Ilana’s honor, here’s my favorite lightbulb joke:
Q: How many mice does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: Only two, but I’m not sure how they got in there.