I hate clowns. Their acts do not inspire me to smile. A kid might demand, “make me a bicycle clown!” whereas I’d demand, “make me understand where both of us went wrong?”
I take my animosity toward clowns as a shadow projection, a fear that I might actually become one. That’s the root of my pain: a feeling of not enough, which I am terrified will lead me to become a middle-aged chucklehead who hides behind vibrant face paint. To a certain degree, a friend said, everyday we experience either one or a combination of “the three Ts:” terror, tedium, and tiredness. It felt unifying to know I was not alone in the fear of not adding up to my own expectations, but where were the other people trying to do the math? How often do we actually let ourselves express out loud what we are afraid of?
Waves of not enough have flooded my life lately. You are not feminine enough. You are not responsible enough. You are not loving enough. You are not doing enough. Some of these words have come from other people. A lot of them have come from within myself. They hurt equally as bad, even if they are interpretations communicated by actions: rejection, abandonment, the phone calls I didn’t receive.
When I’ve reached this point of low before, I’ve experienced guilt in allowing myself to rise up out of it and experience its adverse: what some refer to as high vibration energy. The positivity I’d put on would feel like that clown mask I never wanted, covering up my self-loathing with a show. Now, I’ve reached a conundrum: how do I express myself in the most vulnerable way possible, show people what I am actually feeling, while not coming across as a psychopathic jackass when the next moment after having a crying breakdown I am laughing. One minute, I’m crying because I’m laughing so hard then the next I’m laughing because I’m crying so hard.
To be honest, I even feel dread writing this post. What’s going through my mind is, what will people think of me when they find out my life’s not perfectly happy all the time? What will potential clients think when they read that I experience doubt in my artistic expression from time to time? Will people who read this still choose to love me when they read that people recently have told me I am not enough? I could go on and on …
Recently, two things occurred.
First, I started spending time with people who rock their vulnerable by expressing, with death-defying disclosure, how they really feel while also acknowledging their shame and their decision to share any way. They both happen to be awesome life coaches (please see Mike Hrostoski and Krystal Brandt). Before I really got to know Mike, when I pictured who he could be, my mind would default to what I imagined all successful people have in their lives that I don’t have: perfection, and maybe even limitlessness. I recognize that idea as a projection of my own because if you read any of Mike’s public writings, you know with full disclosure what he’s experiencing. He’s the same in person. It has felt liberating to be in the presence of people whom I ask, “how are you?” and instead of defaulting to our conditioned response of “good,” they respond with “I feel anger surging through my body.”
The second thing that happened: I learned how to laugh when life sucks. Just before going out on Halloween, I had a moment in the car with Krystal. A deep sadness inhabited my belly as result of a recent break-up. I felt overtaken by that nagging sensation of grief that ebbs with resistant change. We sat in the parking lot of an organic health food store, and I stared outward from a deep place wondering if I could make it to our party where I would dress up in a sandwich board that read “vigorous jazz hands” as part of a clan of friends costumed as Cards Against Humanity. I could hardly muster half-assed jazz hands, let alone vigorous ones.
Krystal takes a deep breath, calling in guidance as to how to help me get up and out of my funk and she says, “we need to laugh.” So, she walked me through a ridiculous laughter yoga exercise and before we knew it, neither of us could control the guffaws that escaped us as we slapped our knees, gyrated with fitful seizures, wrapped our arms around our own bellies, and wiped tears from the corners of our eyes. First, the laughter was just an exercise, then I was chuckling at how ridiculous I looked, then I laughed for no reason, then I laughed because I was laughing, then I started conjuring Bill Burr quotes and pulling out hilarious Youtube videos. I made it to our party with renewed energy and even gratitude for the support of someone who cared about how I felt.
Rewind to a couple days ago, Krystal and I are in the car with Mike, talking about the power of giving ourselves permission to laugh during difficult times. He admits that he has some shyness around laughter, so we teach him the exercises. I could relate to his shyness, can’t we all? There’s nowhere I feel I can hide when that sound of gasping for air or snorting or hu-yucking booms out of my face and people on the outside of whatever joke turn to stare. But it feels so good! And to be trite, it is contagious. When my friends laugh even if I don’t know what they are laughing about I start laughing.
The only problem we currently face is that I feel we broke something open. Perhaps a lot of laughter is pouring out of me right now because it was repressed behind a whole lot of unanticipated seriousness over the last five months that isn’t even my natural state of being.
With Mike and Krystal, I cruised to downtown San Diego in hysterics in the car as we worked with Mike on how to make laughter happen. It ended up occurring naturally later. We rolled up to a concert performed by a “highly conscious hip hop group” who rapped about self-love, fitness, and even performed a song called, Drunk Off Kombucha. They had us yelling “I am healthy” and “I love myself.” It was the most strangely amazing concert I’ve been to, ever. I am accustomed to experiencing rap music as morbid and misogynistic with undertones of violence. During the concert, I experienced laughter as an outward expression of the unexpected.
At least, this is the affect optimistic hip hop had on me for a couple hours. Even though the three of us are working through some major emotional twists and turns, we allowed ourselves to laugh, dance, and be surprised by joy.
Riding home in the car, Mike attempted to make himself crack up again, but it wouldn’t flow. He asked me to punch him in the back as he drove, only some how when he leaned over I aimed for his back and punched him in the face. Full force. Fist-to-nose-contact. I apologized. He laughed. And kept laughing. And kept laughing. And kept laughing. Then, each of us was laughing.
Later, when we recounted the story to his girlfriend, she fired back, “What! I’m so jealous. I’ve been dying to punch this guy in the face!” We laughed again.
Just to be clear, I am not encouraging anyone to punch anyone else in the face to see if they laugh. This was an accident, not an experiment. But if the unexpected occurs and it summons joy when your life sucks, let it happen.
“Laughter instantly shifts our energy, feelings, and thoughts, leading to the insight that these are not permanent … only love it,” – Stephanie Nash
And in case you missed the link earlier to the laughter exercise, click here to watch.