Monday, 8 January 2018

Making Opportunities for Laughing

"Ducks in Ponchos" - see story below

When I was studying how to facilitate writing groups and group dynamics,  I remember one of the tutors saying it was good to bring laughter into a group.

I've always enjoyed laughing. At the time with little experience of running groups I thought it might be necessary to manufacture these opportunities or even pretend. This is definitely an aspect especially in groups where laughter may not come easily to participants. And it's the basis of Laughter Therapy where, put simply, you pretend it's funny until it really is.

But it's also about being open to the opportunity for laughter, seeing the lightness in things, encouraging laughter that's within to find an outlet in the group.

I began to practice this in the groups I led in schools, holding space for students to write creatively and expressively over 6 - 12 weeks. In today's school system this is a rare and valuable opportunity, giving time for connection and storying in a safely held environment. 

Humour was a useful tool in settling students into an unusual activity. Sometimes they seemed surprised by my attempts at humour - I can't say they were jokes - I hadn't rehearsed them! They were of the moment quips about inconsequential day to day stuff. Often I made light of something I'd done or thought. And then I'd laugh. And  after a while the students joined in. Gradually over the weeks they became more relaxed, were eager to attend and able to share in and appreciate the humour of each others' stories. 

And it was never about laughing at anyone. It was about laughter that connects, not divides, through good humour and fun.

This is not to forget the sadness that can be present in a group too. Writing releases emotion. Laughter and tears are both bodily responses to finding and sharing words. Holding a space that's safe enough to find the words and allow the connection with a bodily felt response is key to the work involved in facilitating a writing group for health and wellbeing. 

Recently in a long running group for a London mental health charity, the photo above of three ducks in the snow provoked hilarious laughter after a theme of coats emerged during the session. Ideas were bouncing around culminating in one participant suggesting the ducks wore ponchos. Her infectious enjoyment set the group off laughing.  We were all involved, there in the present moment laughing together about the juxtaposition of words, ideas, sounds and images and the funniness of ducks and us finding it all so funny. You needed to have been there! The feeling was great.

Laughter is a big connecter. It dissolves awkwardness and barriers between people. It's democratising. It's also good for our health. Isn't it a lovely feeling to have a really good laugh?