The Gift of Humor as Caregivers

I’m often struck by how great a gift it is to be able to laugh at ourselves and the predicaments we find ourselves in.

I realize that this isn’t always possible. Sometimes when we’re most in need of humor, it sits outside the perimeter of what we can reach, which—in a sort of cruel way—can magnify our feelings of misery and overwhelm. At other times, however, we’re graced with the arrival of lightness and the capacity to use it as a way of working with the irritants and disappointments of everyday life.

As caregivers, these moments are especially welcome!

In my book, Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit, I share an example of a day when such lightness arrived. My husband had been traveling and I had arranged for a sitter to have several hours of some much-needed alone time. I felt giddy as she arrived and I quickly oriented her to what she could serve my children for dinner. I scurried upstairs to my bedroom, where I had already laid out several poetry books, my journal, and a favorite pen. I fluffed up my buckwheat-filled meditation cushion and lit a candle.

Ahhh, I sighed.

I began my time by reading a passage from Rilke: “Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows.”

I sat for several minutes, quieting the thoughts in my mind and allowing the invitation of Rilke’s words to sink into my awareness. I started to notice the rhythm of my breathing, and I felt a sense of calm arrive.

Ahhh, I sighed again.

I felt inspired to draw an image in my journal, and so I went to get some colored pencils from my office down the hallway. As I opened my bedroom door, I heard the words, “Well, maybe we should go get Mom and tell her.” And then I heard the sitter say, “No, I think it’s okay.”

Bless her, I thought, and I fought the impulse to go downstairs.

Don’t you dare, I said to myself. This is your time to be with Rilke and the place from which your life flows.

I got my colored pencils and walked back to my bedroom with resolve. As I closed the door I heard the sitter say, “Don’t worry, honey. I don’t think any of the eggs have hatched yet. . . .

I sat down on my cushion determined to stay calm and present with my journal and candle and breath. It was hard, however, not to feel haunted by her words.

Eggs? I thought. I made macaroni and cheese for dinner. Why is she talking about eggs?

My mind kept scanning its inner reference points to eggs, much as I tried to keep my attention on my breath. Soon, I was consumed with my puzzling to the point where I felt my forehead squint into a crease.

“Oh no!” I said out loud as I remembered noticing my son’s dry scalp that morning—how I had encouraged him to use some dandruff shampoo to see if it would help.

I blew out my candle flame and closed my journal, letting out much more of a moan than a sigh this time.

Needless to say, the last thing in the world I wanted to do was blow out that flame. I didn’t want to drive out to the drugstore, or to have conversations about lice, or to comb hair under bright lights. I wanted my time alone.

It helped me find some lightness in the situation when I started to wonder, Did Rilke ever have to deal with a case of head lice in his family? And how about the other contemplative saints throughout history? How about Thoreau on Walden Pond? I bet he never had to deal with such a thing. Somehow, letting my mind entertain these thoughts helped to make a disappointing situation a little less disappointing. It also helped me to appreciate what the evening did offer, which ended up being many sweet and amusing moments with my children.

When we bring a humorous lens to moments like this, not only does it make them more bearable, but it can also allow us to recognize that these types of disappointments and derailings are actually valuable spiritual practices in and of themselves. With a little lightness and humor, we’re able to see our attachments, just as we would in a meditation practice—and we also end up developing greater levels of flexibility, just as we might from attending a yoga class.

Such moments highlight what a gift it is to be able to access humor.

Photo credit:

Karen Horneffer-Ginter has been practicing psychology and teaching yoga and contemplative practices for over 16 years. She has also taught graduate students and health care professionals, along with directing a university-based holistic health care program, and co-founding the Center for Psychotherapy and Wellness in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The aim of Karen's work is to reconnect people with the wisdom of their inner-life by reclaiming what gets lost amidst the busyness of day-to-day life: qualities such as stillness, self-care, creativity, joy, humor, gratitude, and compassion. Her intention is to support people in finding a sense of balance and sacredness in their lives.

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