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This is an edited version (9/17) of an article that appeared in Moshe Cohen’s spring newsletter (4/17)

As I get ready to head over to Germany and Austria to teach another series of workshops, it’s time to introduce a new moniker I have been using: “Lightfulness.” Yes, it rhymes with mindfulness, and yes, there are some parallel threads between the two words, which not so surprisingly align with parallel threads that connect Clown and Zen. To some folks, Clown and Zen may seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum, and yet one can identify quite a few similarities. I’ve written a thing or two about that, and have congregated the writings at:

The term Lightfulness came to my mind last fall as a result of the work I had been doing with PayPal’s open source group in weekly team building/training sessions. The trainings were well-received, as humor, lightness and juggling created a more enjoyable AND more collaborative environment. Team members developed methods to express and work through stress, tensions and conflicts using humor and seeking to uplift the whole group. As team members started to pay more attention to the well-being of the team, collaboration gained traction.

Working with the team for a year opened perspective as to how these methods work over time. What became clear is that the lighter side of the humor, lightness, proved to be the most skillful and effective tool on the humor spectrum. The group didn’t always seek to be funny with each other, yet the group had a lighter openness in their communications. A common vocabulary (both verbal and non-verbal) developed and expanded, creating capacity/potential for humor to lubricate team interactions: conversations, requests, demands, complaints… which in turn allows for tensions and stress to dissolve rather than build up.

A bit of the philosophy behind Lightfulness

‘Sharing the Funny’, humor, requires at least two components, a protagonist offering humorous expression and a connection with an audience, be that one person or a group. The third component, somewhat intangible, is a complicité (positive complicity-the shared ‘wink’) between audience and the protagonist(s) suggesting to enjoy this moment. The non-professional, when looking to share humor, tends to focus on his/her capacity to express, and fails to focus on shared connection. Without connection and engagement, humor is invisible,  In the context of human relations, humor’s power is in the connection it facilitates. It’s often more subtle and nuanced than one might think. Complicité is often non-verbal: eye-contact, body language, tone of voice.

The experienced comic knows if they are being funny-they are tuned into the audience. Active listening. When they improvise, chances are that they ‘up’ their listening game to help guide that moment. The less experienced person tends to get caught in mind games questioning their offerings, a plunge into ‘thinking mind’ just when they should be placing that focus on the shared connection. That is the ‘fulness’ aspect in Lightfulness, this outer awareness, which in called menmitsu in Zen, “attention to detail, continuous intimacy.”  Actively practicing menmitsu expands the space available for interaction. Another aspect to consider is lightness requires less expressive output, thus expanding the listening space. By turning down the volume of one’s expression, it becomes so much easier to hear what’s going on beyond our own bubble.

AS you probably know, humor can be dangerous, what you think might enlighten has the opposite effect, and it’s not always one’s choice of words. ‘Being funny’ implies or demands a response regardless  of ‘the audience’s’ wish to participate. One might be imposing one’s agenda on unwilling parties. Sometimes that can backfire. Imagine a tense situation where there is a person who is upset. Any well intentioned offering of the ‘funny’ (a quite natural impulse) is likely to be interpreted in the exact opposite manner.

Lightness does have the advantage that it doesn’t demand interaction, there is far less intrusion into other people’s ‘space’. According to the ever surprising field of neuroscience, one’s  lightness can be felt, and thus might offer subtle benefits. Rather than seeking to balance a negative with a positive, if one stays closer to neutral, with a hint of lightness inside, that may well be enough to begin defusing a tense situation, to give enough space for the other person to come around.

© Moshe Cohen