Laughing Our Way to Freedom

In his brilliant book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, concentration camp survivor and founder of logotherapy, talks about “paradoxical intention,” one of the principal techniques of logotherapy. Frankl certainly does not use the word intention the same way we use it in Field theory, but the effectiveness of the technique follows from an inner capacity that’s also central in Field practice and the move from contradiction to alignment. This factor, Frankl calls “self-detachment.” Field theory calls it “witnessing.” Frankl adds that this self-detachment is particularly effective when it’s carried out with a sense of humor. Our ability to step back from our problems and see the humor in our predicament is much more than good-naturedness. It has the power to set us free. In Field practice, being set free from some problem (or contradiction) through the power of witnessing is only half of the story. We aren’t just looking to be free from, but also free to—free to be more fully who we are, happier, healthier, more joyfully alive—in short, free to embody ever more of everything we consider to be good. But before we can be free to, we have to be free from, and to this end, witnessing, stepping back and simply observing a situation or condition impassively, without real interest, engagement, or conclusions about it, is the first step.

The Kabala, the main text of Jewish mysticism, lays out a complex numerical grid on which mathematical values and human values and meanings intersect. It is essentially the system of mystical Jewish numerology. Add up the numerical values of each letter of a word, and you get a sum representing the numerical value of the word. All words with the same numerical value are spiritually related. The name “Jesus,” for example, is not numerically equivalent to the word for “messiah” which provides a kind of mystical evidence for the belief among Jews that the historical Jesus, whatever else he may have been, was not the savior of mankind. Similarly, the numerical values of the words “victory” and “laughter” are equivalent. This makes obvious sense, in that being victorious in any situation prompts us to laughter and happiness. One of the most remarkable features of the Gematria, however, is in the spiritual principle of reversibility. It is true that through victory, we come to laughter, but it no less true that laughter can lead us to victory. Equations are equations, whether you read them right to left or left to right.

Field theory also recognizes this principle of reversibility, in advising students to “begin at the end” by adopting the identity that they would have if fulfillment already were theirs in fact. So, if our desire is for material abundance, and material abundance showed up, we would feel a certain way, but also we would be a certain way. We would adopt a certain identity that is, in a manner of speaking, the equivalent of abundance. Now, as deliberate creators, we don’t have to wait for the condition to adopt the identity. In the same way that the condition evokes the identity, the identity evokes the condition.

Frankl’s paradoxical intention depended on the patient’s ability and willingness to detach from his neurosis (Frankl’s term) and laugh at himself. The Kabala would explain that, the moment we can laugh at ourselves, we’ve set foot on the path to victory. In ten or twenty years, we may well look back at the problems that plague us now and, through the grace afforded by the passing of time, see the humor in it. If this is so, why wait ten or twenty years, when we hold the key to victory and freedom right now?


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