A funny thing happened at The Haven
People sometimes weep at Carole Ames’ Quantum Laugh workshops, but she says that’s a good thing. “I don’t do standup comedy for two days, and participants don’t spend the whole time telling each other funny stories. That’s not what the workshops are about.” But tears? “The focus of the workshops is humour, but it’s about the role humour plays in our lives.” Ames says people often employ humour to distance themselves from other people. “For example, it’s common to use wit to hurt someone or as a wall to hide behind. Why do we do that? Can we use humour more effectively?”
Humour, says Ames, can also be used to heal old wounds. That’s where the tears come in: participants can get very emotional. But that’s the exception rather than the rule. Ames is quick to confirm that for the most part, people leave her courses with their ribs aching after a weekend of unmitigated fun. The three-day courses, held at The Haven Institute on Gabriola Island, include improvisation, cartooning, slapstick and games, all aimed at selfdiscovery and learning through laughter.
Louise Amuir, conference and catering co-ordinator at The Haven, was interested in using humour to free up her creative side but found the course also helped her with her job.
“I used to freeze up when everyone was bombarding me at work with competing demands,” she confesses. “I’d end up completely unable to make any decision.”
Ames’solution: a game with rules that Amuir didn’t know but that she had to play with the rest of the group. Faced with shouted contradictory instructions from all sides, helpless with laughter, Amuir finally fought back: “It broke a barrier inside me. I suddenly realized in the middle of it that I could make the rules for how I played my role instead of trying to satisfy everyone else. And I had fun doing it instead of having a crisis.”
Dale Partridge, now a resident of Nanaimo, was living in Vancouver when he attended Ames’first workshop in 2002. Partridge learned the power of laughing in the face of adversity, a lesson that helped in June this year when he moved to Vancouver Island for a new job. “Four days before I was due to move, the landlord changed his mind about the lease. Laughter was a good tool to stave off panic that week!”
Partridge, a veteran of many personal growth courses at The Haven, had just resigned a job when he spotted the Quantum Laugh course online and signed up, hoping for a “kick in the pants” to help him decide what to do next. “It worked really well. I came back full of ideas and treating life a lot less seriously.”
Ames, now 49, didn’t start her professional life as a humour guru. After graduating with an honours degree in planning in her early 20s, she rose rapidly to the position of director of planning for the city of Yellowknife, but found herself suffering from stress. Still only 29, she knew something had to change. After a break from work to take a monthlong course at The Haven, all her symptoms had improved.
In 1992 she moved to Vancouver to study counselling and in 2000 to Gabriola Island, where she began a private counselling practice. But she still wanted something more. Discussing with her husband Bill how she could utilize her counselling qualifications in the best way, they agreed that her greatest asset was her remarkable sense of and enjoyment of humour. The Quantum Laugh was born.
Ames dived headfirst into designing the Quantum Laugh with the help of extensive research into humour and its many layers. “Ironically, I got really serious designing this course. But I needed to understand in depth how humour works for different people.”
Ames’ research paid off when she launched her first course to rave reviews from the participants — even the man who was there by mistake, thinking he had signed up for something completely different. “He protested that he had no sense of humour and shouldn’t be there, but by the end of the course he was laughing along with everyone else,” she recollects with satisfaction.
The important thing to remember, says Ames, is that everyone is different and is going to have a different take on humour. “We watch clips from comedies, or look at cartoons, and discuss who finds them funny and who doesn’t, and why some humour makes us feel uncomfortable” even though someone else might be perfectly happy with it.
The goal is greater self-awareness and development of the ability to incorporate that understanding into our everyday lives. The idea is to have fun while you’re at it. “Joy is a wonderful way to shine a light into our dark emotional places and release defences,” says Partridge. “It’s a gentle experience instead of a hard one.”
The benefits of humour, says Ames, extend well beyond relationship skills and emotional healing into improved physical wellbeing and just good old-fashioned fun. “We all get so constrained and wound up these days. Sometimes, we just need to laugh out loud for no good reason.”
Carole Ames will be running the next Quantum Laugh July 19-22. E-mail email@example.com or phone (877) 247-9238 for information on tuition costs and accommodation. Katherine Gordon is a Gabriola Island author and freelance writer, so it’s a good thing she has a good sense of
Carole Ames puzzled over what direction to take in her new career as a counsellor. When her husband pointed out that her sense of humour was one of her most remarkable characteristics, she discovered a new way to help clients overcome adversity.