A funny thing hap­pened at The Haven

Times Colonist - - Islander - BY KATHER­INE GOR­DON

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 info@haven.ca 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

hu­mour.

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.

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