I recently had the chance to speak with spiritual comedian, life coach, and all-around inspiration, Alicia Dattner, after listening to her latest comedy show, “Eat, Pray, Kvetch, Grow, Cry, Laugh.” Her witty performance was part of The Online Spiritual Comedy Festival, which she founded. Alicia was kind enough to have a conversation with me about her background, pursuits and philosophies, as she loves to educate others about living a life of spirit-led laughter.
During her show, Alicia mentioned that when she was younger, she had trouble reconciling her spirituality with her desire to be cool; being spiritual and being cool are two identities that usually don’t mesh that well. When asked to elaborate on this conflict in conversation, Alicia says that at one time in her life, she was very “punk rock” and “hip,” so, by society’s standards, she was extremely cool. She had trouble embracing her spirituality, as being spiritual wasn’t considered very cool by those same standards. Now she cares less about maintaining an appearance of coolness, and instead tries to live by her own definition of what cool is.
She believes being cool is being involved with what you’re personally interested in and creating things; it is being oneself and not following the crowd. When you don’t care about maintaining a “cool” image, that is when you actually become truly cool. Alicia recounts a personal anecdote that illustrated this lesson: when she was in eighth grade, she went through a phase of deliberately trying not to be popular, even though popularity had previously been her goal. In a strange twist of events, two of the most popular girls from the sixth grade decided she was the coolest person they knew and that they should emulate her. Through her life experiences, Alicia has also learned that this lesson also applies to spirituality; you achieve your best spiritual state when you aren’t focused on owning the status of being spiritual; instead, you should simply tell the truth, be real, and look for beautiful experiences.
Being spiritual, for Alicia, encompasses a very wide range of activities. Laughing, she describes herself as a “spiritual mutt.” She was raised Jewish, and still identifies a great deal with Judaism. Otherwise, she basically takes practices and ideas from any religion that enables her to have positive experiences; she’s more concerned about the feelings she experiences than following the particular rules of any religion. She has been involved with Native American spirituality, Hinduism, Buddhist vipassana meditation, kirtan chanting, earth- and woman-centred religions, Sufism and Christianity. Her openness and lack of dogmatic focus on one religion is refreshing.
Enabling others to have positive experiences, to laugh more often, and to have fun are Alicia’s main focuses when working with clients within her life coaching practice. When presented with the hypothetical scenario of having a client who wants to climb the corporate ladder, even though their job brings them no pleasure, Alicia finds this scenario somewhat strange. She wonders out loud how a person like this would end up in her office! I respond that they may have been lost as to how to reach their goal and may have randomly seen her ad somewhere…possibly while surfing the Internet. She points out that some people find it a challenge to remember that material success isn’t what is “real” in life, and she can’t discriminate against those people who believe it is of the utmost importance. She defines the meaning of life as not discriminating against what others believe, as long as their beliefs and actions bring them as much joy as possible. As a life coach, it’s not her role to change others’ beliefs, but to enable them to use those beliefs to bring out the best in themselves. However, she does point out that life coaching helps the client get in touch with their “essential nature,” and that they may discover they have additional beliefs and ideas that they had never previously tapped into.
I infer from this that if someone came to her asking for coaching about how to climb the corporate ladder more effectively, she would support them in this quest, as long as the quest was bringing them joy (even if the job itself didn’t bring them joy, the power they would gain from attaining a high position might bring them joy). It’s worth mentioning, though, that after delving deep into their “essential nature,” as Alicia mentioned, they may discover that climbing the corporate ladder is not as important to them as they thought it was.
Evidently, Alicia’s willingness to understand others and show tolerance for their points of view is likely one of the reasons she’s an effective life coach. She became interested in life coaching after she had already started doing stand-up comedy. She says she wasn’t getting the results she desired from her comedic career, which left her emotionally unsatisfied. She started going to life-coaching workshops and enjoyed being among others who were exploring the depths of their inner selves to better understand themselves and the world. Interacting with those people made her feel “more real” and “more human,” so she wanted to become a bigger part of this world of insight and consequently decided to become a life coach. At first, she was an effective healer but didn’t feel confident about it. She comments that society often dictates that it is wrong to work at a job that you enjoy and you can only make a living at something that is difficult and not fun, so she felt a bit strange about being paid for an occupation that thrilled her so much. Inspired by the words of Joseph Campbell who said that people should follow their bliss, she was eventually able to shake the feelings of doubt. The result was that her life coaching practice has since exploded in the past year.
Although Alicia says her past lack of confidence in her practice came from doubt, not guilt, guilt is also an emotion that commonly saps human confidence and happiness. During her show, co-comedian Scott Grace had asked Alicia to play a game with him, during which he would say something and she would respond with the first thing that came to mind. He said, “A world without guilt,” and she responded with, “Happy.” However, Alicia does not believe that guilt is a totally useless emotion. She says it’s a good feeling to have when one has done something that truly is unhealthy for them, but the guilt should not be dwelt upon. A person should acknowledge they have done something wrong, and that guilt is appropriate, but then let the feeling of guilt go and revert to a more positive state of mind. She believes that under any circumstances making another person feel guilty is wrong. We discuss the fact that when she became more of a leader in her chosen professions more people were critical of her; I attribute this to her increased public visibility, and the feelings of jealousy outsiders may have experienced. She brings up the interesting idea that often the criticisms of outsiders may mirror some inner doubt that we have within us; if the criticisms bother one greatly, one may have some inner issues they need to work through. I think she is correct, as I can recall times in my life when I haven’t been confident in a particular position, and others have sensed my doubt and capitalized on it, using it to wear me down and raise them into a position above me.
During her performance, Alicia also mentioned EFT, a spiritual practice that can assist people who are experiencing inner turmoil. This is just one of the multitude of spiritual practices Alicia has experimented with; she tries many to find the ones that work best for her.
EFT stands for Emotional Freedom Technique. To perform this technique, you tap different acupressure points that correspond with different emotions. After Alicia shows me the acupressure points, I notice that one of them is in nearly the same place that I tap, almost unconsciously, when I’m angry. Alicia says that this technique really calms her down when someone else steals her parking spot at the grocery store! For full effectiveness, the trouble or trauma you’re experiencing should be repeated out loud as you tap each acupressure point. A simple example is: “The neighbour’s dog won’t stop barking. The neighbour’s dog won’t stop barking. The neighbour’s dog won’t stop barking.” I’ve only tried the technique once so far, but it was quite calming. I was only mildly irritated when I tried it, so it may have had a more profound effect if I had been angrier to begin with.
Float tanks are one form of spiritual practice that Alicia would not rush to participate in again. During this practice, one undergoes deprivation of the senses inside a pool of bath salts for one hour. She didn’t have a good time with it as it caused her physical system to go ballistic. One practice she did have better luck with is Native American medicine journeys.
During Native American medicine journeys, participants use entheogens under the direction of an experienced shaman (healer) in a group or one-on-one. Entheogens are psychoactive, hallucinogenic natural substances that help one experience God. Alicia claims that going through one of these journeys makes one realize that no matter what goes on in one’s life, one is never alone in the universe and death is simply an illusion; when one realizes that, somehow trivial things such as paying the rent or worrying when one will ever get married seem less serious. She goes on to say that the medicine journeys also made her realize that all of the things human beings think about themselves do not represent what they really are; what human beings really are is love. She acknowledges that it is sometimes difficult to forget these revelations when going through her daily life, but if one can remember them at times, even as a dream, this can be beneficial to one’s inner positivity. Alicia believes the most important thing, spiritually speaking, is to experience who we really are; this does not necessarily need to be accomplished through taking a medicine journey. Humans can also gain access to the pure love within us by doing simpler, earthly things such as listening to a gospel choir, seeing a baby being born, or swimming in an ocean. Once again, Alicia demonstrates that she is open to all spiritual mediums as long as they provide the experience of positive, uplifting feelings.
To provide a summative end to the conversation, Alicia says that she’s excited to bring more laughter, lightness and humour to the world. She invites everyone to join her and come “play” at life (notice she does not say work).
I end our conversation feeling more uplifted than I have in a long time. With life being so difficult for many people these days, I thought that featuring someone focused on laughter and happiness would be beneficial to many readers, and definitely a positive change from the depressing stories we hear or read about continuously through mainstream news sources. Alicia’s down-to-earth attitude and amiable way of conversing is refreshing, and the success of her multiple ventures make her living proof that not all who wander are lost. Keep on playing, Alicia!