Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Laughter is a life preserver

I received a distress call from a mother who was worried that her adult daughter was despairing of life. She felt her daughter might be getting ready to check out, not in the sense of self-destruction but in the sense of giving up the game and welcoming a "death door" - an opportunity to check out early - if she found one opening,
    The mother asked, "How do we help those we love not to welcome death's door prematurely?"
    I shared  what I've found to be practical truth. To help others - and ourselves - choose not to take one of those "death doors", it's vital to identify what makes each of us lighten up and want to stay on this good earth, and to do as much of that as we possibly can. No judgment. The answer might be sex or chocolate or French fries or tree-hugging or a walk on the beach. It might be a kitten rubbing itself against your leg, or a puppy running after a squirrel.
    We want whatever gets us to laugh and start to play life as a game again. Laughter is a sovereign healer and life preserver.
     I was reminded of this in the early hours when my youngest daughter - a night owl like her dad - asked me to watch "The World's Worst Cooks" with her on the Food Network. We both snorted and guffawed as we watched the chefs in charge selecting the absolute worst cooks from a long lineup of kitchen wreckers nominated by their families. One of the guys who won a chance to go to culinary boot camp produced his best dish - a can of Campbell's tomato soup tossed in a saucepan and topped with pre-grated cheese from a plastic pack. We laughed until tears were rolling down our cheeks.
    Laughter that convulsively rich and life-renewing doesn't come from stand-up comics and hand-me down jokes. It comes out of the deep organic humus of life, out of spontaneous play.
     Sometimes this kind of laughter rises up out from a chasm of pain and grief, even tragedy, and brings healing.
     Remember the story of Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun (no less) in the Japanese myth, who withdraws her light from the world and secludes herself deep in the Netherworld after being shamed and abused? The first thing that persuades her to start coming back towards the surface world - which is withering without her - is raw, bawdy humor.
     Medical science backs up the myth. Studies show that laughter reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol in the body, while raising levels of health-enhancing endorphins. Laughter increases the number of antibody-producing cells and boosts the power of the T cells. This tones up the immune system and reduces the physical impact of stress. A good belly laugh is truly an inner workout: it exercises the diaphragm, contracts the abs and works on the shoulders, leaving muscle groups more relaxed. It strengthens the heart.
     Laughter has the power to cleanse and to heal. And it's contagious. It's hard not to catch the spirit of laughter that arises from the joy of life.
     So - quick - check your memory bank as you ask what brings out a good belly laugh in you? Better still, what makes you laugh till you can hardly breathe? Take those memories and play them as your inner version of Funniest Home Videos. Maybe you actually have some of those scenes on video, so you can laugh along as you replay them on your monitor.
     I may regret this, but I am going to insert a video that is, literally, in my collection of Funniest Personal Videos. In the closing session of one of my trainings, someone caught me doubling up with laughter, temporarily unable to get through reading the comic first verse of a poem I had composed that day. The title of the poem is "Women Dream Dreams that Would Terrify Men."
     When you laugh hard enough to come up gasping, you'll find that as you suck in air you are also drinking, pure and undiluted, the life force.

The Japanese myth of Amaterasu the Sun Goddess is one of the great healing stories of humanity. I retell it in my book The Three "Only" Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination. The text of my poem "Women Dream Dreams That Would Terrify Men" that produced uncontrollable laughter is in Here, Everything Is Dreaming.

Photo of Mongolian child and camel by Han Chengli.

1 comment:

James Wilson said...

Looking at the picture with this post, immediately brought me back to the picture of Aylan, the little Syrian boy lying on the beach after he was drowned in 2015. Probably because of the combination of colors in the pictures. A child with red and blue colored clothing on sand colored background.

You’re absolutely right that it is important to laugh regularly. You know what they say, laughter is the best medicine. Personally I still have to laugh a lot when I watch an episode of Fawlty Towers or the Young Ones. Which brings me back to the moment I saw them for the first time. These moments are a real boost.