Now, as for smiling, Allan Klein (1989) says that “a smile is the quickest way to get rid of your doldrums” (p.95).  He quotes Dr. David Bresler, who proclaims that “Smiling can help us take the first half-step away from our physical and psychological pain. It is only part of an overall picture, but when we can smile in spite of our pain, we begin to focus away  “from our discomfort” (p.96.). Yes! A smile is an umbrella that can catch our teardrops when they fall. “Smiling even helps strengthen the thymus gland, an important contributor to a healthy immune system,” according to Dr. John Diamond (p.96.).

Wooten (2002) tells us that “laughter is a smile’ that involves the whole body” (p.3). Just reading her very funny, “rib-tickling” words may make your face break into a smile: “Laughter is a smile that engages the entire body.  At first, the corners of the mouth turn up slightly, then the muscles around your eyes engage and a twinkling appears. Next you begin to make noises, ranging from controlled snickers, escaped chortles, and spontaneous giggles, to ridiculous cackles, noisy hoots, and uproarious guffaws…”(p.3)!

Gosh, my own snickers are now out of control, my chortles have escaped, and I can’t stop laughing.  But I’d volunteer to go cackle and hoot with Wooten. (If you’re gonna go hootin’, do it with Wooten!)

“A merry heart doeth good- like medicine –
But a broken spirit drieth the bones.”

-The Holy Bible, Proverbs 17-22

If you’ve ever seen an image of the Laughing Buddha, or are at all familiar with the Dalai Lama’s rollicking laughter and great sense of humor, then you’ve  probably guessed that laughter may be an effective healing balm for the spirit. Just look at the radiant joy they express, it’s contagious! You may never have considered laughter and humor as medicine for your spirit or how it can help you open your heart. Although it’s commonly known that laughter –or humor- can “lift the spirit”   (laughter and humor do for me), I never really considered the profound spiritual dimension of these “techniques.”

It’s obvious that Lenny Ravich (2002), director of The Gestalt Institute of Tel Aviv has given the spiritual dimension of laughter or humor some serious thought.

Writing about “spiritual laughter” in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Enlightenment, he informs us that “Humor is spirituality and spirituality is humor” (2002, p.63). Ravich continues, telling us that “A wise, old Arab once proclaimed something about God being a humorist playing to an audience that’s afraid to laugh” (p.63), and “Once we all get to see this whole thing we call ‘life’ as one huge cosmic joke, we have no other choice but to laugh” (p.63)

I’ve no doubt that Swami Beyondananda, aka Steve Bhaerman (wakeuplaughing.com) would agree with Lenny Ravich (2002). The Swami sees laughter as “a transformational tool that used wisely can bring not just physical healing, but emotional release, mental flexibility and spiritual perspective” (p. 4, On-line Mini-Book). In the Swami’s view, there’s also an “insight that follows in the wake of laughter“(p.4), as “the spiritual perspective that comes from levity helping us ‘rise above’ the situation and see it from a higher perspective” (p.4).

Author and funny guy David Jacobson (2007) dishes up details on his own new perspective which he’s named “Humor Spirit Theory” (p15). Jacobson’s “HST” is “a new theory of humor that states humor has a spiritual component as important as any other part of its definition” (p.115). Jacobson (2007) believes that “We laugh mostly because of our humor spirit” (p.115). If only these three writers were speaking about laughter, humor and RELIGION instead of spirituality. (But that could require a genuine miracle.)

I’d like to conclude this section on laughter, humor and spirituality with something from the amazing “jollytologist” Allen Klein (1989). He comes from a Jewish tradition, which “encourages the benefits of laughter in painful times” (p.166).  Klein wisely explains that “Life is hard, but it also is to be enjoyed; times may be bad, but that does not mean we must have a bad time. If we are to see good times, we are told, we must survive the bad” (p.166).

Allen Klein (1989) offers the Jewish prescription for surviving these bad times and the accompanying aching hearts: “Laugh it off” (p.167). I think of hearty laughter as kind of a “silly soup for the soul.” In my opinion you need not be Jewish to get spiritual benefits from a thick and delicious “laughingstock” (cited in Klein, 2006, p.95).

Now, if you are anything like me, you had no idea there were so many varieties of laughter. And you never would have imagined all the positive effects on the body/mind/spirit that therapeutic humor and vigorous laughter can exert. Surprisingly, there are instances where laughter isn’t always positive, is not a healthy sign, but a symptom of disease (Moody, 1978). Moody(1978) acknowledges it sounds rather strange, when he states that “there can be sicknesses involving laughter, or illnesses affecting the sense of humor, but in fact there are many”(p.41) he claims, often a manifestation of neurological diseases like “amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and multiple sclerosis” (p.41).

Scientific researcher and author, Robert R. Provine (2000), appears to agree in a way with Moody. Provine, mainly discusses the use of humor in psychotherapy, saying that “Although humor may seem rather benign, not everyone believes it to be so, including such philosophical masters as Plato and Aristotle who long ago warned of laughter’s dark side” (p.203). But leave it to a few mental health professionals, to give us dire warnings on the clinical dangers of humor and laughter.

Advertisements