One memorable evening laughter cured, at least momentarily, the grief of a sad foursome as we shared dinner and a beloved friend’s terminal diagnosis. We had a new and profound appreciation for the old expression that “laughter is the best medicine.” It was as if our merry sounds massaged aching hearts and somehow restored a most welcome perspective. We were amazed.
Later that night I was reminded of my college students’ fascination with the practice of laughing meditation, a form of meditation fast-growing in popularity in this country. Each week in our Studies in Eastern Thinking class two students guided the rest of us in their regular, disciplined practice of focused laughter. How refreshing to participate as increasing laughter disperses emotional and physical stress. Inhibitions, hang-ups, and self-absorption succumb to humor. It's contagious, fortunately. With sharpening focus on the feel and sound of a laugh, mental clarity takes gentle hold. It’s as if the body laughs on its own and resets its equilibrium. Many students who resolve to meditate through laughing twice a day report what a valuable addition to their lives these minutes become, how they look forward to “just laughing, nothing else, laughing and breathing.”
Two Nobel Peace Prize winners extol laughter’s benefits. When I had the pleasure of hearing the Dalai Lama speak and pass on his wisdom, I was also treated to his exchanges of laughter with other panelists, audience members, and every child in his path. Aung San Suu Kyi constantly reminds herself and her followers of humor’s key role in providing balance and objectivity: “If you’re used to laughing at things, you start laughing at your own problems. You get used to seeing the absurd and funny side of things and you don’t take your troubles so seriously anymore” (The Voice of Hope). It takes the sting out of difficulty for Suu Kyi, and I watch as humor and a laugh uplifts hospital patients, those struggling with financial difficulty, anxious athletes before competition and nervous students before exams. It works for me every time.
Try this: Just raise your eyebrows and feel what happens to your face. Next stop: the funny bone…