Laughter: A healing miracle
September 26, 2010 by Bill
There was an excellent article in the New Yorker magazine on the healing powers of laughter. Included were strong and positive supportive statements from Dr. Andrew Weil of Holistic fame, as well as being a graduate M.D. from the Harvard University Medical School. Support came from Dr. Lee Berk of Loma Linda University as well as Dr. William Fry, a psychiatrist at Stanford University. They said that their research confirms that laughter can have salutary effects on everything fro m heart disease to diabetes and allergies.
Of course, the distinguished Norman Cousins, Editor of the Saturday Review, was the classic example. He came down with “ankylosing spondylitis,” a very painful degenerative disease of the joints. As he said, he was coming unglued. His doctor gave him a one in five hundred chance of recovery. Cousins took charge of his life. He cut out ALL prescription drugs, including pain killers, checked into a hospital room and spent every day with laughter and huge doses of Vitamin C. He watched the Marx Brothers, “Candid Camera” and others and he said that “ten minutes of genuine belly laughing had an anesthetic effect and would give him two or three hours of pain free sleep.” He became completely healed. The Dean of the UCLA Medical School said “thank God Norman Cousins never went to medical school” and invited Cousins to join the faculty there as visiting lecturer.
Laughter can also cure another disease, that virus of the mind, that “disease of the intellect” called “organized religion,” in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Of the world’s largest religious traditions, Christianity and Islam are the most grim and thin-lipped and humorless. There is no humor or laughter in the bible. D.T. Suzuki, the brilliant Zen Master, wrote, “I do not think the Christian theologians can ever laugh. They are too serious and too obsessed in trying to explain God, leaving no room for playfulness.” Or as Oscar Wilde put it “over-seriousness is a mask and a cover for the shallow.”
The two major failures of biblical literature is the complete lack of Eros and Humor, both vital for the growth, health and development of the human species. The only Eros in the entire bible is the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament. The only humor in the entire bible is the scene in Genesis when God tells Abraham and Sarah they are going to have a baby. Abraham and Sarah laugh, reminding God that he is 100 and she is 90 years old. Isn’t that pathetic, the only scene with humor in the entire bible?
I think I know why so many of the church “fathers” were opposed to laughing. They instinctively sensed that laughter might destroy the somber and grim fabric of their creeds. And perhaps they knew, deep in their hearts, that they, themselves were laughable. In pretension, they were vulnerable. To keep people respectful and subservient, laughter and satire must be stifled. Laughter could strip away their excessive dignity and their presumptuous titles. Even today, for instance, in 2010, I am always poking fun at the arrogance of ministerial titles. “The Very Right Reverend Doctor.” It is even more funny considering that 95 percent of them do not have an “EARNED DOCTORATE” AT ALL. I often say “The Very Most Often Wrong Reverend” when speaking to them. They sadly do not think that is funny. Laughter has the redeeming quality of being able to strip away pretensions and suffocating seriousness and excessive dignity. It is a saving, redeeming and healing grace to be able to laugh at yourself and be laughed at.
A number of years ago Playboy magazine had a picture on the cover of Jesus laughing. The editors said that in all the years of publishing they had never received such hate mail. Very revealing as to how many Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals read Playboy. Can you imagine “hate” mail on this subject coming from any other source?
Abraham Lincoln, at one of the most serious times of the war, said to his cabinet “laugh gentlemen laugh, or you will go mad.” Lincoln found repugnant the pretensions and the arrogance of the clergy. He had dozens of favorite, ribald jokes aimed at preachers and the church. They are in a book called “Lincoln’s Preacher Stories.” It has long been out of print, but can be found with a good search.
I can assure you that it is not just the clergy that have this disease. It affects all stuffed shirts, in the business world, the world of medicine, (oh…yes…the world of doctors), the world of lawyers (oh yeah), educators and don’t forget the military. You don’t have time to hear my stories about how the military needs laughter. I remember flying as a VIP pilot on the Commandant’s staff. It was the Generals and Colonels and Admirals who were the modest, laid back men with humor. It was the Majors and Lt. Colonels who were the up-tight prime jackasses…so full of themselves…and void of humor.
A word of insight for those of you who enjoy making love. In Taoism and Zen they say that laughter and humor can add a lightness to making love and actually enrich it by elevating it from just sweating and panting to a higher and more fulfilling dimension.
This miracle medicine, with no prescription needed, is being confirmed today as close to magic in what it can do for our health. Our bodies, minds, spirits and souls can experience renewed vitality and health through a gift that is free: humor and laughter.
I always start my Sunday Symposium with humor and laughter with the best of recent jokes. In the living room of our home is my favorite centerpiece of beauty and attraction. A magnificent, three foot high, teakwood carving of HoTei, the LAUGHING BUDDHA. The carving was obviously done by a Master craftsman.
I will never forget that priceless scene in Zorba, The Greek. The English business man had invested all of his savings in that cable system that would bring ore down the mountain to the beach. He and Zorba pulled the switch, the ore started down, and then an explosion, and everything just disintegrated. The business man went into total shock. But Zorba was rolling in the sand, howling with laughter at the humor of the scene. Slowly, gently, the business man let out a few laughing sounds and finally said to Zorba, “Oh Zorba…teach me to laugh…teach me to dance.”
If ever there was a month for dancing, this is it. We are moving into October, into the Fall, and it is a glorious time to dance and laugh. The days are growing shorter and our hours are dwindling down to a precious few before winter arrives. Trees will be turning gold, yellow and rust. Wood smoke will be curling up as aromatic odors will scent the breeze. If you cannot dance and laugh, now, you need to re-examine your life. “Over-seriousness is a mask and cover for the shallow.” Laugh…and dance. Won’t you join the dance?