The Power of Laughter
Quote - Lord Byron: "Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine."
When did I first become aware of the 'Power of Laughter'? Having been a practicing meditator for almost forty years, I've been schooled in the power of the breath; the power of the mind; the power of acceptance, reliance, positivity, choice, and intention; the power of awareness and the power of serenity. And then, 'HOWIE' came into my life, and I discovered the power of laughter. I met Howie ten years ago at the 'Parkinson's Center' where I had been invited to present classes in Mindfulness Meditation to an ongoing support group of about twenty people. These Parkinson's patients, while experiencing the crippling effects of this chronic disease, were looking for additional methods of effectively coping with their symptoms, and decided to include yoga and meditation into their scheduled regimens.
Focusing on what is
I hoped to introduce them to meditation, so we started meeting once weekly, patiently trying to acquire the appropriate skills and disciplines needed. The goal in sight was to be better able to handle the anxiety, constraints, and disabilities that pervaded their lives. After about two months I could see the progress that was made. I watched as they learned to use the power of their breath to become more relaxed, thereby reducing stress. They discovered how to apply the power of the mind to become more centered and balanced, improving their ability to move forward (within the parameters of their limitations); and how to focus on what is - instead of what isn't.
Howie asked a thought-provoking question
Not only was Howie wheelchair bound, but he could barely express himself verbally - as his speech had been badly affected by Parkinson's. However, when with him, you were immediately aware that he was sharp and insightful; with an amazing sense of humor. He would usually bring in a written narrative (for me to read aloud) of what he wanted to share. One day he came in and presented me with a thought-provoking question. "Do you think that laughter is even better than meditation for helping us put our stress on the back burners? And if so," he asked, "why don't you start our sessions with jokes to make us all laugh? Then, we'll become truly relaxed, and totally ready for the benefits of meditation."
I was certain of my shortcomings
Wow! That was terrifying. I could apply myself to discussing the bounds of chronic illness because I've suffered the disabilities of multiple sclerosis for more than thirty-five years. And, I was confident in my ability to present the skills of 'Mindfulness.' But, the thought of holding a group's attention with humor absolutely frightened me; and I was certain I did not have any comedic talents what-so-ever. Realizing I needed to make him aware of my shortcomings, I said: "Howie, I don't know any jokes or know where to get any jokes, and what's even more important, I'm incapable of putting a joke across with any success."
Howie became my joke-telling coach
Without any hesitation, he presented me with a note that said: "Not to worry! I'll print out the jokes and bring them with me, and I will be your coach. And then - you know how you're always telling us to practice; well, I'll help you, and you'll practice; and you'll get much better as time goes by." With great reluctance, I finally agreed, and that's what we did together (he and I).
Well, I have been practicing. Although I won't threaten the jobs of any late night talk show hosts; since I've been working at it these many years - guess what - my joke telling is definitely better. What was also significant was the stamp of approval I received from this Parkinson's Meditation class.
Incorporating laughter and meditation
So if you are wondering how this applied to dialogues with MS patients, let's move ahead. It is one year later, and I'm now holding sessions with two multiple sclerosis support groups. Both groups had become interested in acquiring the alternative and complementary therapeutic approaches of 'Mindfulness' in handling the debilitating symptoms of MS. Do I follow the new trajectory introduced to me by Howie, where I begin these sessions with some jokes; or do I continue to stick to my traditional standardized approach in presenting these meditative sessions?
I was perplexed and presented this question to these new groups. While uncertain and laughing (at first), they then quickly opted for starting each class with an abundance of laughter. There's a very famous lyric from the song "Getting to Know You" from the Broadway show The King and I: "It's a very ancient saying, but a true and honest thought, that if you become a teacher by your pupils you'll be taught."
I'm just as much the student
What I've learned from the attendees of these meditation classes about their experiences, about support, about courage, about the mental muscle needed to power through the distress of MS or other chronic illnesses would fill volumes. I am fortunate because they have educated me, and what I've learned is that I am still learning.
Three years ago the ravages of Parkinson's and age caught up with 'Howie' and he passed, but he left his family and friends treasured memories of a man whose heart was full of love and joy; of a man who was mindfully aware of others; of a man who was the best he could be to everyone and everything in every way. He once told me to take the following advice from a well-known doctor, Dr. Seuss, who said, "...From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere."
Thanks Howie! I keep you close to my heart, mind and spirit always. Wherever you are, know that each day, as I grapple with my own MS disabilities, I pull out one of your jokes and I'm still laughing.
Were you misdiagnosed with something else before receiving a MS diagnosis?