Mozart in Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse
"The point seems to be not what you laugh at but how often you laugh."
George Kao in Chinese Wit and Humor
Did you ever notice how it can be hard to tell if someone is laughing or crying? Laughing and crying are both physiological responses to mental states. The rhythmic pumping of the diaphragm, the constriction and relaxation of the torso, the flow of tears, seem to have a cleansing function. They get us moving at a deep physical and emotional level. People are like aerosol cans. We need to be shaken sometimes to be activated.
Humor usually involves some twist of our normal perceptions. Comics and humorists invite us into a shared reality, which they turn about in some unexpected way. They may show us that things are not what they seem, or they may point to the truth that we collectively deny for the sake of social convention. Humor brings us together as we stand outside the bounds of mundane perception. It’s gift is the experience that life may be ludicrous, even tragic, but it can still be enjoyed.
Laughter makes sound, so it signals across distance when we are sharing a funny experience. Imagine you are a Paleolithic humorist telling stories at the camp fire. It is dark, and you can’t see the faces of your clan in the dim flickering light. You tell a funny story about the day’s hunt, in which a mammoth hooks the chief by the loin cloth and throws him naked into a tree. Being able to hear the chief laughing at the story, or at least gauging by laughter how many in your audience might help you make a getaway, would have survival value. Even now, when there are no laughs, comedians say, "I’m dying up here."
Our personal survival too may be related to our ability to laugh. In recent years, scientists have suggested that laughter can have a good effect on the immune system. People who laugh apparently activate the body’s defenses against disease. Certainly, laughter is good for your mental health. It is difficult to stay angry or sad when you are laughing. In his excellent book Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, "Laughter appears to be a profoundly healthful state of momentary body-mind integration and harmony." The body jiggles, the mind reshuffles its concepts, and in all that shaking a new more energized homeostasis settles in.
Repetition of the Great Ha Mantra
With the expiration of the breath say the word Ha. Repeat the word loudly and rapidly five or six times with the out breath. Remove any spaces between the expressions of the mantra, so that it runs together. As you do this, allow your abdominal muscles to contract rapidly. With each Ha, increase the muscle contraction until the end of the breath. Then relax the muscles as you take a new breath. Repeat the procedure.
Notice the increased flow of life energy (chi) that you may be experiencing. This may be observed in the form of warming of the body, increased pulse, sweating, and even tearing of the eyes. A word of warning: in extreme cases exhaustion and urinary incontinence may occur.
A tendency to bend forward at the waist may be observed. Do not resist this. Similarly, your chi may induce a rocking motion in your upper body. Go with it.
This meditation may also be done using the mantras Ho or Hee. The laughter mantra Nyuck, usually repeated three times, is effective for some males, but rarely for females. Remember, pronouncing the mantra slowly will cause failure to achieve the hoped for result.
Advanced meditators may want to try the Chinese laughter techniques of "hold the belly," "tumbling over," and with some caution, "spew the rice."
All of these techniques may be enjoyed more fully if practiced in connection with other activity. For instance we recommend:
- Read a funny book
- Read the comics in the newspaper
- Watch a funny movie
- Go to a comedy club
- Listen to comedy record
- Do an Internet search for "humor"
- Share a funny email with a friend
- Play with a small child
- Play with a puppy or kitten
- Stay loose
- See the absurdity in life and let it tickle you
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