Welcome to this week’s wisdom for the Inner and Outer You.
Hello wisdom and adventure seekers! Wow, we have been dumped on by a huge storm. I was out shoveling this afternoon trying to keep up with it when all of a sudden I stopped and just stood there watching the snow flakes falling all around me. It was a moment of total stillness where I noticed total grace and beauty everywhere. There was nothing in my mind, I was simply breathing and observing and that moment was filled with magic. Then I started back shoveling feeling invigorated and energized. Even in a storm one can find beauty!
This week’s article is a description of the practice on our last Morning Meditation. There is also a video showing the ‘laughter as meditation’ segment at the end. Enjoy and keep your comments coming, I enjoy them very much!
Laughter as Meditation
By Terry Hodgkinson
How many times do you laugh in a day? Do you know? Not sure? Okay well how many times did you laugh today so far? I don’t mean smile; I mean laugh…like out loud, where people know you are laughing because it’s easily heard.
Some people laugh more easily than others; it just comes naturally to them. Other people I know hardly laugh at all. I bet if you could video tape certain people through their day, you might not see them laugh out loud for days on end and that I find truly sad.
On our last Morning Meditation session one of the practices I chose to do with the group was laughter meditation. The first hour of the two hour session we practiced mantras. What is a mantra you ask? A mantra is a word or phrase repeated over and over again during meditation. Mantra recitation came about with the Hindus probably thousands of years ago. Although it is mainly known as an eastern practice you might be surprised to know that it has been practiced in the west by various Christian sects for hundreds of years. In our contemporary age many people recite mantras, even people who have no interest in a religious connection at all.
You see the thing about reciting a mantra is that it gives your mind something to do. You say it over and over and it becomes your sole point of focus and concentration. So just like putting your attention on your breath or the flame of a candle, you simply do the same thing with a mantra. It’s a way of bringing your attention to a single point of concentration which in turn liberates you from the ailment of the having a dreaded monkey mind. In case you’re not sure what “monkey mind” refers to, it’s when you are not in control of your mind at all and your mind runs rampant, thinking about everything under the sun and not all of it in a good way. Stress, anxiety, even depression can be the results of an over active out of control monkey mind, and that’s just to name a few troublesome manifestations.
Today many of the mantras used seem more like affirmations; however the difference is that instead of saying it only a few times to yourself, when you do it as a meditation, you practice over and over where they can have an all-important transformative effect. What are you transforming you ask? Well for a start how about rewriting some of the negative programming in your subconscious mind. That’s the area of your mind that holds your memories, values, beliefs, habits and behaviours. When you transform the not so positive or efficient aspects of you deep within your mind into more resourceful and effective ways of being in the world, then you have transformation. The key is to do it so it sticks and runs on automatic so to speak. If you are successful in changing your perception (the way in which you perceive all things) then you can literally change your reality. Believe it or not, your perception creates your reality.
I gave the group their first mantra to practice. “Aum” – also spelt “Om” This is one of the oldest around and it’s not that difficult to remember. Many people say that the “Om” is the most sacred mantra which from a Hindu perspective means: “It Is, Will Be” or “To Become”.
Om is a Sanskrit word that is meant to convey the “original vibration of manifestation” – in other words, when intention manifests in the physical realm. The idea here for best results is to try to repeat the sound so that the vibration lingers in your throat. After doing this for a while (10 minutes), I then explained to change the focus of attention: to focus on the silence from which Om originates and into which it dissipates. The participants found this change of concentration liberating. Before they were a tad self conscious on what they sounded like sitting in a room with other people. Now this gave their mind something to focus on and helped them to dive deeper into meditation!
After Om I gave them a little experiment with the next mantra. First I asked them to repeat the word anger a half dozen times and then to repeat the word love and to notice the difference. Some said the difference was like night and day, even their body responded by tightening on repeating anger and relaxing and opening up on saying love. The comments were that when they said the word love and focused on the feeling of love they were enveloped in the atmosphere of love. It was agreed that the next time they felt upset, angry or down that they would practice this mantra and after practicing it for only a short time in session they believed they would feel love overpowering the negative and radiate positive feelings outward from the heart.
The next mantra we practiced was “I am” . These are two powerful words when put together. You probably remember times when you have said to yourself “I am sick,” and how did you feel? Or you might say, “I am happy,” and how did you feel? In this meditation we first practiced only the “I am” alone, to honour and acknowledge the part of you that is creator of your reality. After 10 minutes of this we added the word peaceful on the end. So on the breath in they said silently “I am”; then on the exhale they said “peaceful”. Everyone seemed to be incredibly calm after practicing this for 10 minutes.
I explained to them that there are Christian mantras as well, some that were practiced for hundreds of years by early Christian monks. While we didn’t practice any that day I did tell them about one called “Maranatha” The “ma” is said on the inhale, then the “ra” is said on the exhale, then “na” on the next inhale and finally “tha” on the exhale and repeat. You can listen to this Christian mantra and even follow along here: Maranatha Mantra
Dr Paulose – World Class ENT Surgeon who works at the Jubilee Memorial Christian Hospital, Palayam, Trivandrum, Kerala, South India, shares with us that the word Maranatha is the final instruction of St. Paul’s teachings to the Corinthians, and is St. John’s final instruction in the Book of Revelations. Thus, the last word, the final teaching of the entire Christian Bible is “Maranatha,” which in Aramaic means, “Come Lord.”
Everyone enjoyed the mantras and told me they could see how they could be used as an effective tool in their everyday life. I told them that the practice of mantras was but one more way they could create a state of mind that was conducive to creating a better quality of living. We all need something at times to help us through our challenges. While many people reach for a cigarette, alcoholic drink, or some other crutch, that never bares any real positive fruit. Wouldn’t it be better if we simply practiced one of the many meditations I introduce to my groups? After all, the side effects are much healthier!
After a five minute break we reconvened and I was able to get my video camera working now. So I taped the last part of that morning’s session.
Now it was time for a completely difference meditative exercise. Straight up I told them they were going to practice laughing and I wasn’t joking! Ha-ha.
I explained that laughter was good in so many different ways as it can lower blood pressure, decrease cholesterol, help with digestion and improve the immune system. Or at least this is what I found out when I researched the benefits of laughter quite some time ago.
In India they have groups that meet on a regular basis that are called laughter clubs. They meet solely for the purpose of laughing. I remember I was taken aback when I found out how many clubs there were across India and I thought wow…what a great idea!
In Japan there was a Zen Monk named Hotei and his nick name was the Laughing Buddha. He traveled from village to village in sixteenth-century Japan and was known more as a Buddhist mystic than your typical monk. Everywhere he went pretty much all he did and all he taught was to laugh and laugh as much as you could. In the beginning most thought the man was surely crazy as enlightenment was no laughing matter! Well it turned out that for Hotei it was. When the people he came into contact with asked him questions regarding his teachings he simply laughed. When they asked him questions about what he recommended to do better in life he laughed again. And when they asked him the ultimate question of “what is enlightenment” he laughed the hardest of all. Soon people joined in laughing with him and it caught on. People were laughing for no reason at all but found that they enjoyed it. They forgot about their questions and found that all their senses had sharpened. They felt their whole being had become lighter, as if a great burden had been lifted. People began to experience a deep sense of well-being. Something from the unknowable depth started illuminating clearly in their hearts.
With the amount of research happening in this day and age there is no doubt that laugher is wholesome for us. If you’re feeling run down then laughing is an excellent and often over looked alternative . Some researchers think laughter just might be the best medicine, helping you feel better and putting that pep back in your step. Steve Wilson is a psychologist and laugh therapist who says, “I believe that if people can get more laughter in their lives, they are a lot better off; they might be healthier too.”
Okay and now for some even better news. Laughter appears to burn calories, too. Maciej Buchowski, a researcher from Vanderbilt University, conducted a small study in which he measured the amount of calories expended in laughing. It turned out that 10-15 minutes of laughter burned 50 calories.
Here are some other great health benefits to practicing laughing meditation. In the last few decades, researchers have studied laughter’s effects on the body and turned up some potentially interesting information on how it affects us:
• Blood flow. Researchers at the University of Maryland studied the effects on blood vessels when people were shown either comedies or dramas. After the screening, the blood vessels of the group who watched the comedy behaved normally — expanding and contracting easily. But the blood vessels in people who watched the drama tended to tense up, restricting blood flow.
• Immune response. Increased stress is associated with decreased immune system response, says Provine. Some studies have shown that the ability to use humour may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body and boost the levels of immune cells as well.
• Blood sugar levels. One study of 19 people with diabetes looked at the effects of laughter on blood sugar levels. After eating, the group attended a tedious lecture. On the next day, the group ate the same meal and then watched a comedy. After the comedy, the group had lower blood sugar levels than they did after the lecture.
• Relaxation and sleep. The focus on the benefits of laughter really began with Norman Cousins’ memoir, Anatomy of an Illness. Cousins, who was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful spine condition, found that a diet of comedies, like Marx Brothers films and episodes of Candid Camera, helped him feel better. He said that ten minutes of laughter allowed him two hours of pain-free sleep.
There is even evidence that laugher is excellent in helping people who are in pain. It helps to dull the sensation of it. Numerous studies of people in pain or discomfort have found that when they laugh, they report that their pain doesn’t bother them as much.
I set the timer on my phone for six minutes, one minute to talk about laughing and the next five minutes (roughly) to laugh as much as we possibly could. Laughing at what you ask? Nothing really, laughing at nothing and everything… and thoroughly enjoying it. I laughed so hard I had to clear the tears from my eyes a few times.
After the five minutes were up I asked everybody to simply be still and observe their mind and body for a few minutes. Reports were coming in: “that felt like a work out”, “I feel so light now”, “I feel peaceful” etc.
After the sharing of experiences we moved on to the last mediation practice for the day. As the meditation exercises were all done sitting so far I decided it was time to get them on their feel and get meditation in motion going. Having learned the 8 pieces of brocade Chi Kung (Qi Qong) moves from my friend and teacher Yogendra in India, I shared the first one of these moves with the group. The 8 pieces of brocade are over a thousand years old created by a famous Chinese general to keep his soldiers fit in mind, body and spirit when they were not engaged in battle. The Morning Meditation group said it was an excellent way to end the meditation class and great way to prepare them for the rest of their Saturday.
There are many different paths to enlightenment. Some are serious and some are not. There is no one way. All that is required is that as you travel that path you become more aware. After all, the name Buddha simply means “The Awakened One”. Buddha never said there was only one way. At the end of his life it is said that his final words to students were: “All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation. Be a light unto yourself”.” How you do that, is up to you. So you might as well have a few laughs along the way!
Click picture below to watch the clip of Terry’s Morning Meditation session talked about in this blog.
Quote for the week:
“We don’t laugh because we’re happy — we’re happy because we laugh.”
– William James