Friday, August 17, 2007

Tantalizing Glimpses

''In New York City, they say you walk by the person you're gonna marry on the street three times before you ever meet them. The person next to you on the subway could be your soul mate. Anywhere you look, a stranger might leave you sudden inspiration. Every window is a view into another life. An untold story. A friend you've never met. A lover. A mentor. A rival. Some are on top of the world and plan on staying there. Some are on rock bottom, desperate for a second chance. On any street, any corner, you might find someone trying to clean up their act, riding lady luck for as long as she lasts. And some are gonna go through life with reckless abandon, hoping it doesn't catch up with them. All these people living lives on top of each other. And of them — anyone at any time — could be the one that changes your life...forever.''
Six Degrees

I recently read a very enlightening treatise that broke down human cognitions into three categories with corresponding percentages for each. These three categories are;

1. Thoughts about ourselves including thinking about things we have to do, guilt about the past, anxiety about the future, regrets, obsessions, daily activities, etc.- 65%
2. Thinking about our significant relationships. These are our thoughts about our husbands, wives, moms, dads, close friends, and significant others. 25%
3. Thoughts that contain an element of empathy for others. These are thoughts that put us in other people's shoes and consider the world from the viewpoint of others. 10%

How do we get so stuck in our own heads? Perhaps it is the inertia of the personality. As children we gradually learn that the world is bigger than our own selfish needs, and an important developmental milestone is reached when kids grasp the concept of sharing. What is that makes us regress back to such selfishness as adults? Guilt certainly plays a role, as regrets and feelings of shame regarding the things we’ve done make up a large chunk of the tape that continually runs in our heads. The rest of this tape is often devoted to thinking about the future. Our wishes, desires, fantasies, and worries for what might happen tomorrow often render the present moment obsolete. Meanwhile wonderful opportunities to find joy in the present continue to pass us by.

The psychologist Alfred Adler felt that ultimately all problems are social problems, and that our social interest in others was a strong predictor of our mental heath. Isn't this fascinating!!! We walk past each other like zombies stuck almost entirely in our own heads when the keys to our potential happiness constantly walk right past us. They too muttering silently to themselves as they miss out on the wonderful things we have to offer them. We anxiously await news from our heroes, forgetting that we too may be extraordinary to others.

With this in mind I decided to get out of my own head for a while and meet some new people. For years I've lived in one of the largest cities in the country and yet every day I pass thousands of people who I never quite get a chance to know.

How many times do we walk by someone we were supposed to meet? My guess is all the time. Somehow in the hustle and bustle of our lives we never quite find the time or courage to take a risk and start a conversation with the mysterious and intriguing strangers that pass us by. For whatever reason fear kicks in and we don't act on our impulses to introduce ourselves to new people. I've always loved the quote in the movie Six Degrees of Separation that "each person is a doorway to a new world." I firmly believe it. With this in mind, I vowed to take action, and over the last couple of weeks I have introduced myself to at least 5 intriguing strangers every day. My life has been deeply enriched,

I met......

A pissed off poet. An angry but interesting looking guy at a concert who was watching the crowd and muttering to himself. Instead of spending all day wondering what he was saying to himself, I approached him, and boy did I get an earful!!!! He's the kind of guy who is extremely mad at the word, yet brilliantly creative and down deep a very hopeful person. Through talking for a half hour I received an invitation to a poetry slam, which, if you've never attended one should be high in your list of things to do. I spent a fantastic evening drinking beer and listening to people's poetry, and met soem wonderfully creative and interesting people in the process.

A Beautiful nurse!!! Ever have a very attractive person look your way? When this happens to me I usually look behind me to see who the person is looking at, but in this case she wanted to talk. She told me all about her interest in alternative medicine and how she was writing a book of her own on her experiences working as a hospice nurse whose mission was to gently help people die as comfortably as possible.

An angry pizza guy, who nearly ran me over on the street. When I approached his car, he reached for his pepper spray, but eventually I was able to convince him I just wanted to talk. Talking to him for a half hour I learned about dozens of alternate routes to take in Chicago to beat the traffic during rush hour. He was a Zen master with shortcuts and it was definitely worth my time to make his acquaintance.
I met a number of other people in addition to these three, and all of them added something to my life, and I can only hope I did the same for them. This experiment certainly taught me that everyone has something to offer, and there is a lesson in every human interaction from the toxic to the sublime. I hope through doing this I have increased the “empathy” piece of my pie just a little bit, as I certainly got a number of glimpses into how other people see the world. This is the difference between really listening as opposed to simply waiting for your turn to talk. For most of my life I’ve been in the second category, but it has been deeply enriching to slowly work on becoming a person who really listens. The rewards thus far have been tremendous, and it has been a powerful lesson that sometimes the most powerful gift you can give someone is simply to shut up and listen to them.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Flying Spaghetti Monster

The other day I got a letter chastising me for "propagating the myth of the Christian God" after writing about C.S Lewis and quoting a passage from the bible. I found this a tad odd as I am not in fact a religious person. I have however found great comfort in the words of the historical Jesus when it comes to topics such as love and forgiveness.

How did these words get so distorted, twisted, and abused? It's hard to fully understand the historical forces and political inertia that explain this, but suffice to say the current state of religion in the world has strayed a long way from the common denominators found in nearly all religious texts about love, forgiveness and charity to others. Reading the newspaper in America today I am reminded of a quote offered by Mahatma Gandhi upon visiting the United States where he remarked; "I like your Christ, I dislike your Christians, they are so unlike your Christ."

With this in mind, a new religion has emerged in America based on the idea offered by creator Bobby Henderson that, "if there is a God and he is intelligent, then I guess he would have a sense of humor" and this religion is made up of "Pastafarians" who genuflect at the alter of The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster started in 2005 when Henderson wrote a letter to the Kansas State board of education in response to their mandate that schools teach intelligent design theory in the classroom. He reasoned that if the board decreed that schools had to make time to teach intelligent design, it was only fair that they also devote time to teach his doctrine of the flying Spaghetti monster as well as theories based on in his words, "logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence" in line with Darwin's theories of evolution. He magnanimously proposed a one-third split for all three in terms of equal time.

The reaction to Henderson's letter was swift and immediate. His website began to receive tens of thousands of visits each day, and ultimately went on to collect over 350 million hits. Many of the letters he received were intensely hostile, while others were wildly intrigued and expressed anxious interest to join his church. Some even took it in the spirit which it was intended, which was as a humorous and thought-provoking jab at how our country has regressed in terms of scientific education.

Henderson's doctrine makes us hold a mirror to our own hypocrisy in a light-hearted and humorous way. As opposed to ten commandments his church has

8, "I'd really rather you didn't's

  1. I'd really rather you didn't act like a sanctimonious holier-than-thou ass when describing my noodly goodness. If some people don't believe in me, that's okay. Really, I'm not that vain. Besides, this isn't about them so don't change the subject.
  2. I'd really rather you didn't use my existence as a means to oppress, subjugate, punish, eviscerate, and/or, you know, be mean to others. I don't require sacrifices, and purity is for drinking water, not people.
  3. I'd really rather you didn't judge people for the way they look, or how they dress, or the way they talk, or, well, just play nice, Okay? Oh, and get this into your thick heads: woman = person. man = person. Samey = Samey. One is not better than the other, unless we're talking about fashion and I'm sorry, but I gave that to women and some guys who know the difference between teal and fuchsia.
  4. I'd really rather you didn't indulge in conduct that offends yourself, or your willing, consenting partner of legal age AND mental maturity. As for anyone who might object, I think the expression is go f*** yourself, unless they find that offensive in which case they can turn off the TV for once and go for a walk for a change.
  5. I'd really rather you didn't challenge the bigoted, misogynistic, hateful ideas of others on an empty stomach. Eat, then go after the b*******.
  6. I'd really rather you didn't build multi million-dollar churches/temples/mosques/shrines to my noodly goodness when the money could be better spent (take your pick):
    1. Ending poverty
    2. Curing diseases
    3. Living in peace, loving with passion, and lowering the cost of cable
      I might be a complex-carbohydrate omniscient being, but I enjoy the simple things in life. I ought to know. I AM the creator.
  7. I'd really rather you didn't go around telling people I talk to you. You're not that interesting. Get over yourself. And I told you to love your fellow man, can't you take a hint?
  8. I'd really rather you didn't do unto others as you would have them do unto you if you are into, um, stuff that uses a lot of leather/lubricant/Las Vegas. If the other person is into it, however (pursuant to #4), then have at it, take pictures, and for the love of Mike, wear a CONDOM! Honestly, it's a piece of rubber. If I didn't want it to feel good when you did it I would have added spikes, or something.

Henderson also makes the case in his letter that Pirates were misunderstood prophets, whose reduction in number corresponds directly with the rise of the earth's average temperature. His argument was meant to demonstrate the absurdity of implying that correlation always implies causation,which is at the heart of many of the arguments proffered by intelligent design theory.

Eventually Henderson became a bit of a phenomenon, publishing books and being quoted and written about in many of our Nation's largest newspapers including the New York Times, and the Washington Post. His work has spawned a new generation of followers, rivals, and artists to take up his cause, while also rallying his opposition in their steadfast belief in what they see as his blasphemy.

So what is the lesson of Bobby Henderson and his use of humor in holding up a mirror to the current Zeitgeist in America? Perhaps it is that humor is still a most effective way of bringing attention to the rigidity and dichotomous thinking that often characterizes the debate in our current climate. While many choose sides and dig their boots deeply into narrow and decidedly serious trenches, people like Henderson remind us that we can also choose to occasionally laugh at our own human arrogance. Although his message is blasphemous to some, the laughter he has created with his work has shined a bright light into some of the absurdity that characterizes much of our shared humanity. He has made millions of people laugh and think together, and if there is a God, my guess is that he would surely appreciate this.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Some books that make me laugh

One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.
A.A. Milne

One of my favorite writers was the disorganized mad scientist Kurt Vonnegut, who often included a caricature of himself named "Kilgore Trout" in his work. This character wrote science fiction books that were only sold in pornography shops, and wrote like he lived, which is to say highly disorganized, messy, creative, and at times brilliantly, which was very much true of Vonnegut himself.

Reading Vonnegut you might guess that he had given up on the human race, while meanwhile he wrote hilarious books that all contained just a slight glimmer of hope. During some hard times in my very extended adolescence, Kurt Vonnegut's books were like a refuge in the storm. He constantly made me think, made me laugh, and ultimately made me write. Although I only met the man once at a writers' conference, he was a constant friend, companion, and advisor as I made my way from an angry young man into someone who now rarely gets mad at anything. I include here a link to his entire works online, with the hopes that you will read, or in many cases reread this wonderful author

Next I want to tell you about a book that in my opinion is one of the funniest things ever written. The books is a Confederacy of Dunces and I apologize but I have as yet failed to find the entire book online. I'm certain it's out there somewhere, but in the meantime check this out as a teaser.

This book will bring joy into your life, I guarantee it. I literally laughed until I was in tears the first time I read it, and every couple of years when I revisit this book I find it just as funny as the first time i read it. It is truly a gift of laughter, and if you haven't read it, please, please, trust me that you will be in stitches reading it.

A sad footnote to this story is the author John Kennedy Toole killed himself at the age of 32 before the novel was ever published. His mother dragged the novel into the famous Southern author Walker Percy who was sure it was going to be trash. He read it and realized it was a masterpiece, and one thing led to another and the book eventually sold millions of copies and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981, 12 years after Toole had died. The book is, in my life unequivocal in its ability to make me laugh. If you haven't read, again, please check it out.

Some other books that have made me laugh are The Catcher in the Rye, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Stranger than Fiction by Chuck Palahnuik, the works of Augusten Burroughs, and Catch 22, in no particular order. What books make you laugh? I'd love to hear. I firmly believe the next Confederacy of Dunces is sitting on someone's shelf somewhere just waiting to be read and discovered.

In the interest of sharing, here is one of my own short stories of something funny that happened to me.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Finding God through Billy Joel & Bud Light

One of the greatest ways people experience joy and laughter is through music. One of my all-time favorite examples of this comes in the movie The Shawshank Redemption when Andy locks himself into the prison's music room so he can play Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" for the inmates. The look of peacefulness and calm that comes over Andy's face during this scene provides a wonderful lesson of how music can lift our spirits in even the most hopeless of situations, and in this scene Andy realizes he can go to a place through music that they can't "touch or take away from him."

A second example of the power of music to connect people and provide joy comes in another wonderful movie Almost Famous. In this particular scene Russell, who is mentally and physically exhausted after an extended binge which has left him unable even to speak, is brought back to life after hearing the song "Tiny Dancer". What makes this particular scene so inspiring is that everyone begins singing along with the song, all of them enjoying their own memories it conjures up while also reveling in each other's company as they belt the song out together.

Last night I had a similar experience in Chicago on a rainy summer night listening to a wonderfully entertaining band called 16 Candles. What makes this band stand out is that they play a set list of 80's songs with a sense of unadulterated joy that never fails to bring the crowd back to a time and place in their lives when these songs were significant to them. I often find myself watching the crowd more than watching the band, as it is amazing to see the transformation that comes over people when they here a particularly memorable song. The range of ages runs the gamut from teenagers who know the 80s from an older brother or sister, to groups of women in their forties getting their own "band back together" as they belt out the songs from their youth. Everyone is laughing and dancing and having fun, and you can literally feel the positive energy move through the crowd as people exchange knowing glances.

This was especially true during the song Piano Man by Billy Joel which is an anthem that provokes people to throw an arm around their neighbor and sing the song together. Most people in the crowd knew every word. So it was after consuming a couple of beers where I was feeling especially pleasant that I joined in this chorus last night, and looking back through the crowd I saw literally hundreds of people had linked arms and began to sing along. The feeling was incredible. Whatever that feeling is, in that time, and in that place, I experienced a tremendous power of spirit. For those few minutes no one was aware of any differences between each other, and everyone was able to truly share a communal feeling of togetherness.

Eventually the song ended, and shortly afterwards so did the show, but the lesson and feeling from that experience will linger with me for a long time. The act of seeing that many people singing and laughing was extremely inspiring, and really got me thinking how powerful of force music really is. I've certainly seen the effects music can have on the elderly, as demonstrated by this story
from my book Stories of Hope and Courage, but I also forget what a powerful tool music is for everyone regardless of their age or station in life. I often recommend the patients I work with make some time everyday to listen to some of their favorite music, as this one little gift to yourself can pay tremendous dividends. We take for granted how music affects us physiologically and how much this can initiate the relaxation response. Music is also tied strongly to memory, and as I saw last night, returning through music to a cherished time in your life can be especially powerful. I would also highly recommend attending concerts of bands that play your favorite music, as the communal nature of this experience is amazing. I can't promise you will have a religious experience like I did, but seeing everyone around you so full of joy and happiness can't help but be contagious.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Joseph Campbell, C.S Lewis, Spirituality, & Joy

"For when the heart insists on its destiny, resisting the general blandishment, then the agony is great; so too the danger. Forces, however, will have been set in motion beyond the reckoning of the senses. Sequences of events from the corners of the world will draw gradually together, and miracles of coincidence bring the inevitable to pass. " -Joseph Campbell

When I was about 11 I got poked in the eye by the local bishop. I knew he did it and he knew he did it, but he quickly went back to working the room rather than acknowledge what he had done. From that day forward I have been pretty sour on religion, but my whole life has also been a slow walk back to finding and exploring the power of the spiritual in my remaining time here on earth.

The greatest advisor I've had in this quest has been Joseph Campbell, whose quote is listed above. Campbell spent a lifetime exploring the world's religions and especially their myths, and his work is among the most fascinating and inspiring you will ever read.

Campbell's entire philosophy is best summed up by his advice to his students to "Follow Your Bliss." Campbell believed that the heaven many religions seek in an afterlife is actually happening right here and right now on earth, and that by following the "bliss" and intuition inside of us, wonderful, rapturous adventures are there for the taking. I've certainly found this to be true in my own life. Campbell described this adventure in life through something called the "Hero's Journey" which is a series of steps people move through on the course of their own adventure, and this Hero's Journey was the basis of two of my own books, Barack, Lance, Oprah, & Rudy: Exploring Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey in Contemporary American Society & A Life Lived Twice-Elderly Reflections Using Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey.
In my second book I interviewed 4 extraordinary elderly people, and each of them talked about being guided by a "force" as they moved through life, and each of them thought this force was God who was guiding them through this life so they could enjoy an even better one in the next. One of these people was a nun, who described the absolute joy she got from serving others and therefore serving God, and hearing her talk about her faith was both moving and compelling. All of the people I interviewed found religion to be a strong positive force in their lives, and hearing their stories made me consider my own anti-religious bias. Perhaps things would have been different if that bishop had just admitted he had poked me all of those years ago. In any case hearing their stories made me want to further investigate the link between religion and joy.

A wonderful place to start this investigation was examining the life of C.S. Lewis, once a professed atheist, who found himself Surprised by Joy, which is the title of the book he wrote about his discovery of God and the joy this brought to his life. Lewis is best known for his Chronicles of Narnia tales, which many know is a wonderful set of children's books that uses allegory to tell a tale of spiritual faith. What many people do not know is that Lewis was a prominent man of letters prior to writing these books, and began writing children's books after having already made his reputation as one of the world's most important writers. Why focus on children at this point? Perhaps Lewis took notice of Jesus' words found in the biblical passage Matthew 18:1-5, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven"

Are there any words in the Bible that endorse the power of joy and laughter more than this? This certainly is powerful instruction and C.S Lewis seems to have heeded it in his own life. His path to Christianity was spurred on by an intense longing to return to a sense of "home" which he came to interpret as a desire to be rejoined with his creator in heaven. Lewis spoke of his longing in terms of "tantalizing glimpses" and "promises never quite fulfilled" Lewis described observing the beauty in the world and "wanting to be a part of it" which is a remarkably interesting idea which has undertones that also encompass Buddhism, Hinduism, and even Quantum mechanics. What Lewis seemed to be saying was that we are all made of the same energy, but that this energy also has an original divine source, which is where Christianity may differ slightly from other ways of thinking such as Campbell's, that understand the energy itself as the divine source. Whether we define this "guiding force" theistically like C.S Lewis did, or atheistically like Joseph Campbell did, following it appears to offer a blueprint for a life filled with joy.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Is God Reassembling Himself on the Internet?

From the incredibly thought-provoking book "God's Debris" which is available for free download over the internet................

“Think about this,” he continued. “As we speak, engineers
are building the Internet to link every part of the
world in much the same way as a fetus develops a central
nervous system. Virtually no one questions the desirability
of the Internet. It seems that humans are born with the
instinct to create it and embrace it. The instinct of beavers
is to build dams; the instinct of humans is to build communication
systems.” Rationality can’t explain our obsession with the Internet. The need to build the Internet comes from something inside us, something programmed, something we can’t resist.”

“Humanity is developing a sort of global eyesight as
millions of video cameras on satellites, desktops, and street
corners are connected to the Internet. In your lifetime it
will be possible to see almost anything on the planet from
any computer. And society’s intelligence is merging over the
Internet, creating, in effect, a global mind that can do vastly
more than any individual mind. Eventually everything that
is known by one person will be available to all. A decision
can be made by the collective mind of humanity and
instantly communicated to the body of society.
“In the distant future, humans will learn to control the
weather, to manipulate DNA, and to build whole new
worlds out of raw matter. There is no logical limit to how
much our collective power will grow. A billion years from
now, if a visitor from another dimension observed humanity,
he might perceive it to be one large entity with a consciousness
and purpose, and not a collection of relatively
uninteresting individuals.”
“Are you saying we’re evolving into God?”
“I’m saying we’re the building blocks of God, in the
early stages of reassembling.”

Now I include this exchange not to blaspheme, but to consider some modern developments in my own life that lead me to consider the possibility that this may be true.

Since I started this blog a few weeks ago I have received some of the most wonderful suggestions, links to songs, poems, books, jokes, etc. and each of these things has then spurred me to read something else, which then led me to write about these things, which then led to more links and suggestions. What a wonderful cycle!!! This is the power of connecting with people over the Internet. Although I would love to have conversations with everyone I know about "the healing power of laughter" the fact is many people I interact with on a daily basis have other agendas. So the irony then becomes, the anonymous people I meet on the Internet actually provide me with wonderfully powerful suggestions and encouragement, while I remain strangely distant with the people I work with and spend time with every day.

What is the reason for this? Occam's Razor might suggest that the problem is with me. Perhaps. But on the other hand another explanation may be that the internet is allowing people to mobilize, unite, share ideas, music, literature, psychology, etc. etc. and this trend is bringing people together like never before. Over the last ten years, roughly twice as many people in the world use the Internet than the year before, (some people place the number much higher than this) which even by conservative estimates means that the world is indeed flat as Thomas Friedman and many others have suggested.
This and all of my reading, interactions, counseling, teaching, and learning have led me to consider a most amazing idea that perhaps, just perhaps, that despite what we hear on the news every evening, is it possible that THE WORLD IS GETTING BETTER?

Now I understand this a radical suggestion in the wake of Iraq, global warming, disappearing oil, etc. but lets consider some other evidence.

I'd like to start by talking about a man named Norman Borlaug, who may just be the most important man who ever lived, but who is ironically a man many people have never heard of. By conservative estimates Borlaug has saved a billion lives in his time on earth, but the number may actually be much higher than that. Check out this article in Newsweek titled "He only saved a billion people."

Borlaug figured out a way to feed the world. In a large part because of Norman Borlaug, the percentage of people experiencing hunger around the world dropped from 60 percent in 1960, to 14 percent in the year 2000. That is literally billions of people. For his work Borlaug was one of only 5 people to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. He's in pretty good company there, the others to reach this pinnacle were Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, and Elie Wiesel.

So why the hell haven't we heard of this guy? Perhaps because on the night he received his award Paris Hilton had made headlines, seriously. Beyond Paris, Lindsey, & Brittney, (I don't even have to list their last names) the idea that "if it bleeds it leads" has become a mantra for reporting the news. Violent news stories capture people's attention, and murder, rape, and celebrity Dui's, have become more interesting than a man who has saved the lives of at least one out of every 7 people currently living on the planet. But nonetheless men like Norman do exist, and there are millions of us who would love to hear his story. Despite reports of how people have become lazy, apathetic, and uninformed, I have spoken with thousands of people online who utterly defy this idea. You out there who read, write, think, paint, volunteer, and serve your fellow men, and I know there are millions of you, I salute you. Optimism in the face of adversity is how people can change the world, and have always changed the world. We can chose not to read the news and we can chose not to watch Paris Hilton, and ultimately we can chose that life offers millions of things to be optimistic about. When I start doubting that sentiment I think of Norman Borlaug and the billion lives he saved. Then I read some wonderful blogs from people who haven't given up the fight. It gives me hope and it make me laugh and it makes me think, and ultimately I make the choice to focus on what is good in the world.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

George Costanza, Paradoxical Intention, Crazy Wisdom & Laughter.

I have wasted countless hours of my life watching TV, and the idea that television is "an opiate of the masses" is probably not far from the truth. That being said, I'm no snob and get hooked into shows just like anyone else. Of all of the shows I've watched in my life Seinfeld was truly the one that got me through some dark hours in my life, and the show continues to be a big part of my life years later in syndication.

I bring this up because I want to call attention to one particular episode called "The Opposite." For people unfamiliar with this episode, it is the one where George Costanza decided that, because his every instinct in life has produced an undesirable result, that therefore doing the opposite of what his instincts told him must therefore be right. When George implements this idea into his life all of a sudden wonderful things begin to happen to him. What George had unwittingly stumbled onto was a concept known as Paradoxical Intention.

The term Paradoxical Intention was originally coined by an amazing man named Victor Frankl who wrote Man's Search for Meaning
about his experiences in a concentration camp and subsequent life as a psychiatrist where he conceived his unique philosophy known as Logotherapy. One of the key treatments Frankl used was Paradoxical Intention, in a nutshell "suggesting to the patient, with expression of appropriate humor, that they do, or expose themselves to, that which they fear." One example would be telling someone who keeps struggling with dieting that you want them, for the next week to eat absolutely as much as they can. This kind of advice often disturbs a person's cognitions, and often the pure absurdity of the suggestions helps people to better understand their original self-defeating ways of thinking.

Related to the concept of Paradoxical Intention is the idea of acting "as if." This gives a person permission to act in ways contrary to their usual ways of dealing with the world. In other words a shy and isolated person could act "as if" their life was full of joy and laughter for a couple of weeks to see if this creates any changes in their life during this time, and you know what? It usually always does!! This is the power of emotional choice. This was especially true in the life of Victor Frankl, who, during his darkest days in a concentration camp was able to think about his love for his wife and experience happiness, even as the threat of continued torture and imminent death hung over his head. I try to tell myself that if a man can chose happiness under those circumstances, than I can certainly do so when some little thing in life doesn't go my way. This is the power of mindfulness and taking stock, often, of how good we often really have things.

On the subject of mindfulness and Eastern Religion, it is also interesting to consider an idea in Tibetan Buddhism called "Crazy Wisdom" or yeshe chölwa, which translates literally to wisdom gone wild. This was popularized by the erratic yet brilliant Tibetan philosopher ChogyamTrungpa Rinpoche, who, although thought to be a deity much like the Dalia Lama in his native Tibet, moved to America and opened up a number of centers for spiritual enlightenment with people such as Allen Ginsburg and William Burroughs as instructors.

Purveyors of Crazy Wisdom such as Trungpa were called Siddhas who "expressed the unconditional freedom of enlightenment through divinely inspired foolishness... vastly preferring to celebrate the inherent freedom and sacredness of authentic being, rather than clinging to external religious forms and moral systems. Through their playful eccentricity, these rambunctious spiritual tricksters served to free others from delusion, social inhibitions, specious morality, complacence -- in short, all variety of mind-forged manacles."

These spiritual fools had what was called a "cosmic sense of humor" that saw through the illusions of society's conventions towards a greater interconnectedness of being. Although this is certainly getting into the area of metaphysics, these teachers in a nutshell, were fools because they understood we are a universe of fools, who became foolishly attached to our possessions and our conventions, while failing to see how these attachments lead to suffering.

So do our attachments lead to suffering? Absolutely. We often cling to our own ideas and the seriousness of our little private universes, when in the grander scheme the things we worry about are actually quite silly. We waste so much of our precious time here on earth worrying about things that never come to fruition. Meanwhile we continue to hurdle through space on a little blue ball that cares nothing for our unpaid electric bills, unmowed lawns, and unfair bosses. The Siddhas understood this absurdity, and in their world these silly fools were considered the wisest of the wise. Perhaps there is a lesson here about not taking ourselves to seriously, as it is often the silly and the foolish who ultimately may be the wisest.

Humor, Intimacy, & Golden Anniversaries

You want to reach your Golden Wedding Anniversary? Than laugh with your partner, a lot. A great deal of evidence suggests that this is one of the strongest predictors of relationship health. One study conducted by Krystyna Aune in 2002 explored the relationship between the level of playfulness in a relationship and relationship satisfaction, and not surprisingly she found that the more couples incorporated lighthearted and playful behavior into their relationship patterns the happier they reported being. Aune found that people who were quick to use playfulness and humor in life tended to have higher levels of self-esteem, and also experienced higher levels of other positive emotions in their lives such as joy as a result of their lighthearted attitude towards life.

Playfulness in a relationship can also produce better levels of intimacy and greatly increase sexual satisfaction in a relationship. One wonderful movie that explores the relationship between sexuality, humor, and attitudes about sexuality in old age is called Still Doing It
which explores the sex lives of women over the age of 65. This movie includes a great deal of material of how humor bonds people together and is one of the tools that promotes a healthy sexual life for people, even as their physical bodies may be in decline. With the fastest growing population in the United States now consisting of people over 85, this film is a must see for anyone who wishes to better understand how the things such as our sexuality that make us uniquely human don't simply disappear as we age. The film also makes the point that having a good sense of humor is one of the strongest allies we have as our physical bodies change, even as we cope with the changes and loss that aging inevitably brings.

Through my own work in Nursing Homes throughout the years, I can assure you that sexuality is indeed one of the last things to go, and many people who work in Nursing Homes will tell you that in terms of sexuality these places are often more like college dormitories than hospitals. Many of the stories from my book Stories of Hope and Courage, including this one called "Love conquers all"
talk about how romance often thrives in a Nursing Home, and as a caregiver this was always inspiring and often deeply touching to see. Much like is probably true for Junior Highs, dating events, nightclubs, and any other places people go to meet one another, humor is the catalyst that often brings people together.

On a personal note to emphasize this idea, my grandfather Hank just passed away at the age of 90. He was one of the funniest men I ever knew, and his outlook on life helped instill in me a lighthearted template for life which I hope I will always be able to remember. He was married to my grandmother Lee for 67 years, and I have no doubt that the humor and laughter between them was one of the best reasons they were able to reach their Golden wedding anniversary and much, much more. A person could fill their home with books on maintaining relationships, but not find a simpler recipe for marital success than being able to consistently laugh at life's little moments together. This was the secret of my grandparent's success, and a lesson I hope I'll continue to remember.

P.S-- Special thanks to Ron Davidson who sent me this link to a band called "The Zimmers" singing The Who song "My Generation." This is a wonderful example of how humor doesn't decline with age, check it out!!!!!