Remembering Robin Williams

Robin Williams on stageBy now, you have probably heard the sad news. Robin Williams died. When I heard, I felt numb. In fact, I still do. My first response when I heard about Robin was, “We need to take better care of our comedians.” But my second response was, “Comedians are canaries (in the coal mine). We need to take better care of our world.”

As a kid, I had this video tape of the first HBO Comic Relief telethon, which he was in. I would play this tape over and over and over. It was a 3-hour cavalcade of comics, fundraising for the homeless. Whoopi, Robin, and Billy were the hosts, and they did these great sketches in between standup sets. I was about seven years old at the time, so most of the jokes went over my head. But it sparked this thing in me, “You can be funny. And you can help people. Both at the same time. Like, for a job.”

We used to visit my grandma in California, and I heard that Robin lived near where we visited. One night, nine year old me had this dream I was meeting him. Little did I know I’d actually become a comedian one day.

At age ten, when Good Morning Vietnam came out, it was my favorite movie of all time. Of course, when Mannequin came out, that also became my favorite movie of all time. What do ya want? I was ten.

In the late 90’s when I actually started doing standup, Robin was working on a new show and would pop by surprise to do some stage time. So many of my fellow comedians saw him and interacted with him, but I would somehow always walk in half an hour after he left.

I did finally get to see him perform live at the Throckmorton theatre in Marin one night with a friend. We sat up real close, craning our necks up at Robin, laughing and smiling. Close enough we could almost feel the brush of his arm hair and the drip of sweat from his brow.And then one day a few years ago, I was driving in Sea Cliff, San Francisco, and my friend said that he lived near there. Suddenly, there he was, walking by. Suddenly, I found myself waving and smiling. Suddenly, he found himself waving and smiling. Suddenly, I saw that he realized he didn’t know me. Oh well.

The morning he died, I woke up feeling depressed. I was talking with a friend and realized I was feeling sad about the world. Sad about all the kinds of life on earth that have evolved over millions of years that are getting decimated by the destruction of the rainforests… I had a good cry about it. The depression I felt was like this stuck emotion that wanted to be seen and felt and spoken. And I did. And then I heard about Robin.

A man who lived his life FULL OUT, to the best of his ability. And it’s hitting us for so many reasons, but especially because somehow, “We feel like he was ours.”

Meeting Tim Ferriss circa 2006

Tim Ferriss 4-Hour WorkweekOne morning ten years ago I woke up at 4:30 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. I had the fire in me.

The week before I had done a shamanic medicine journey and my life was changing. But I didn’t know exactly how. The sun wasn’t up yet. Somehow, searching the internet, I found a recording from the SXSW festival with this guy talking about his totally ridiculously incredible life, created from scratch. He said all you need to do to create your own f-ing incredible lifestyle is just determine what you want to do, to be and to have. Here’s what I wrote I wanted ten years ago in 2006:

Do: perform standup, travel, have a family
Be: comedian/visionary/inspirationalist
Have: time, love, god, peace

This guy said that to have this kind of ridiculously amazing life, you have to focus solely on what are good at and amass resources to help you do the rest. All I wanted was to be an amazing comedian. But it felt like my jokes weren’t “good enough” to make that my life’s work. I struggled for years as a lone wolf in the standup world, isolating myself. Maybe I was shy. Maybe I was bitter because I wasn’t succeeding like I’d hoped. I knew most comedians spend all their time with other comedians, marinating in one anothers’ comedic juices (ah, yeah. yum.) and somehow that morning, it hit me that I didn’t have to be alone in my creative work; I could join forces with other funny people and make my jokes as “good” as I knew they could be. Suddenly something shifted. I don’t have to be alone.

And the shamanic medicine journey work tipped this realization into another realm entirely: that whether the jokes were “good enough” was a moot question all together. All they needed to be was true enough. Me enough. Real enough. The sun started to rise and I felt rich beyond belief. Nothing was in the way any more of me having my dream of becoming a powerful, and hilarious comedian whose humor lightened people’s dark parts.

Thanks to that guy, Tim Ferris, author of The Four Hour Work Week.

That morning, I looked up his website, and ordered his book. I wanted to email him to thank him, but his website said, “I hate email. Call me instead. Here’s my phone number. I walked up the hill to Red Rock park in San Francisco as the orange sun started to hit the tops of the buildings and left this guy a message of utter gratitude and joy and invited him to tea if he was ever in San Francisco. I didn’t know where he lived. (I’m still embarrassed about the tea part… it was like my inner lesbian coming forth. Who drinks tea? I do. I drink tea.)

And then get this: Tim called me back a few hours later and invited me to his book release party at a club in North Beach that Friday night. We met, he bought me a drink. The only other person who showed up was another woman who seemed to be kind of annoyed with me, maybe because he had bought her a drink too? I had no idea what to say (other than THANK YOU) to this muscle-bound guy with the ridiculously amazing life. So I didn’t say much. Was he socially awkward? Was I boring? Was he? Who knows. After an hour I left.

And then a few months later Tim Ferriss’ book exploded into the stratosphere.

I feel so much gratitude for this meeting, for Tim, and for everyone who takes the lid off limits. Thank you, Tim, for opening my mind and my heart to utter abundance and good fortune. We’re not alone! And we’re rich! Do only what you love!

 

Adventures in Meditation…

ImgresI just drove back from a three-day Vipassana (insight) meditation course. And boy are my arms tired! Oh no, wrong punchline. Hmm. And boy are my observational faculties tired! Doesn't work quite as well. And boy am I sick of spinning my wheels! Ha. 

It was a short course. My first, at age 20, was 10 days, silent. You have to do the 10 days before you can do the 3 days, and when you complete it you realize why it's so frickin' long. It's because it takes 10 days to actually get a toe-hold in learning the practice. 

The first part of the practice is just observing the breath. It's crazy to realize how much you breathe–but it's even crazier to realize how much you think. We're sitting (read: meditating) for 6-10 hours a day (sometimes I was sleep-atating in my bed when I was supposed to be upright) and about every other breath I would catch myself thinking again. And about really dumb stuff.

Many of my thoughts centered around my Amazon sales rank for my eBook and schemes for how to raise it. I'd catch myself and reason the whole thing out. "Why am I thinking about this dumb thing? Again?" I'd remind myself that life is really short. Imagine myself in a car accident or frozen under a layer of ice (it was cold down in North Fork), and think, is that the way I want to spend the rest of my time alive on this precious beautiful earth with the birds and the sun and the moon? And then I'd remember a few more people I could invite to download my book. The mind is a tricky trickster.

By the third day, I was really getting in the grove. Even though you're not supposed to, I would talk to myself to keep coming back to the breath or the sensations. "Good," I would repeat over and over again. Or "Keep coming back," just to return my attention. That seemed to help. A song that was featured in my meditation: One of These Nights by the Eagles. Why? I was not turned on or anything. But now I'm listening to the actual lyrics and it seems pretty interesting. More appropriate for a shamanic medicine journey than a Vipassana sit. Or more acurately, the meaning and interpretation would just be a lot different depending on which thing you were up to.

Also, on Day Two, two wolves appeared as I was walking around the pond. Or were they coyotes? I turned the other way and walked as slowly-quickly as I could. One of them started to follow me. "Don't turn around. Don't seem afraid. He can smell your fear. Make noise to scare him away. No. Just ignore them." My heart started to pound. He was two feet behind me, panting. Panting. I finally arrived at the clearing. I was about to yell out, even though the retreat was silent. He darted in front of me, sniffing around for food or water. It was a stray dog. And clearly, this was animal medicine coming right up to me. A sign. A metaphor. Something meaningful. But I don't know for what.

Actually, I'm looking at pictures of wolves online now, and he really didn't look that different from a wolf. Well then. A very personable wolf. 

Green with Envy or Making Yourself Sick? (Let Go to be Well!)

A newswire article interviewed stress expert Lauren Miller about how jealousy can poison health.

If you know me, you know jealousy has always been my biggest "sin." Oh, God, it's a really juicy hook for me. I'm a 4 on the enneagram–and jealousy a big feature of 4's. (That and being incredibly charming and lovable.) But I read this article and realized it's really killing me in a way. She says it paralyzes productivity and kills creativity. It's true. What do we do about it?

So Miller says that recognizing your own value is the key to untangling ugly stress that stems from envy. She encourages people to list what they are grateful for in their daily lives. Returning to what is good about yourself and your life relieves stress.  As a cancer survivor, Miller believes reducing stress is essential to feeling better and staying well. Studies have linked stress to a stressful string of physical problems. One study demonstrated that elevated job stress leads to an increased risk of heart disease in women. 

I recently took a workshop called Ending Jealousy Permanently, and it really shifted my whole way of being in relation to those emotions and stories. Highly recommend it.

What’s in a Birthday? Notes on turning a thirty-something

Guess what? Today, I turn the ripe old age of 34! I was just starting to get the hang of 33. "The Jesus year."  

Now, it might be hard to believe… but I wasn't always the comedy rock goddess you see before you today. It's hard to admit that some things have been tough for me – except when I'm on stage… then I apparently love to admit it. But we all want to look good, myself included, and to be respected and to make a good impression. But by doing so, we essentially lie. And my job as a comedian has always been to tell the truth. So here it is.

Yes, I've spent a over decade performing comedy, but it was largely unpaid and for give minutes at a time. It was easy to sleep in until 10am every day. Working day jobs that I didn't really feel passionate about. Since I was little, I had always felt like there was something different, something wrong with me, some way I didn't fit in.

I struggled for many years with an eating disorder, with a love and relationship addiction. It was easier to fall in love with men who had some quality that I wanted to possess, rather than actually developing my own self. Continually disappointed that true love was not forthcoming, I'd eat myself into a fog. And it's hard to pursue your life's purpose and make a real living when you're suffering from a love hangover and a food coma. The emotional vicissitudes were so intense–nothing felt stable or lasting or fulfilling, and I never really managed to create the kind of sustainability or impact or sheer good quality work I longed for, and was afraid I could never have. 

Seven years ago, I hit bottom. Not human bottoms. Ok, I did hit human bottoms. But I also hit low points. And I went into recovery for these various addictions. I've now done volumes of spiritual and growth work, from learning swing dance to doing a series of shamanic medicine journeys, to 12-step recovery programs.

And the most amazing thing happened four years ago. I became ready to cut the crap, and get serious about my comedy career. But this time, I had to walk my own path. And I had to let go of all my ideas and concepts about what "real comedians" do… real comedians perform at dark and drunken comedy clubs where you can literally smell the bitterness and competition… "real comedians" aren't spiritual. "Real comedians" eat ramen and live with 6 roommates. Well, my path, it turned out, was to take what I had learned through 10 years of standup and years of acting classes, and start telling the stories of my life in my own way, injecting humor into the pain and healing with laughter. And, often, inspiring others to take themselves less seriously. 

Last Wednesday, I put on my show "Eat, Pray, Laugh!" at my friend Jim's house. It was one of the best shows I've ever done… and one of the most fun. At the end, they brought out a cake and sang happy birthday. What a gift. That night, I realized: I have worked my ass off to to find my own comedic voice, one that is truer to my spirit than ever. Wow, it's okay to be funny AND earnest AND vulnerable! And I found my true audience–not in comedy clubs, but in alternative venues, theaters, yoga studios, and the houses of friends. God, it feels good to speak the truth and make people laugh like this. It's taken over 20 years to figure out how to embody this kind of truth and humor on stage, but it was worth working for.

 And it's amazing to have it pay off. This past Saturday, I played my highest paying gig ever at the Iowa City Yoga Festival, plus all those expenses paid (!! – flight, hotel, etc.) and they brought my boyfriend out to teach a workshop as well. That, and winning awards like "Best Local Comedian", "Best of the Fringe" and "Best Storyteller" confirms that I actually have found my path, and I'm walking it. But what's most exciting is that I know that, even with all the years I've spent working at it, it's just the beginning.

I recently met Julia Butterfly Hill, who has a totally amazing life story and a powerful impact on the world, and she confirmed for me something I'd been thinking. That we don't have to stop being who we are. Those of us who are different, who don't fit in, we are gifted. We are can be sensitive, intense, frustrated, angry, sad, and we sometimes overflow with passion and desire. And we don't have to change who we are–we just have to learn how to focus our energy in the right place. 

This has become a passion of mine to now share with others. I've developed a new coaching technique that allows you to accurately tap into your higher self, your soul’s deepest source of wisdom. and show you how to integrate it into your life – powerfully, compassionately, & effortlessly. I'm currently calling it Higher Self Coaching – which is designed for people who are tired of going to others for answers, and who just want to be able to access the real answers they know are locked somewhere deep inside, and move forward with clarity certainty. Some of my specialties include life purpose, relationships, and recovery. 

 If you're interested learning how to focus your energy in the right place, to find your own path, your own voice, your own gifts, let's chat – we'll set up a "Get Your Own Answers! Session." Email me, or you can schedule a time online here

Finally… I have several projects in the works that I'm excited to share with you soon. For now, enjoy a little feel-good music, on the house. This is a song I recorded, and it's dedicated to you. 

No matter how well we do or don't know each other, you've been an important part of my path. Thank you for joining me on this journey, and I look forward to walking on the road of life with you. 

Sending blessings for a year filled with laughter and light!

Alicia

Laugh Away the Pain? It’s Evolutionary.

Once upon a time, Charlie Chaplin said, "Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain." Last week, The New York Times agreed. The reported on a recent study which found that,"laughing increased pain resistance." In this story, the science of modern times sides with the clown. The Oxford study also suggests that laughter has provided primates with an age-old evolutionary advantage.

Oxford evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar concluded that laughter triggers endorphins that allowed test subjects to resist pain longer. Test subjects watched a variety of video. Some subjects watched "The Simpsons," Eddie Izzard routines, and other comedy clips. Other participants watched  footage considered feel-good without being funny, like nature programs. Others  were subjected to boring- er- 'neutral' golf and pet training videos. All participants were monitored for laughter during the shows. The participants who laughed proved better able to withstand pain resistance tests adminstered after watching the videos. Another experiment, conducted live at an Oxford Imps improv show, supported the findings that laughter eases pain. 

The study reports that laughter, not just a general sense of well being, is key to the endorphin response and pain relief. Dr. Dunbar hypothesizes that laughter has been key to the social evolution of primates. Like singing, dancing, and other physical activities, shared laughter strengthens group bonds. A laugh today may play tonic to your pain, and shared giggling echoes age-old evolutionary rewards. I think may be time to rewatch Charlie Chaplin…

Dunbar's study was published in the proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences.

Laugh it up!

Alicia

Laugh and Eat Chocolate! It’s Good for Your Heart!

Chocolate Any fool knows that laughing and eating chocolate will make you feel good. Now scholars agree too! Let's sing it from the rooftops! (And support it with peer-reviewed science!) "EAT CHOCOLATE AND BE MERRY! Your heart will thank you!"

As explored in blogs past, laughing helps the heart. It reduces stress and increases healthy hormones in the same way exercise does. (Check out my blog entry 'How Many Chuckles = a Chinup?") Add to that happy science a recent study which discovered that habitual chocolate eaters showed a 37% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and 29% reduced risk of stroke.

It sounds too good to be true. No- this study was not sponsored by the Bay Area Hedonists Club. Scientists from the University of Cambridge announced the news at the European Society of Cardiology convention at the end of August. The respected British Medical Journal published the findings. Any google search yields pages of slavering support. It must be true! 

So, is "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" passé? Probably not. Researchers caution that there are plenty of unhealthy ingrediants in chocolate treats. Going hog wild with calorific chocolate pudding on a regular basis is more likely to damage your heart. However, 'plain' chocolate (the less added sugar the better) can be considered healthy. So relax, chuckle, and chew a little chocolate while savoring the concluding words of the University of Cambridge study:

"Based on observational evidence, levels of chocolate consumption seem to be associated with a substantial reduction in the risk of cardiometabolic disorders. Further experimental studies are required to confirm a potentially beneficial effect of chocolate consumption."

This fool may volunteer for the Cambridge crew's next experiment!

Of course, you all know by now that I'm on a refined-sugar-free diet, so I make most of my own chocolate, and I like to keep it all raw…  no cane sugar for me! I make it all with maple syrup or coconut palm sugar… I keep trying to make a stevia-sweetened chocolate… and keep failing..  But I digress…  

Ha ha ha! Hee hee hee! 

Alicia 

 

These be my sources, yo:

"Study: Laughter and Chocolate Can Boost Heart Health." Huffington Post. August 29, 2011.

"Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-anaylsis." British Medical Journal. August 29, 2011

Laughter Throwdown-The First Laughter Competition

A ring!  A roaring crowd! Two competitors!…But nary a punch thrown? What WAS this?

It was the first televised laughing competition!

During October 2010, Canal D broadcast an event of combative hilarity. In front of spectators and viewers at home, the laugh-off pit pairs of guffawers to spar. Awards were given to the longest and most contagious chuckler. The international community soon caught the giggles. Tokyo, California, the Czech Republic, and Austria (ach!) fell in with Ha Ha Ha! The competition moved swiftly from country to country. Who was behind it all? Canadian filmmaker Albert Nerenberg created the event, the broadcast, and a movie.

The brutality of sports like ultimate fighting dismayed Nerenburg.  Yet he was fascinated by how the nearness and eye contact at the beginning of a fight could take a completely different direction. His look into the impact of laughter had changed his life, and Nerenburg's thought inspired a dream. Canadian channel Canal D humored his proposal for a laughing competition. One silly scheme come to fruition, Nerenberg next hopes for an international laughter competition. 

This story was reported by the Toronto Sun, Wednesday July 27, 2010.

http://www.torontosun.com/2011/07/23/canadian-laughing-competitions-go-global

20 sec. Hugs are Better Hugs (or, It’s Your Oxytocin)

Happy Hug Day (61) You can create a deep connection with a long hug. Of course. You know that. What you might not know? The amount of time matters. We're not talking about the half-second hug-cum-chest-bump.  Or the 5 second clench-to-coax. No, indeed! Apparently, a loving embrace held for 20 seconds taps our sweet spot. The folks at The Shift Network say that 20 seconds is the "magic" length needed to release oxytocin in the body.

News organizations from the BBC to USA Today have reported on the University of North Carolina's discovery that a longer hug reduced cortisol (stress hormone) and increased oxytocin in the couples studied. Oxytocin is the "bonding hormone" the inspires the feeling of meaningful connection with others. This happy hormone is also linked to reducing blood pressure and the risk of heart disease. With whoever you are close to, try staying close longer with a 20 second hug. You may feel the difference. 

 

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Sources:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/4131508.stm

http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2003-03-09-hug-usat_x.htm

http://theshiftnetwork.com/tsn/main

How many chuckles = a chinup? (No joke!)

Laugh-with-abandon_14-things-adults-can-learn-from-children Growing evidence confirms suspicions that laughter is not only fun, but good for us!  WebMD reports that laughter and moderate exercise share a host of healthful effects. According to Dr. Lee Berk's research, appetite hormones behave the same way after a good giggle as they do after a few workout reps. In science-speak: leptin goes down and grehlin goes up. Berk's volunteers watched stressful videos and hilarious videos (in no particular order) while their hormones were monitored. The results show comedy may be good for more than a chuckle.

Berk hopes his findings can assist patients who have lost their appetite. The elderly, handicapped, depressed and ill might benefit from repetitive laughter research. Overachievers may well enjoy a chortle during exercise for added benefit. Though a small study, Berk's work joins other science in supporting laughter as good medicine. More conclusive work may cause this writer to re-evaluate the association between 'cackles' and 'evil'. What can't hurt may heal!

Wanna come try laughter yoga with me?

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The original study