If you have been mindful of your stress levels this month, well done. April is National Stress Awareness Month and according to the Society for Vascular Surgery, laughter is a key function in reducing stress and hypertension. Fortunately, April is also National Humor Month. You may have never heard of either holiday, but they are easy enough to celebrate. The two go hand in hand and it's as simple as laughing off your stress. Attending my laughter yoga class is a great way to start.
Stress greatly impacts blood pressure, which can lead to high blood pressure (hypertension), and eventually, cardiovascular disease. On the contrary, Dr. Vivienne Halpern from the Society for Vascular Surgery stated that “laughter reduces the level of stress hormones (cortisol, epinephrine, dopamine, and growth hormone) and increases the level of health-enhancing hormones (endorphins and neurotransmitters)… this can result in a stronger immune system and fewer physical effects of stress.” So heed the advice of April's healthy holidays and get giggling. Maybe it'll help combat these nasty Spring colds that are going around.
So a study of a couple hundred women undergoing IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) near Tel Aviv found that women entertained by professional Israeli clowns right after embryos were transferred to their wombs had more success in giving birth than those with no Israeli clowns.
The study, published in Fertility and Sterility, found that 36 percent of women with Israeli clowns became pregnant, as compared with the 20 percent of clown-free embryo transfer procedure. Not surprisingly, women conceiving the conventional way were found to have a much lower success rate with Israeli clowns in their room at the time of conception. I'm just saying…
Leader of the study, Dr. Friedler said he got the idea for the study because laughter is a "natural anti-stress mechanism."
Friedler, who is based at Assaf Harofeh Medical Centre in Zrifin, Israel, said,"Patients suffering from infertility undergoing IVF are incredibly stressed. So I thought that this intervention could be beneficial for them at the crucial moments after embryo transfer."
Friedler added that if studies at other centres back up his findings, fertility clinics elsewhere might try it too. I'm just hoping I'm fertile enough to keep the clowns out of my own uterine activities. Do you think clowns that speak Hebrew are funnier than French or English ones?
Did you know we've been laughing for 7 million years?
The Quarter Review of Biology recently published a study on laughter. There are two kinds. (Of course, Osho wrote about four kinds, so science is still lagging behind on this front…)
Thee first kind of laughter is a) spontaneous and b) stimulus-driven. The study says that just because someone is laughing with you, doesn’t mean that it is spontaneous or stimulus-driven, which is the natural kind of laugh that mirrors ape play, which arose around seven million years ago.
The second, “dark side of laughter” kind of laugh is strategic and sometimes can be cruel. "One type of laughter arises spontaneously from the perception of a certain class of events, while the other is used strategically in interaction to influence others or modulate one's own physiology," said Gervais, who is a researcher in the Evolutionary Studies Program at Binghamton University in New York. Here's where I read the article.
In laughter yoga, I aim for my laughter to always be the first kind of laughter. But I don't think this study gets at the whole picture. Laughter needs to be practiced to become part of one's life if it's been missing for a long time. That's why in laughter yoga, we encourage one another to laugh, through exercises designed to create that spontaneous first kind of laughter. Don't feel discouraged if it takes time to remember how to laugh spontaneously. It's still a practice for me. I'm even starting to laugh at standup comedy again after years of training myself to slap the table with a straight face and say in a deadpan tone, "That's funny." But it takes practice.
So come practice. Come take a laughter yoga class with me. Or come see a standup comedy show!
College Preschool Extension School Course Catalog
Haveli College Preschool Extension School (HC PES) classes commence this spring. Here we have compiled a sampling of course descriptions.
EXPERIMENTAL SCHOOL OF EXPERIMENTAL INTERDISCIPLINARY EXPERIMENTALISM
ESEIE 103 TOPICS IN AESTHETICS: THE SAND CASTLE (prof TBA)
In this proseminar, we will examine the sand castle and its predecessor, sand. We will take a survey approach to the history and technique, and end with a focused study of the drip castle, the moat, and found object placement (along with Freud's modification to this technique: found object displacement). Special attention will be given to the practical applications of the sand castle. There will be a $50 lab fee, for sand. Prerequisite: Public Accounting. Class will meet once a week for a hundred and twenty minutes, and students must attend the weekly sea-lab. Enrollment is limited to 15 students. Thursday 1:20-3:20
EXPERIMENTAL SCHOOL OF GENERIC INTELLECTUAL EXPERIMENTALISM
ESGIE 238 PLAYGROUND THEORY (prof TBA)
In this course, we will examine complex notions of 'play' as it relates to the first-grader in terms of socioeconomic background. We will look at studies on working-class first-graders and first-graders of color at the 'play'ground which show a recent trend for an increasing sense of upward mobility, especially when near the ladder to the slide. Readings will rely heavily (but not too heavily) on Scooter B.'s Derridian reading of Morrison's 'Heterosexism and the Seasaw'. Also, we will look at the queer subtext of Foucault's 'Critics of the Tire Swing: What Matters Who's Swinging', in which Foucault shifts the mode of questioning from 'why are we dizzy?' to 'who is getting dizzy?' and 'on whom are the Dizzy hurling?' Finally, we will examine the 19th century colonization of the swingset by second-graders, and look at its' effect on playground structure (a post-structuralism of sorts). Prerequisite: at least one course on Topics in Aesthetics. Enrollment open. Tuesday and Thursday 1:30 to 2:50
EXPERIMENTAL SCHOOL OF EXPERIMENTAL SOCIALISM
ESES 189 NAPS OF THE THIRD WORLD (prof TBA)
This couse will take a critical look at napping conditions in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Central America. Our focus will fall on the 1976 nap revolt in Chiapas (a. k. a. 'The Gweat Wevolution' or 'El Napo Grando Stoppo') during which thousands of four-year-olds attempted a coup on Naptime. The dubious coup crumbled around 3 pm when several of itUs foremost leaders fell asleep. What was the deeper significance of El Napo Grando Stoppo's failure? Is there a common thread between this and other unsuccessful attempts? Texts include Naps are for Saps, Goodnight Moon, and Dr. Seuss's The Sleep Book. There will be positively no sleeping in class. Enrollment is open. Tuesday and Thursday 12:50 to 2:20
EXPERIMENTAL EXPERIMENTALISM EXPERIMENTALIST EXPERIMENTS
EEEE/ESES 278 DOCTOR, HOUSE, COWBOYS, AND INDIANS (prof TBA)
This course is cross-listed and will be team taught in order to combine a theoretic background on social programming of archetypal make-believe narrative and a course in creative writing. After examining various texts on make-believe, imaginary and fantasy play of the post-toddler, students will be guided through a process of hypnosis and drunken free-writing sessions, uncovering hitherto hidden truths about our own childhood. Especially important in this course will be the concept of 'false memory'; I think it's a crock. In the beginning, we will rely heavily on some of the lesser-known (read: stupid) writings of Carl Jung ('Let's Pretend!') and Sigmund Freud ('I Like Little Boys' and 'The Natural Tendency Toward Incest'); each day we will try to use Frued less and less until we no longer need him at all. Prerequisite: Successful completion of Psychoanalysis. Limit 25 students. Tuesday and Thurdsday noon to 5:00
I get a desperate call from my acting teacher in LA about an acting job. Truth be told, it's my first gig ever. I don't know what the job is yet–all I know is that I don't have to audition. So it either has to be an adult gig or a wearing-a-giant-animal-suit-to-sell-something gig. Fine. As long as it's not both.
The next day I’m sitting in a secret back room in the Metreon, a giant new mecca of capitalistic bliss, full of movie theaters and food courts and stores where they sell cologne for young men at the beach. The place smells like popcorn, expensive electronics, and Drakkar Noir. I've been asked to put on a foam suit with a 65″ waist, strap-on boots five times the size of my feet, giant white gloves I have to hold on to by clenching the inside fabric in my fists, and a very large fiberglass head attached to a football helmet, out of which I have about 10% of my normal vision. My "handler" tucks in the character's "neck skin" inside my foam suit.
I am a method actor. That morning, when I learned my assignment, I’d decided to explore my character. Just who is video game character Super Mario? (Strange guy with mustache?) What is he passionate about? (Killing turtles?) What motivates him? (Saving the princess?) WHAT MAKE HIM TICK? (Gold coins?) I am getting in touch with my inner brooklyn Italian plumber (except that I’m on the inside and he’s on the outside–maybe it's more like Mario getting in touch with the Inner Alicia…). But so what does a middle-aged video game plumber say and do and think? On the way in my car I’m trying him out, “I’m a mario! I love-a da princess! Princepessa I’m-a comin! I fix-a you toilet! Just gotta kick a deese turtles and eat-a some magic mushrooms!" (Maybe we have more in common than I thought?) But I’m not allowed to speak, so I figure I’ll channel this character information directly into my body movement.
The event is a ceremony called the Walk of Game. Video game inventors and their characters are receiving lifetime achievement awards. I run into a technology commentator Adam Sessler, who I used to work with at TechTV. Turns out he’s hosting the whole event. "What do you think I am supposed to do, as Mario?" I ask. Sessler bounces his head and says, "Bounce, wave, shrug your shoulders." Ok, that's easy.
Not easy. Once I zip up the 40 pound suit, I can’t reach my feet to put the shoes on. My “handler”, a PR guy from Nintendo who is late and dressed in a brown leather jacket, ties my shoes for me. I am getting paid handsomely for this is a last-minute gig. I have never done anything remotely like this before. Handler dude tells me I need to be very animated and wave a lot. Presumably, because I seem to be quiet and he looks worried. But so we get out in the open and one of the “game girls”, a cute Asian girl in a short, white skirt, is guiding me, holding my “arm”, keeping me from tripping over small children. We line up to receive awards. As we approach the stage, someone shouts, “MARIO’S NOT REAL.” and I throw up my arms in response (I’m contractually obligated not to speak) and get a big pre-show laugh.
A live pianist begins playing the Super Mario theme song. “Dana-nana-nana… dana-nana-nana…” They cue me, and I walk out on stage with my Game Girl. She makes me feel more like Mario. I bounce, wave, and shrug to the music, and the crowd loves me hamming it up. About a hundred cameras (it’s only press people in the audience) are flashing their bulbs. No kidding. Turns out Mario is one of only five people and/or characters being honored in the First Annual Walk of Game ceremony. Mario gets a star on the Metreon Walk of Game.
This suit is hot and heavy inside (does that make me live “action”? ha ha). We walk over to uncover the stars and take photos. People are jumping in, one after another, next to me to take photos. We pose. I put a foot out for style. I shake hands. Just standing in this thing is a chore. We didn’t use the ice packs they recommend. It's getting hotter and hotter inside here. Today we’re serving BAKED ACTOR from the Mario Oven. My sweat. The sweat of previous Marios. The heat from the lights. I’m way above my target heart rate. But the worst part, the velcro from the boots (which are constantly slipping off my feet) is rubbing against my shins, grating my skin, and the raw skin is mixing with the sweat to create a pain of moving I can only be thankful for because it’s distracting me from the weight of the costume.
Despite the impediments, I am actually having a blast. I–which is to say, Mario–am famous. For about an hour. It’s nothing to do with me, but still, I’m making it all happen. I’m dancing, doing all these great moves which I know must be hilarious for people to see Mario do. Moves from SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, Eminem videos, my circus show… It’s all fair game. Cameras keep flashing, so I keep posing. I develop a whole repertoire: bounce, disco bounce, hands on head, pat tummy to the beat, raise roof, shake hands, left foot out, arms in circle a la Mr. Sandman backup singers, knee down fist up power chord rock stance, etc… What does Nintendo think of my interpretation of Mario? Will public the conception of disco Mario seep back into the minds of the developers, creating a dialectic whereby the next Mario game has just a little hustle in his bounce?
Sometimes I start giggling to myself about how heavy this costume is and I'm just trying to hold it all together, and I can make out the sea of cameras. It would be so funny if Mario tripped and fell onto Sessler, or started humping the leg of Sonic the Hedgehog or the inventor of Halo, or touched the tit of a Game Girl, or if he hit on Gavin Newsom (our San Francisco Mayor). So at the party afterward gavin takes a picture with mario, and he whispers to me, “you know you and I have spent a lot of time together… indirectly.” Whoa, Gavin. What is it about puppets that make people confess things?
My handler dude sees me start to wobble, and realizes I’m about to pass out after three hours in the MO (Mario Oven). He says I did a great job and he’ll pay me for an extra half hour. I take off my head. The heat wafts up from inside the suit. You could unseal envelopes with the steam floating past my chin. I leave in plain (sweat-soaked) clothes, my face beet-red, walking past the hordes of people who moments before were yelling “my” name. I feel like a superhero after a change in the phone booth. Inside I have this exciting yet totally inconsequential secret, and there's nothing to do with it. People walk past me like I'm just another human. I want to yell, “I WAS THAT GUY YOU LOVED! I was Mario!” But instead, I walk peacefully back to my car. I go home, put some ointment on my shins. And keep my secret (for a little while).
I wonder, once in a while, who else is wandering the street, freshly emancipated from their own Mario.
"This is worth considering. It is significant. The first thing to understand is that except for man, no animal is capable of laughter. So laughter shows a very high peak in the evolution of life. If you go out on the street and see a buffalo laughing, you will be scared to death. And if you report it, then nobody will believe that it can happen. It is impossible. Why don’t animals laugh? Why can’t trees laugh?
There is a very deep cause for laughter. Only that animal can laugh which can get bored. Animals and trees are not bored. Boredom and laughter are the polar dualities, these are the polar opposites. They go together. And man is the only animal that is bored. Boredom is the symbol of humanity. Look at dogs and cats; they are never bored. Man seems to be deep in boredom. Why aren’t other animals bored? Why does man alone suffer boredom?
The higher the intelligence, the greater is boredom. The lower intelligence is not bored so much. That’s why primitives are happier. You will find people in the primitive societies are happier than those in civilized ones. Bertrand Russel became jealous when for the first time, he came into contact with some primitive tribes. He started feeling jealous. The aboriginals were so happy, they were not bored at all. Life was a blessing to them. They were poor starved, almost naked. In every way, they had noth-ing.
But they were not bored with life. In Bombay, in New York, in London, everybody is bored. The higher the level of intelligence and civilization, the greater the boredom. ”So the secret can be understood. The more you can think, the more you will be bored; because through thinking you can compare time as past, future and present. Through thinking you can hope. Through thinking you can ask for the meaning of it all. And the moment a person asks: ”What is the meaning of it?” boredom enters, because there is no meaning in anything, really."
Osho's satsang on laughter continues… Stay tuned for part two.
Here’s a little sample of what I’ve been up to in my creative life. I’ll be performing this show Eat, Pray, Laugh! in San Francisco January 20th, 2010 to February 24th each week with kirtan singers Mirabai and PG. You can get tickets here.
Find a daily action partner. This will be the person who you check in every day with about the plan you made in Part 2. Call them every morning, state what you will do for the day, what might get in your way, and what you will do about it. Your action partner should be someone you can discuss your logistical issues with as well as emotional issues that may come up in response to the new level you're working on. Let your action partner know that what you'd like from them is to listen and be supportive and to call you out when you're off-target. Know that just taking the action to call another person who really gets what you're working toward will bring you strength.
Each time we move up to a higher level of productivity, creativity, or integrity, the part of us that has been stuck can get scared. You can address that part of you by actually talking to it, respecting it's concerns, and giving it a voice. Once you've done that, "mine" what your inner critic has told you. (Don't bother arguing with it; it's not reasonable!) Is there anything your critic said that you can use creatively? Sometimes our greatest treasure is the same thing that holds us back. If your critic were giving you a gift, what would it be?
After you've listened to and mined your critic's message, move on. You can even set a timer for, say, five minutes, to listen to you critic. When time's up, set it aside and begin your creative work.
"Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief."
-Marcus Tullius Ceicero
So, over the next few weeks, I'll explain a bit more about each step in detail from the perspective of a creativity coach. I want you to really get that while I may be writing specifically about creating a show, you can apply this process to any creative project, whether you're wanting to exhibit your paintings, write a sitcom, or record and album, or illustrate a children's book.
Part One: On paper, write your higest vision for your show. Close your eyes, take some deep breaths, connect with your heart, and find your center. When you're there, write down what your vision is–just like The Secret–how does it feel? how does it smell? where does the light fall? how does it look? get specific. who is there with you? what has changed now that you've accomplished this? what is your life like now? what have you learned about yourself?
Here's the key that most people miss that will blow this exercise up and bring it to the next level: you need to let your mind know that you mean business. So take the vision you've written, and find a magical way to show yourself your commitment. Perhaps you post it on your wall where you look every day. Perhaps you light a candle and dedicate yourself to your vision each morning. Perhaps you distill the vision into a word and wear that word around your wrist or neck as an amulet.
Coming up next in Part Two: the first step to making your vision a reality.
"We are limited, not by our abilities, buy by our vision."