Humour, Hope and Nasrudin

Another photo from Gottfried’s collection, with thanks. Hawaii rainbow.

Humour, from my understanding and experience boosts our spirits, if not our immune system. Granted, there is so much we don’t know for sure, but we all seem to benefit when we can have a good laugh. Funnily enough, we don’t all laugh at the same things.

Take laughter yoga, for instance. This highly popular program that is offered for people with illness, does nothing for me. I tried it and didn’t relate to the humour at all. Yet, we offered it at Wellspring, where many participants loved it.  We are all different and it is important that each of us pay attention to our direct experience, so we know what works for us and what doesn’t.

Life gives us opportunities to try new things. A curious mind can serve us well. Dr. Itami, the founder of Meaningful Life Therapy, used humour as a daily part of his non-medical prescriptions for his seriously ill cancer patients.

Not only that, he encouraged them to find something funny in their present condition. Not because their illness was funny, far from it. But as a shift of attention in learning to cope with the reality of where they found themselves.  A relief for that moment or two when they shared their story with others, and sometimes a longer relief as they went looking for humour.

And when that was an impossible task for some, they researched funny tales to tell each other, in their weekly study group.

When we cultivate a sense of humour, our lives improve. We probably all have people with whom we laugh a lot. I have one friend that as soon as she answers the phone we start laughing. Why? Who knows. But it has something to do with the irony of life; the cosmic jokes…we always feel better, when we hang up, even when we have been discussing a dire situation.

 I discovered Sufi tales, thirty years ago, and was introduced to the inimitable Mulla Nasrudin, who soon became my go to person to make me laugh. I have already included two of his stories in this blog and today I am giving you another favourite.


What you hadn’t thought of – from a collection by Idries Shah

If someone doesn’t say something to entertain me, shouted a tyrannical and effete king, ‘I’ll cut off the heads of everyone at court.’

Mulla Nasrudin immediately stepped forward.

‘Majesty, don’t cut off my head – I’ll do something.’

‘And what can you do?’

‘I can teach a donkey to read and write!’

The king said:

‘You’d better do it, or I’ll flay you alive!’

‘I’ll do it,’ said Nasrudin, ‘but it will take me ten years.’

‘Very well,’ said the king, ‘you can have ten years.’

When the court was over for the day, the grandees (persons of high rank) crowded around Nasrudin.

‘Mulla,’ they said, ‘can you really teach a donkey to read and write?’

‘No,’ said Nasrudin.

‘Then,’ said the wisest courtier, ‘you have only bought a decade’s tension and anxiety, for you will surely be done to death. Oh, what folly to prefer ten years suffering and contemplation of death to a quick flash of the headman’s axe…’

‘You have overlooked just one thing,’ said the Mulla.

‘The king is seventy-five years old, and I am eighty. Long before the time is up, other elements will have entered the story…’

I love this story. And it also reminds me about a reason to hope. Reality always contains an element of surprise – sometimes good and sometimes bad. David Steindl Rast and my Mother are my teacher’s on hope. Rast says: “To have hope is to remain open to the possibility of surprise even when everything turns out worse than we could ever imagine. Despair assigns reality a deadline, whereas hope knows that there are no deadlines.” My Mother, well, she always believes there will be something better around the corner. The surprising thing is,  because she expects it, she always finds it.

It seems to me that no matter what we do we will experience suffering in our lives. We can isolate ourselves and do our best to protect ourselves from pain. But to live fully we will ultimately experience it all, the full catastrophe, as Zorba the Greek puts it.  But we also experience the hope and joy, the love and laughter and if we stay open,  all the amazing imperfectly perfect people in our lives. And that is what counts the most, in the end.

Let’s find ways to enjoy our lives, and gently encourage each other along, while we can!

Note1: Here is a link to humour and other learning elements of this perspective, on my website  

Note 2:  And a link to Laughter is the best Medicine from my June posting, for those who didn’t see it.

Note 3: I haven’t forgotten my online workshop. I am picking up the threads this week and more information forthcoming.

Note 4: Thanks again, for reading my blog posts. If you know of others who may be interested, please be free to forward them on. See you next week, Trudy

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