Playful Poking

“The fool performs a sacred role in the community…a teller of truth standing naked in the marketplace… confronting the powerful with playful disorder.” –Ken Feit

     During my collegiate years, I worked as an activity aide in a nursing home. We were blessed to have a gem of a soul named Ruth in our department. With her infectious laughter, willingness to make fun of herself, and desire to connect deeply with the persons around her, Ruth could make the sternest, crankiest, grouchiest resident giggle. Ruth embodied the female archetype of Patch Adams, years before he’d become a household name. She believed that the greatest medicine for those aging beings was reigniting the light within their hearts through humor. I delighted in her presence.

     After graduating, I was trained for management and given the keys to administrate a small nursing facility. New to the managerial world, I fumbled-about in my position. I tried seriousness and detachment…to abject failure. I attempted to compensate with overzealousness and commitment…to exhausting frustration. I began interspersing jesting into my experience, slipping copies from Dilbert’s cartoons into my managers’ mailboxes…and we finally connected. Re-engaging with the playfulness I’d picked-up in Ruth’s activity department, I slipped into a comfortable groove and work became more enjoyable for everyone…until Halloween, when the region’s Vice-President caught me conducting maintenance rounds on the roof of our facility…wearing my silly cow costume. “I wonder,” he questioned as I descended the ladder, cowbells clanging around my neck, “how anyone can take you seriously?” I stared back at him from beneath the white horns on my black hood. “How can your employees respect you, dressed like that?” I escaped the corporate world shortly thereafter.

     “By the time I entered medical school in 1967, I had taken the power of clowning to heart, and was trying to bring humor, love, and joy to every situation. When I began to see patients (of any age) I insisted on being funny with all of them, even the profoundly ill. What was less obvious, was that it was just as important to be fun (loving and joyful) with the staff and visitors to the hospital. It was bringing humor to all of it that was the point, clearly knowing it was also wonderful for my own health.” –Patch Adams

     The idea for this blog was planted when a friend commented that some of the world’s greatest comedians have lived to be centenarians (or very near it): George Burns, Bob Hope, Fred Fox Sr. and others. To me, the case for humor improving health and longevity is clear.  Indeed, the health benefits of laughter have been touted for years:

  • Dr. Lee Burk of Loma Linda University, California study showed that laughter causes endorphin release, similar to the ‘high’ joggers get when jogging.
  • Dr. Michael Miller from the University of Maryland found that laughter can improve circulatory and cardiovascular health.
  • An Irish study showed that laughter causes a rise in blood pressure. Other studies showed that blood pressure drops for a time when we stop laughing, which is much like aerobic exercise.
  • A Vanderbilt University study found that laughter burns a bit more than one calorie a minute.
  • University of Chicago studies show a great sense of humor can add 8 years to your life.
  • Stanford University studies show a good belly laugh can give you health boosting benefits equal to 10 minutes on a rowing machine.

     “Humor is more important than knowledge,” said Albert Einstein. (Perhaps someone should tell the FPD committee.)

     In the past, when having a “good bedside manner” was high accolade to a nurse or doctor, it had nothing to do with their scientific expertise. In truth, it was a comment on their ability to bring love, joy, and humor to the bedside. So with all the scientific studies supporting a light-hearted approach to medicine, why are we still encouraged to maintain an air of professionalism, one which promotes emotional detachment, white coats, and private rooms?

     “Laughter is an orgasm triggered by the intercourse of sense and nonsense.”  —Author Unknown

     Early Native Americans had clowns who worked with witch doctors, because they realized the powerful effects of humor and laughter in healing. The third most important person in the tribe was the clown. Interestingly, the Chinese laugh more than any other culture in the world. And a recent study found that people laugh 6 more times in the presence of one person and 30 more times in a group of people…making our community acupuncture rooms a potential breeding ground for giggles.

     “A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” –Irish Proverb

     I love hearing how Skip threatens to bleed his unruly patients…and the pod of nervous peeps erupts in mirth. I still laugh at the story about the SWAT team that surrounded Lisa’s clinic to “contain” an armed fugitive on their rooftop–while patients slumbered unsuspectingly inside and staff avoided the doors/windows. I can appreciate the hilarity of burning moxa in my community room, while a new-patient-police-officer eyed me suspiciously from several chairs over and launched into an interrogation after her needles were pulled (for those who don’t know, moxa smells just like marijuana). Last week, with my treatment room full and others waiting in the reception area, a friend reclined her la fuma a bit too hastily. It crashed loudly into my closet, knocking over a plant, sending us both into giggles…helping ease my own tension about the overflow and bringing my presence back into the moment. Humor is as beneficial for the pokers as the pokees.

     “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”  —Victor Borge

     Hannah Arendt says that the diagnosis for our diseased world is thoughtlessness, a lack of moral imagination, and above all, a lack of caring…Her remedy: to construct a caring community, to empathize, to connect. Humor, joy, and playfulness are the threads that weave us together, connect us. When we laugh, we heal in our hearts; we bring peacefulness into our homes, joyfulness into our communities. I live for the laughter in my day…I want to experience much more of it.

     “The purpose of our lives is to be happy.” –Dalai Lama

     This past Halloween, I toyed with the idea of offering free acupuncture to peeps who arrived at the clinic in character. I wanted to break-out my cow costume, find a bulbous-red-Patch-Adams-clown-nose, and challenge the notion that “respect” and professionalism are more important than the documented benefits of laughter. I wanted to confront the belief that healing has to be heavy and serious to be effective. Regrettably, I chickened-out: others whispered in my ear that I was crossing the line and my intention wouldn’t be appreciated. I allowed myself to get talked-out of the idea…once.

     But not this year. Halloween falls on a Saturday, and I’m already excited just thinking about extending the clinic’s hours on that day for the first annual community-costume-poke-a-thon. I want to bring more of that joyfulness into the clinic year-round. The eraser-board was changed from its previously dull messages to playful quotes. Right now, it reads: “Never trust a doctor whose office plants have all died,” from Erma Bombeck. How can I bring more belly laughter in to the community vibe? How do I tap into my own spirit’s Patch Adams archetype?

     “At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities.” –Jean Houston

     Below is Patch Adams’ prescription for society; everyday actions you can take to make your community a better and happier place to live. The list came from the Gesundheit! Institute website at

Patch’s 10 Everyday Actions to Help Heal Society

  1. Pick up all the trash in an area in your hometown; be its guardian. Tell others about it.
  2. Be friendly to everyone at all times; experiment outrageously.
  3. Offer a shoulder or foot rub in any environment.
  4. Always speak up for justice, no matter how much it costs.
  5. Go once a week on a “house call” to a nursing home to cheer people up as a friend.
  6. Turn off your TV and become interesting. Perform yourself.
  7. Consider being silly in public. Sing out loud. Wear funny stuff.
  8. Find ways to need a whole lot less money; share beyond belief.
  9. Have potlucks frequently, with neighbors, co-workers, strangers. Work toward living in extended families.
  10. Take your vacations in your own hometown and spend the money working on projects there that help build community.

Patch’s Recommendations for Doctors

  • Study the infinite literature on love and loving. You will find a clear call for more love everywhere—poetry: Neruda’s Love Sonnets, May Swenson’s Love Poems; psychology: Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving; medicine: Dean Ornish’s Love and Survival.
  • Do five years of field work with people, everywhere you go, being loving with them and receiving any love offered. Find your loving selves.
  • Add humor to your practice; this is easiest when you are already being compassionate. If a patient perceives you love them, they will forgive (even delight in) any humorous experiences you share. You can always cite references about the healing effects of humor.
  • Be a keen and tickled observer of people.
  • Choose to put humor in the public space with a smile on the face, a twinkle in the eyes, and a willingness to greet each person.
  • Practice with various props. Farts are the only thing I’ve found to be universally funny in all countries. There are many little devices on the market, even a glorious remote control farter.
  • Society gives full permission to laugh out loud, always assuming good reasons caused it. So practice public laughing.
  • Study videos of funny people and steal bits from each. There is a gold mine there.
  • Study books on the history of costumes. Have a few made to fit you and use them regularly.
  • Declare a personal intention to be an instrument for peace, justice and care. Then take action.

     “Seven days without laughter makes one weak.” –Mort Walker

     I hope to hear some stories that have brought humor into your lives…thoughts on ways to lighten the seriousness of our spaces. I am grateful for this community, where we are supported in breaking-out of our roles. I appreciate the joy that so many of you bring into my own experience.

     “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” –Rabindranath Tagore

Jessica Feltz
Author: Jessica Feltz

<p> I learned about Community Acupuncture while studying at the Midwest College of Oriental Medicine (MCOM) in the Spring of 2006 when Lisa Rohleder's first article about her clinic appeared in Acupuncture Today. Coming from a middle-class background myself, I was the only student in my acupuncture class to have not experienced the healing benefits of this medicine prior to beginning studies at MCOM. I couldn't afford it. And my family couldn't understand what I was doing by investing in an education that they didn't perceive to be financially sustainable. </p> <p> The Community Acupuncture model is a perfect fit for me, balancing social justice and taoist simplicity with the patient's innate ability to heal him/herself (with a few gentle nudges from strategically placed needles). I am grateful every day to have found CAN and the love it brings into my life. I want to share that joy by spreading the message about how we can create a new health care experience in our communities through each of our very small efforts...and how those very small efforts can in turn change the world. </p> I enjoy my two sons, my 4 cats, and big stacks of books.  I own and operate...

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  1. Thanks! I needed that!

    So, Jessica, when exactly did you become psychic? I was just crabbing at myself for bringing too much of the bartender in me to the clinic when you dropped in to give me permission! Thanks chica! Every morning I go to breakfast with my sister and our friend and we laugh great true belly laughs…  then I go to the clinic where Linda and I laugh our way through the afternoon. Breakfast is just a little warm up. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Great stuff

    Fantastic!  I so very much appreciate this.  Thanks for bringing Patch onto the blog….he really is such an amazing person, a revolutionary figure. 

    I was a pirate on Halloween this past year at the clinic.  I had fake boots, a pirate hat, an eye patch, a plastic sword, and a vest.  I told people some pirate jokes in pirate voice like, “Did you hear about the new pirate movie that be coming out?  It’s rated Arrrrrrr.”  People really dug it….I had asked folks to come in costume, but I didn’t really push it.  I think this year we will have to do something special to promote it.

    Thanks again for lightening the day for me. I want to print this up and consider some of the points for a while.  I think that laughter and a sense of lightness are so important for us to maintain as acupunks, but also as human beings.  These qualities are so attractive..a genuine sense of humor should be taught in practice management classes or on the continuing ed circuit.  What was that old thread about charisma and patient volume that’s lying around here somewhere?



  3. This tickles my funny bone.

    I love it that my helper and I often guffaw noiselessly behind the screens while the treatment room “cooks”.  And I felt a little guilty because some of the patients are really ill and somber, and here we were, laughing our heads off.

     I will try to radiate this joy and humor to all of those patients, too.

  4. PS

    Intergated Medicine need not be an acupuncture needle in every doctors bag, as Ken Wilbur says.  Rather, Integral Medicine can distinguish itself by going beyond treating the patient “body-mind-spirit” and actually treating the practitioner him/herself.  I think the points raised in your blog really gets at this.  The thing about opening a CA practice and getting busy, seeing 70-80 a week consistently, is that as it has grown and I have become more and more comfortable, I am also having so much *FUN*.  Fun meeting and interacting with new people, fun getting to know the people that come for a while, fun cracking jokes and making light of things, fun making a difference and fun having a difference made in my life by the remarkable people I have the privilege of working with on the recliners.  This fun is healing for me; giving acupuncture is receiving acupuncture in this way.  I get treated 4 days a week in this regard.

    Thanks again.

    And thanks to *Nora* who puts these cute star things around words for emphasis.  It beats using italics! 

  5. *shucks*; BEATS ALL CAPS TOO! (unless you really mean to yell)

    Larry, I feel the same way re: getting “treated” on the days I’m treating (especially the busy days – we all get bathed in the qi soup those days)!

    Jess, this is a great post, and reminds me about one of my teachers saying that laughter shakes all the meridians, thereby moving the qi.  Good medicine, indeed!  (I’m still afraid of clowns, though.)

    Certainly we don’t make light of our patients’s suffering (I’m sure Lumiel wasn’t meaning to say she was laughing *at* her patients–I’m sure she was just feeling giddy from all the good qi–okay now I feel self-conscious about my asterisks…)  But I think there’s a difference between taking patients’ suffering seriously, and taking ourselves seriously; and I propose there’s a correlation between our ability to not take ourselves too seriously and our ability to tap into the “genius” discussed in Diane’s post.

    I just watched “The Seven Samurai” last night (again), and there’s the scene where the second recruit, Gorobei, tells the head, Kambei, that he’s recruited another (Heihachi); he says something like, “he’s not the best swordsman, but he is amusing, and will be good to have around to keep up morale.”  And indeed Heihachi is the first of the six “real” samurai to appreciate the worth of Kikuchiyo, who in turn not only laughs and jokes easily, but rages too.   It would be great to embody the qualities of all the samurai (and the farmers), to call upon as needed; but if we can be authentically ourselves, community will fill in the gaps. (Look at the roles the regular bloggers play – and that the longer we create CAN, the more we can play other roles too).

    Sorry such a long response!  Jesus wept (but did he laugh? see “The Name of the Rose” – NOT the movie, the book – for a good argument about that one, and note that the guy who argues “no” is insane and evil.)


  6. I heard long ago that one of the servants of Lazarus told on

    Jesus.  Lazarus’ house was one of the few places where Jesus could really let down his hair, because he was among trusted friends.  And they did laugh, long and loud.

    I think this is a great blog, a wonderful prod to remembrance of our true divinity, which is joy.  Take a look at this, and notice how quickly everyone joins in with the happy happy moves.

    Liverpool Street Station last Sun …Wish I had been there!

  7. I could teel that the dancers were staged,

    but I thought most of the onlookers/participants were real!  For myself, if I’d been in that crowd, I’d have been bouncing along with them. Besides, I happen to believe that T-Mobile actually created some good karma for themselves by engineering those moments of joy at that location.  It’s a win-win. 

    Thank you, Jessica!  I loved that John Cleese video.  There’s always a place for laughter.  People used to get so exasperated with Lincoln when, even during the darkest moments of the war, he spent the last part of every evening reading or telling entertainingly humorous stories to his companions.  Little did his critics realize that laughter was his “medicine” that kept him strong and hopeful so that he could lead the country.

    I’m going to propose something along these lines for our next annual board meeting.