Monday, August 30, 2010

The Levity Project Takes Albuquerque by Storm!

As part of our weekend at the 2010 All America Laughter Yoga Conference, a series of spontaneous public events was sponsored by The Levity Project, a non-profit organization whose goal is "creating social change through public acts of creativity, laughter and celebration. The Levity Project has sponsored events all over the country, and Albuquerque was ripe for some fun!

First, about 100 of us converged on the downtown Albuquerque Trader Joes, where we all entered the store anonymously and began to shop. At a signal from the coordinators, everyone began to dance in the aisles, engaging with customers and staff and simply having a blast. Many customers and employees seemed to enjoy the fun, a few going out of their way to say that we had made their day, while others said, "Who are you people?" and "Please come to my workplace and do this!"

The young man in the green t-shirt pictured below was just one of several customers who happily joined the fun! (Can you find Mary in this photo?)

Next, we walked into a crowded outdoor shopping area and began a "Laughter Party" on a street-corner, putting Hawaiian leis around people's necks and inviting them to laugh with us. Cars stopped, people laughed along, and it was ten minutes of pure unadulterated laughter.

The family pictured below wandered by the laughter party and got right in the spirit of things.

Finally, small groups of volunteers wandered the streets, stopping random passersby and saying "You are amazing!" with gusto. Most people seemed to greatly appreciate the sentiment, although a few appeared slightly apprehensive about being accosted by anywhere from 4 to 10 strangers loudly affirming their amazingness. Still, it was a fun social experiment that went off without a hitch.

The Levity Project creates many events that are quite similar to "flash mob" events that have been well-documented on YouTube and elsewhere. The founders of the project feel that bringing laughter, play and celebration to the streets is a means to world peace, personal change and an improved sense of connectedness. Feel free to visit their website and contact them if you'd like The Levity Project to come to your town, or if you'd like to play along!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mary, Madan Kataria, and Keith

Fun Friday: Laughter Yoga in Albuquerque

Here are some images from a very fun Friday at the 2010 All America Laughter Yoga Conference here in Albuquerque.......

Here's Mary in the Friday evening costume parade as a tomato........

We also did some circle dancing (Dances of Universal Peace) at the end of the night.....

This is Mary with some of her cohorts who were here for the Laughter Coach Training. The second person from the left is Katie West of The Levity Institute, who offers the only Laughter Coach certification in the world (and Mary is well on her way to graduation and certification!)

And finally, the man who made Laughter Yoga a worldwide reality, Dr. Madan Kataria....

Friday, August 27, 2010

Laughter Yoga in an Albuquerque Jail

Over this long weekend, we are ensconced in Albuquerque for the 5th Annual All America Laughter Yoga Conference. Prior to my arrival to the conference yesterday, Mary spent three days training to become a Certified Laughter Coach as a compliment to her new certification as a Life Coach, so stay tuned for more details about our new business venture as coaches!

Yesterday afternoon, our teacher Dr. Madan Kataria of Bombay, India and Jane Davis of Hope Howse brought twelve of us to the Bernalillo Metropolitan Detention Center for a Laughter Yoga session with 90 inmates. This is the largest county jail in New Mexico, and thanks to the work of Jane Davis and Hope Howse, we were allowed entry to the jail and access to one of the pods where 90 inmates are participating in programming geared towards improving their life skills.

Although many of us, including myself, experienced some level of trepidation and anxiety when entering the facility and the pod itself, the ice was quickly broken after Dr. Kataria gave his introduction to Laughter Yoga and the science of laughter and we began the participatory portion of the program. While some of the men hung on the side and only marginally participated, the majority wholeheartedly took part, laughing uproariously, smiling and enjoying more than an hour of the cohesiveness and joy that group laughter can engender.

While we were aware that these men could have been incarcerated for anything from a DWI to aggravated assault or various violent crimes, it also became quickly apparent that they are, of course, as human as the rest of us, and being given this opportunity for a wholesome hour of laughter was a boon to their spirits and their mental, physical and spiritual health. The level of enthusiasm was contagious, and we all shared some very genuine laughter followed by a brief period of handshaking and socializing before our group of 12 had to take our leave.

Mary and I have offered Laughter Yoga sessions in universities, health facilities, senior centers, private parties and other venues, but this may have been the most satisfying session we've ever participated in. Many of the men were obviously very grateful for our visit, and the plethora of hearty handshakes and thank you's were heartfelt and extremely sincere.

Driving back to the hotel and the official beginning of the conference, we were all high from the experience, and many of us are now considering bringing Laughter Yoga to our local jails and prisons, both for the inmates and the officers. Stress is a common state in the jail environment, and bring some relief to those who most need the stress relief was truly a joy and an honor. Any of us can make a mistake or a wrong choice in life, and when seeing those who are incarcerated through the lens of "there but for the grace of God go I", one realizes the essential humanity of these men and the extent to which they, too, deserve the gift of laughter, joy, and unconditional positive regard.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Another Week in New Mexico......

It's been yet another great week here in New Mexico: celebrating my birthday all week with live music on the Plaza every weeknight: surreptitious swims in the pool of our favorite downtown Santa Fe hotel (sshhhhh!); an overnight visit from our dear friends in Taos; and a brief visit with friends from New York who were here in Santa Fe with family. With brilliant blue skies every day, an easy week at work, and restored health, it's been a fun stretch of long summer days.

Aside from engaging in various forms of summer fun and celebration, we recently learned that our casita is infected with two types of mold, and we are gearing up for having to move out temporarily as the mold is remediated. Luckily, we'll be house- and dog-sitting for some community neighbors for more than two weeks beginning this Tuesday, giving our landlords time to (hopefully) schedule the work to be done in our absence. We have no idea when the work will be completed or whether the casita will be a healthy space for us once it's done, so we're prepared for the possibility of having to live in our rig for a while until the dust (and mold) settles (or move elsewhere if need be).

Meanwhile, we continue our grounded adventure in community living as I continue to work my nursing jobs and Mary prepares to officially launch our exciting new business venture. (Stay tuned for more on that soon!)

This past week, house- and cat-sitting for some neighbors allowed us time to bond with Peachy, their very interesting cat.......

And I began to practice on my new birthday guitar in earnest....

We observed some strange desert wildlife that apparently enjoys fresh tomatoes.....

And we took the time to observe the play of shadows on adobe walls......

Through it all, Tina has maintained her happy equanimity......

And we continue to enjoy the many pleasures of community living.....

In the coming week, we will both be going to Albuquerque in order to attend the 5th Annual 2010 All America Laughter Yoga Conference, so stay tuned for highlights from the conference. Our teacher, Dr. Madan Kataria, the founder of Laughter Yoga, will be coming from India for the event, and on Thursday evening will take us to an Albuquerque jail for a Laughter Yoga session with a group of inmates. It should be an exciting time, and we look forward to sharing it with you!

Til then, "be well, do good work, and keep in touch" (with a grateful nod to Garrison Keillor).


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Birthday To Remember

After three days of acute illness, my birthday dawned gratefully on Sunday with a relative cessation of nausea, the blessed absence of headache and fever, and only a lingering malaise that I would not allow to mar my day in the sun.

Mary was kind enough to make delicious French Toast for breakfast with chamomile tea, and following our morning repast, she proceeded to blindfold me and lead me outside for what she termed a "sensory awareness trust walk". Joined by two neighborhood boys along for the fun (and holding Tina for us), Mary led me on a gentle walk through the community, having me touch plants, run my hand along a rough yet somehow smooth adobe wall, and then stop under a tree in the central community plaza to listen to a swarm of bees busily pollinating the arboreal flowers overhead.

I was then led into the Common House, where my blindfold was removed and I was presented with a lovely handmade birthday card. Still not finished with the surprises, Mary then had me sit with my back to her and close my eyes while holding out my hands. A cloth or canvas object was placed in my outstretched hands, and the sound of zippers being opened and closed several times commenced.

When I could no longer bear the suspense (or guess what I was holding), I was allowed to open my eyes to see a miniature "travel guitar" in a cloth case, a gift that Mary was certain would bring me joy and delight. (You see, I very much regretted not bringing my classical guitar on our 10,000 mile journey, and Mary was determined to right that wrong by presenting me with my very own miniature guitar that would take up less space and be my musical companion for the remainder of this peripatetic sojourn.) Needless to say, I'm thrilled, and looking forward to having it restrung with nylon strings for my tender, unpracticed fingertips.

My birthday continued with another return to the Rio Grande 40 miles north of Santa Fe, where we met our son and daughter-in-law for a picnic at a local winery (accompanied by a bottle of local chilled dry rose), and a swim in the river. We also visited the beautiful and special land owned by some new acquaintances in the small town of Dixon.

Ah, a wonderful New Mexican birthday.

Happily, we were visited by dear friends from Taos on Monday, and we spent the evening having a community meal at The Commons and listening to yet another free evening of music on the Santa Fe Plaza. Unfortunately, the music was disappointing Beatles tunes Mariachi-style, so we wandered the streets surrounding the Plaza, visited art galleries, and ducked into our favorite cafe for free samples of gelato.

Walking back to the car, an all-female Mariachi band (Santa Fe's own Mariachi Buenaventura) was playing on the sidewalk across from the Plaza, and the acoustics of the arcade structure above them made their resonant voices carry with great gusto and force. It was a Mariachi tour de force, and the lively crowd spilled into the street, whistling, clapping and singing along as cars and diesel pickup trucks slowed to a crawl, their occupants yelling in Spanish to the musicians.

On the heels of three days of illness, these several days of celebration and birthday fun were sublime, and I am so very grateful to Mary for her kindness and generosity, to Rene and Bevin for meeting us on the river, and for Pam and Bruce, our dear friends of 17 years, for gracing our home with their presence for a brief but magical overnight stay.

Forty-six is looking good, and I am happy to be healthy again and ready for the remaining weeks of our first New Mexican summer.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fun Friday: Canceled Due to Illness

Sadly, what would have been our fourth consecutive "Fun Friday" was cancelled due to my becoming ill on Thursday with some sort of virus. Neither of us ever had anything more than a common cold or our usual chronic back pain during our seven months on the road, and with only catastrophic health insurance, this is a very good thing. My current illness is most likely a viral infection causing garden variety nausea, headache and malaise, but not feeling well is certainly a bummer, not only because of having to cancel "Fun Friday" but because this is also my birthday weekend (I'll be 46 tomorrow).

At any rate, we're lucky to have the free and unfettered use of our neighbors' home during this weekend and the coming week, a very kind offer which allows us to have an extra 1500 square foot home in which to rest and stretch out. It's a treat, and it also reminds us how much we don't want a house of our own and the responsibility and the (inevitable) accumulation of stuff that that would entail.

One of the nice things about this house is its inner courtyard that includes an outdoor bed that's protected from the rain that recently never seems to fall. (Protection from the ubiquitous flies would be nice, too, but you can't always have everything.)

Here's a daytime view of the courtyard from the outdoor bedroom....

Here I am, reclined in the outdoor bed, nauseous and resting....

And this is a nighttime view (without flash) from my reclined position.....

Mary has been taking very good care of me, and I can only hope that I'll feel better for my birthday. Still, plans to travel up to the Rio Grande again for the day tomorrow may be scuttled in lieu of something less taxing. Being sick on one's birthday is never fun, but I'm grateful that it's a self-limiting illness that will no doubt works its way out of my system soon. And after all, there are many more Fun Fridays---and birthdays---to come.