I was in Walmart last week when the overriding feeling of being surrounded by zombies overtook me. I walked over to my son Daniel and half-way joked that we were surrounded by "Walkers" (a term they use for the Undead on The Walking Dead). He laughed nervously but I could tell he knew the energy in the space was off — way, way off. The back of my head started to tighten up and I was having a hard time being able to focus. We had gotten some gift certificates to Walmart for Christmas and decided to use them even though I rarely shop there because I get a weird head buzz (not in a good way) almost every time I go. Some Walmarts are better than others, but the one near us is really hard for me to shop in. I decided not to say anything more until both of the kids begged to go because they were feeling dizzy and uncomfortable. We gathered up what we could buy that day and walked to the register - walking past people with blank expressions on their faces, glazed looks in their eyes and not really looking like they were enjoying their shopping excursion. Our cashier looked miserable and our discomfort got worse, but we were so close to finally being out of there. We fled the glaring fluorescent lights and managed to exit to our car as sunshine dissipated our angst. Both of the kids asked me how I was doing and I responded "Fine, now that we're out of there - but next time we go on-line to shop at Walmart."
We drove to the peaceful repose of Target where we grabbed a quick bite and some Starbucks and finished the list of items we thought we could buy at Walmart. I've always liked the vibe at Target - the icies and popcorn to keep the kids happy while you shop. There are smiling salespeople who look like they enjoy working there. It feels like home - it should because I'm usually there at least once or twice a week. It's comfortable. It's the retail version of "Cheers" - they might not know my name - but the folks at the food court usually remember my order. It's that sort of positive energy that I'm drawn to. This is not a knock at the people who work or shop at Walmart per say, but just an observation of how I perceive the energy at Target as being positive versus the energy of Walmart being negative. Target is a physically and emotionally more comfortable place for me to shop. Now my kids have started to pick up on that same kind of Walmart energy with very little prompting from me except for an occasional snarky zombie comment.
It can be tough to be sensitive in a rather insensitive world where you can leave anonymous insults on Twitter or YouTube or create fake Facebook accounts to trash a perceived enemy. People are not always receptive to the needs of others which creates angst which causes more anger which causes more angst so it becomes a vicious cycle. If you can pick up on those types emotions like me, it effects you on numerous levels. If I walk into a room and the energy is off - I'll feel it no matter how much of a happy face someone tries to put on. I know if a co-worker is having a bad time even before she opens up to me because I can just sense it. Sometimes I can feel their physical discomfort - like a stomach cramp or a fight they just had with a spouse and how tight their chest feels. I've learned over time how to seal off my aura so that other people's emotional turmoil doesn't imprint on me. It's sort of like a psychic raincoat - I can still feel the rain, it just doesn't get me as wet.
I guess that's why I've never been a fan of certain kinds of horror movies - like the ones that show serial killers or evil entities that destroy people. Sure the vicarious thrill of seeing other people suffer at the hands of Jason, Jigsaw or The Grudge is scary fun when you know that you are safe in a movie theater but being in a place where that much fear is conjured up for sheer entertainment just makes me uncomfortable. I'm more likely to see The Walking Dead or The Lost Boys which show how people manage to survive and depend on one another. It's the triumph of the human spirit that really appeals to me in those shows or movies.
So it's natural that I've always been drawn to comedy. I've loved sit-coms since I was a little girl who would watch I Dream of Jennie or Bewitched, or I Love Lucy over and over again. If I woke up with a bad dream, before I would go into my parent's bed, I would try to think of a funny sketch I saw on The Carol Burnett Show. I'd think of Nora Desmond, or the dentist sketch with Tim Conway and Harvey Korman which would make me laugh under the covers and would dry my tears. It would reassure me that everything was alright - in fact I used to pretend that Carol was my second mommy. Laughter always sent the bad things away.
It's interesting that I learned that approach at an early age since there are tons of research that back up the fact that being positive and having a sense of humor helps you feel healthier, helps you combat disease and improves work productivity. According to an article in the British publication The Independent by Roger Dobson in 2008, "Happiness and laughter have been shown to increase natural killer cell activity in blood and free radical-scavenging capacity in saliva, as well as lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It is also thought that laughter causes the release of special neurotransmitter substances in the brain, endorphins, that help control pain. And there are more direct physical effects of laughter, including increased breathing, more oxygen use, and higher heart rate." He goes on to report that according to the Oxford University Press medical journal, Rheumatology, an additional study showed that blood levels of key inflammatory compounds dropped considerably after patients with rheumatoid arthritis watched a humorous film.
Laughter can change the whole feel of a room. It can literally lighten the air and make just about anyone feel better. Yet, there are those that know that people are more vulnerable to negative energy. If they can keep them in a state of constant agitation they can exploit them easier. According to a study by UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center entitled “Using Biological Markers To Measure Stress In Listeners Of Commercial Talk Radio,” hate speech increases the amount of a stress-related hormone, salivary cortisol, which has the potential for negative health implications including the development of cancer and other inflammatory diseases. The research indicated that listeners of a radio segment with high prevalence of hate speech, experienced clinical anxiety and in turn had higher levels of the stress hormone, regardless of their race, ethnicity, ideological alignment with the speaker, or their level of previous knowledge on the topic. You have to wonder if all the health problems that Rush Limbaugh has been experiencing over the years are products of the negative ideology that he has been spewing for decades - the man is a former prescription drug abuser, has a heart condition and yet lives in denial by still being overweight, smoking and drinking wine. I honestly can't listen to more than five minutes of his show without feeling my own blood pressure increasing. But even people who share the same ideology are going to feel upset by agreeing with all the terrible things he's saying. It's a lose/lose situation for everyone but Rush who makes $64 million a year peddling his form of demagoguery.
There is a darker spiritual side to constantly imbibing negative ideas and the energy that it produces - it can actually form a poltergeist. Unlike what the movies would have you believe, poltergeists are actually created by negative energy, anger and stress brought on by living people. It can manifest by causing all sorts of problems from making noises, to moving things to even attacking people. I was going through a really tough time at work about two years ago along with my mother going into assisted living and my siblings at each other's throats. The stress was taking it's toll. I was constantly upset and angry - going to work was extraordinarily emotionally draining and hearing about the family squabbling didn't help. It really could have consumed me if I let it. Worse, those feelings could have created something I couldn't control because I was feeling so depressed and angry. Luckily, I have a supportive husband and found a book called Healing with Angels by Dr. Doreen Virtue which helped put things in perspective. I began to snap out of my funk and even when I was eventually let go from my job, I was emotionally strong enough to handle it. On my last day in my cubicle, I stayed back while the rest of the staff went to a Christmas Tree lighting. I used a few prayers in Healing with Angels to cleanse my work space of all the negative energy that might have accrued there because I didn't want it to affect the person who would eventually be at my desk. As best as I could, I released it and tried to forgive those that needed to be forgiven more for my peace of mind then for theirs.
Having the comedy troupe helped me forge through that difficult period because creating shows that made people laugh helped me and I knew it helped the audience. When we used to do our comedy web-shows at a local coffee shop, folks would walk in not really knowing what we were doing. Once they caught on, they would stay and enjoy, laughing with us and at us. Sometimes they would come up and say that they were having a horrible day but being there with us completely turned it around. I always love getting that feedback because while it's great to hear that we're funny and talented - hearing that we helped lighten their mood means way more. We'd hear from isolated teens in the chatroom that our show was cool because they could make suggestions for scenes. We would perform them without judgement because that's not what the show was about - we just accepted our audience for who they were not because we wanted them to think like us. We were not there to push anything more than a very silly agenda - and being a part of the show helped people feel better.
It's ironic that when the Taliban took over Afghanistan, one of the first things they banned was laughing in public - because if you can spread anger and misery, you can control people. If you are happy and laughing you are more likely to think clearly and objectively which is something that ideologues don't want you to do. If you are angry they can control you because misery loves company. It makes you wonder how Bill O'Reilly's studio must feel most of the time or Rush Limbaugh's or Mike Malloy's radio booth. They might not believe in poltergeists because - they are making money spreading their angst about anyone who does not think like them and that probably makes them happy. But what about the people who believe in what they say hook, line and sinker. What about those that believe the only credible sources of information are FOX News or talk radio? The ones who believe that the president wants to take away all their freedoms and they are victims of a "liberal" or "conservative" agenda. They are the folks I truly feel bad for because most of the time they must sit around with like minded folks feeling a false sense of oppression that is self imposed. Their anger is high, so is their blood pressure and the myriad of health problems it causes. I feel bad that those folks feel so bad.
I'd like to propose an experiment to those that are hooked on their afternoons with Rush and Mike Malloy and their evenings with The O'Reilly Factor or Rachel Maddows - try just not tuning in for a week and see how you feel. Is your sense of outrage less? Is the vibe in the room different because you choose to watch The Big Bang Theory or The Middle rather than the usual talking heads? Life can be full of laughter if you just take 15 to 30 minutes a day to find it. Laughing for half an hour will improve your health and your psyche. Maybe the fine folks at Walmart need to learn that and pipe comedy albums over the sound system instead of soft rock. I might also suggest cutting back on the fluorescents and making it a fun place to work for your staff. Maybe if those changes are made, I might consider going back sometime. In the meantime, I'll find my happy place at Target.