HUMOR In Health – Connection and Holding Space

[From The Dancing Doc]

HUMOR IN Health – Connection and Holding Space

by Sharon Montes, M.D.

The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.                                                                                                  — Voltaire



“Se paracen iguales.” (They look the same.)

Resident of psychiatric hospital in San Jose comparing his 10 inch tattoo with the face of  Patch Adams


As I write, I also celebrate World Laughter Day. Earlier today my mom and I attended a laughter yoga meeting in a local park. As the group  sat on the grass, the facilitator led us through our final laughter exercise.  He told the story that in celebration of World Laughter Day, the earth was sharing jokes with our hands and feet. Slowly those jokes traveled through skin, muscle and bone towards the center of our body. The elbows were a bit slow and needed to have the jokes retold by the thigh bones.  Our heart got the jokes and laughed and laughed. Eventually the jokes traveled to the top of our head. (heads???) The hairs thought the jokes shared by mother earth were so funny that the hairs had a party, and curled with laughter.

Attending my first laughter yoga meeting was just one of the “research” opportunities that showed up to provide material to complete this column. Gathering thoughts, emotions and words for this column has been a lot of fun. A few of the areas we will explore include:

  • Reliving the magic of doing caring clowning in Costa Rica with Dr. Patch Adams and team.
  • Meeting and claiming the  “Cabbage Head” part of myself
  • Gaining clarity about what it means to “hold space” and “lighten up”

Last fall I joined the Gesundheit! Institute Caring Clown trip to Costa Rica.  ( ) Our group consisted of about 20 volunteers that ranged in age from 13 to 64 years old and originated from Canada to South America and Japan. Dressed as clowns we visited a children’s hospital, a  San Jose “ghetto”, a psychiatric hospital and a women’s prison. We were encouraged to be present with open hearts and no cameras so most of my memories of that transformational trip are recorded in the camera of my heart. So I will share some journal snapshots of Caring Clowns in Costa Rica.

Children’s Hospital

Children’s response to my parakeet puppet:

  • A 10 year old boy – sad and telling the story about other youth using rocks to kill the parakeets that live in his village church.
  • A 9 year old girl who grabbed the puppet and wanted to twist off its head, the other children and I holding space for her to transform her anger to tickling the puppet.

Wow – from clowning to a triggering a window for environmental education and an opportunity for play therapy.

What else is possible?

Psychiatric Hospital

  • The synchronicity (aka magic, power, unity)  of a patient having a large tattoo of a tall thin clown on his back
  • Eight medical students plus Patch standing clustered in his underwear, surrounded by circle of psychiatric patients giving them all a hug. This was preceded by a patient saying he couldn’t do this because he was a patient.

Patch's underware

Patch’s Underwear – shared by people all over the world

How much healthier would our health care system be if we could freely exchange hugs with everyone; spend more time with open hearts and be open to everyday magic?


La Carpio – (Area in San Jose where many Nicaraguan refugees have been marginalized)

La Carpio

“Quiero ser alguien importante” ( I want to be someone IMPORTANT!) —  15 year old Willy Robles Aguileras – President of youth club in La Carpio – San Jose

A young man watched our group as we paraded through La Carpio. I offered him my 10-inch blue sequined cloth microphone and started to interview him asking his name, his dreams, and if he had a message for people living outside of Costa Rica. Willy sang a rap song about prejudice and living in La Carpio. As our parade passed through the streets of La Carpio, Willie then became our guide, enthusiastically calling others to join the clown parade.

As part of my commitment to holding space for youth and their neighbors to be seen and heard, I share the link to the YouTube video “La Carpio.”  (Song and Lyrics composed by Douglas “the Transformer” – not the official video, this one is nice because it has lyrics subtitles and more images of the neighborhood. (

How do you use this moment to create moments of connection?

How do you hold the space for others to be seen and heard?

How do you hold the space to see and hear yourself?

Women’s prison

  • The prisoners joking about their vacation time spent in the “spa.”  The pleasure of not having to pay rent, shop for food, or deal with the hassle of commuting to work.
  • The prison director bending policy and protocol and getting in Patch’s underwear AND the facial expressions of the guards and prisoners when that happened.
  • The guards and prisoners singing and marching together in a parade through one of the buildings.

Humor and play opening hearts,  creating bridges expanding and deepening relationships?

When did you last PLAY?

Tell a joke?

Act Silly ?  (The origin of silly  meant happy, blissful, kindhearted and blessed)  reference

Street Encounters

  • 12 bicycle-riding police officers stopped at a light, waiting to cross the street. All of them were stone-faced and serious. Our bus paused in traffic perpendicular to where they were waiting. All the clowns in the bus waved, smiled or made silly faces. One-by-one, each of the officers melted. One serious man persisted frowning. We all focused our attention on him. He CRACKED and began to smile, a grin that lifted his cheeks and showed his teeth. Less than 60 seconds to relax an entire group of officers.
  • Abi and  I walked the streets of San Jose spreading smiles. We entered a bakery to share pastry. It was Becky’s Birthday. She LOVES clowns – we shared song and clown nose. Happy Clowns!

The FREEDOM to hug almost anyone, to share a piece of cake with a homeless man, to sing and dance.. Freedom gained by wearing a big red nose.

What would the world look like if we all acted like clowns?

How happy would the earth and its inhabitants be? Beck birthday

Becky’s birthday. Cake and Clowns at the Bakery. 

 Afternoon Workshop

After our morning clown expeditions,  we would spend the afternoon in workshop. One of the most transformational experiences of my week in Costa Rica was the “I LOVE ME” workshop led by Patch. For 16 minutes we practiced repeating the words “I LOVE ME” silently and aloud. (To my memory this is what we did and how we did it. Apologies for any errors.)

We spent 2 minutes doing each of the following exercises.

“I LOVE ME” – silently  repeating  to self

“I LOVE ME” – repeating statement aloud to self

“I LOVE ME” – silently repeating to self while hugging self

“I LOVE ME” – spoken aloud while hugging self

“I LOVE ME” – silently  repeating  to self  while looking at ourselves in a mirror

“I LOVE ME” – spoken aloud while looking at ourselves in a mirror

“I LOVE ME” –  silently  repeating  to self while maintaining eye contact with partner

“I LOVE ME” – spoken aloud  while maintaining eye contact with partner

Since then, this has become one of my favorite stress-management practices.  I tap my chest (visualizing my thymus  – lovely immune system center) and repeat “I LOVE ME!”

When was the last time you spoke to, hugged or saw yourself with absolute total love? When was the last time you spoke to, hugged or saw yourself with total self- acceptance?

When was the last time you spoke to, hugged or saw yourself with total gratitude?

Ok, now moving from Costa Rica to Colorado. About two weeks ago, I attended a relationship workshop led by Joan King   I received two gifts at the workshop  –  a comment from a fellow participant and  a visual image that appeared to me during a meditation. My friend committed to “invite and welcome the unknown” into her life. As someone who has spent many hours worrying about and avoiding the unknown, I loved my friend’s affirmation.  Within three days, this message was twice repeated in written form – once while visiting my mother’s church and once again while attending  my daughter’s church.  To me the “unknown” is that pool of infinity; the tao; the source; and by not only holding space for it but INVITING and WELCOMING I am opening my life to infinite possibility on a regular basis.

Also,   during the workshop, I experienced the clear vision and  sensation  of a head of cabbage in my lap. Given that I was in the midst of a fairly deep and quiet meditation, and given that I don’t usually have clear images, I was quite surprised and burst into laughter. I later decided that this aspect of myself would be named  “Cabbage Head.”

Every time I reconnect with that image and energy I LAUGH. I also have found many more opportunities to laugh, to be SILLLY.  Going back to that definition of silly as “happy, blissful, kindhearted and blessed”

So I sincerely wish YOU the SPACE for the unknown to manifest in unexpected SILLY WAYS

With love and gratitude

The dancing doc


sharon montesSharon Montes, M.D. – practiced and taught family medicine in medical schools for 17 years. Former medical director of University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine, Dr. Sharon Montes is currently living in Loveland, Colorado, joyfully dancing with 10,000 things and starting a Lifestyle Medicine practice. Her email is, her Skype ID is “livingjoynow” and her blog site is

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