If they buy the premise, they’ll buy the bit
That’s old comedy writer wisdom, usually attributed to Johnny Carson. He knew that of people started smiling when you explained the underlying idea, they would most often be laughing by the time you got to the punch lines. There is nothing more fun than a hot audience, one primed to be enthusiastic because they warmed to the premise, bought in to the excitement, as my bosses have figured out when I turned the room over to them.
An audience is complicitous in their own seduction. If they have decided they want to buy in, they will do whatever they can to create success. It’s much harder to bomb with an audience who paid for $200 opera tickets than it is with drunks who just showed up to get loud.
Comedians are usually not great audiences of comedy. They don’t respond like you want an audience to respond, with warm, engaged, infectious and growing laughter. They don’t share in the punter’s enthusiasm. You can’t afford to get lost in the laughter if laughter is your business.
Instead, they analyze comedy. looking at constructions and references, grasping word choice and cadence in the service of getting the laugh. They approach comedy almost as the old Yankee who said, “That joke was so darn funny that I almost laughed.”
There is a huge business in offering workshops, seminars and consultations that offer the promise of healing. One publication calls this selling — excuse me, “opening hearts and minds to” — the “philosophies, products and services of the new millennium.”
I don’t believe there are any healers in the world. In the end, only you can heal yourself.
There are, of course, people who do help you heal, be they doctors who treat the body, or wise people who help you see your own choices and attitudes in a new way. Healing is always internal, even if it almost always requires the support, intervention and assistance of other people.
Opening the pathways for healing, from just making sure you have soup when you are sick to pinning together bones so they can knit together properly, is an valuable and important job, but it all just facilitates the environment for healing. Others may be able to set you up for better and faster healing, but that is all they can do.
Healing is hard work that you have to do by yourself, no matter how well supported you may be. Sure, it’s better with someone there with you, but in the end, you are the one who has to run the fever and vomit in the bucket. It is your suffering that is part of the process.
People will pay more to be entertained than educated.
— Johnny Carson
My recast for the newage community: “People will pay more to be comforted than confronted.”
If you want an audience to buy the bit, then the premise has to be easy and not challenging. You have to give a sweet legend behind a technique that is pleasurable, loaded with positive sensations and emotions. If it’s not comforting, they probably aren’t going to come back, no matter how much it helped.
Most people don’t really want to heal because healing requires change, requires letting go of behaviours and habits that have become deeply part of them. We didn’t develop our crippling defences for no reason; they protect real wounds, shelter real scars.
Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. What are you willing to let go of, willing to renounce, in order to open up space for new and more vulnerable choices?
If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you; but if you really make them think, they’ll hate you.
— Don Marquis
My recast for the newage community: If you make people feel that they are healing they’ll love you, but if you make them really heal, they’ll hate you.
There is no birth without pain.
— Carl Jung
The journey to enlightenment takes many, many, many small steps. Stepping out of our habits and interacting with others who also feel the need for personal growth is always a good thing. Just the attempt to try a deeper practice that helps us see our world and our choices in a new context is always good, always a step towards the light.
Processing feelings out of the flow of the everyday world allows us to deal with microcosms of experience that we can handle both deeply and in a new way. It lets us operate inside of community that isn’t looking to us for everyday routine obligations, but instead only holds the responsibility of support.
They often say that time changes things,
but actually you have to change them yourself.
— Andy Warhol
To me joy is an anæsthetic. It give us a high that is helps us do the hard work we need to do in the world, be that building new relationships or building new roads. Bliss is not an end in itself, but an essential part of the heroes struggle, keeping them present and engaged for the next challenge.
Many today, though, want joy to be an end in itself, a sensation we crave and seek out, but separated from the real work of change and healing. They begin to venerate the ladder, the doctrine, rather than the place to which the ladder leads, the real work of connection, opening and healing.
I’m a tough sell for newage types because I have seen many premises go by in my time. As a theologian, I know well that one little twist in a good story can distort it out of health and into a tool for manipulative ends. I don’t respond as an audience, I respond as a performer, more likely to observe than to be swept in.
We make up premises, stories, not because they are literally true, but because they offer comfort in the face of the challenges of a human life. They can bring healing — any modality can work — not because of the accuracy but because they support change and growth, making letting go of the old and taking up the new a little easier.
Every premise, though, has the seeds of its own failure built into it. Trying to take it too far just distracts us from the underlying truth that it isn’t the dogma that is sacred, it is the very personal healing it serves to facilitate that we always need to focus on.
Healing is something that comes from inside you. You need others to help point the way, to give you support in the process, but too much dependency on externals only clogs up the process of doing the work you have to do with your own fortitude, endurance and discipline.
The premise may be fun, something that it is a joy to buy into, comforting and diverting, but in the end, it’s just the basis of some laughs, not a bit of pure gospel. It exists to play with, not to replace the requirement for individual thought and personal responsibility.
It’s fun to be seduced. It can be quite an invigorating rush.
Enlightenment, though, always takes work.