As promised, in my July 22 essay, “Promises, Promises, ” I pledged to redeem my neglected Smile Meditation experiment originally discussed back in April. In the July 22 essay, I promised to conduct the two-week experiment not carried out in the spring, and to share my results upon its completion.
So here we go. For two weeks, from July 22 until August 14, I sat in daily morning smiling meditation. This is what happened, and here’s what I learned.
My plan was to start the day with a very short period of still, quiet smiling meditation. My goal was to do this early in the morning, before 9am. Having always been a morning person, I surmised that this would be a successful venture, at least in terms of the time frame. I have attempted quiet meditation in the past, so this effort wasn’t completely novel.
I gave myself miles of leeway. I figured if I could log at least 5 minutes of quiet meditation, I wasn’t doing half-bad. It’s not my nature to sit still. In my world, 5 is better than 0. A helpful reference from past efforts is Five Good Minutes, by Jeffrey Brantely and Wendy Millstine. This book was made for those of us who need some scaffolding for quiet. (My mother used to refer to me as a “giddy” child.) Yes, for some of us, quiet will just have to be a learned behavior.
And, as someone admittedly still more in “doing” than in “being,” I thought this could be perhaps the start of a gradual, long-term effort to be quiet, at least for a few moments — and at the start of the day — rather than the exhausted, droopy-eyed inertia ones feels at the end of the day.
In this case, my goal was to not miss a day, even if the daily efforts at meditation differed. I even made a “Smile Meditation” sign on an index card and taped it to the bathroom mirror as a motivation point.
It was relatively easy to sit in a cushy chair and close my eyes. Only over a couple of days did I begin letting my body relax, so that my weight dropped into the chair. This took several days. (It has taken me years to realize, for example, that I have fooled myself into thinking I’m pretty relaxed during a visit to my dentist. Feigning composure, I sit in the chair with my legs crossed at the ankle and my hands on the arm rests. Reality: my shoulders are hunched forward, my legs are suspended six inches above the chair, and my fingers grip the arm rest as the blood drains from every finger. )
Still, I tried to keep my eyes closed and just focus my attention on my breathing and, more difficult, on smiling. My meditation times typically alternated from five to six minutes, although on two occasions I sat for ten minutes (this is terribly loser-ly, but remember — I was a giddy kid). The most challenging part of the meditation: to sustain the smile during the quiet time. My mind wandered in a multitude of directions, and I had to work to return to smiling.
My friend Nicki offered a very helpful metaphor in a comment on my July 22 post — she suggested I imagine the smile that comes over your face when smelling freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. That scaffolding was a huge help, and I made an effort to employ it each morning. Think about her visual cue for a moment: this kind of smile is a reflection of quiet joy, followed by a deep sigh of contentment. Take another look at the photograph of the woman at the start of this essay. She appears so relaxed and at ease, no? And Nicki’s suggestion quickly brought to mind the way we look when we have that lovely sensory sensation of a wonderful aroma. This led me to consider other aromatic references that might assist my cause. And oh, there were so many …
Fresh oranges …
Steaming coffee …
A beautiful blossoming lilac bush …
The visual images were necessary to the effort required to sustain a smile during these short quiet moments. So, I can safely say that I felt satisfied in my having set aside these minute sessions of quiet each morning for the two weeks.
But … and isn’t there always a “but” in these experiments?
Five minutes is barely enough time to exhale, much less to center oneself and be thoughtful and reflective. Five or six minutes feels like dabbling, rather than committing. Yet, it is a start. This isn’t completely new to me, yet I am still stunned by how difficult it is to just be quiet.
And smile on top of that?
So here’s what I’m thinking after these two weeks. You have to start somewhere. But the smile component is something altogether different. It is different because it implies attitude. It implies point of view. Perspective. Choice.
Yikes. If you choose to smile as you meditate/settle down/quiet yourself, you are suggesting that things are generally OK.
That’s a commitment. With the inclusion of the smile, you are surmising that perhaps things are unfolding in a way that is generally good.
And that’s a commitment. With the smile, you are saying, “I choose to believe that the universe is OK, that things are happening in a balanced way, and that I choose to believe the best things about the universe and all it has to offer.”
This is the “attitude is everything” argument. That’s what I think I took from my two weeks of Smile Meditation. The kernel of the idea, not new – but certainly thought-provoking — is that we choose our attitude about life and all that we experience.
That, of course, implies personal responsibility and accountability, too. Ouch.
But the smile also implies optimism. And I like that, even though it bumps up against my personal experience and my tendency toward a noir perspective on life. The smile challenges that bent. Perspective begets reflection. Reflection nudges choice. The smile directly influences attitude.
I’ll continue this effort, gradually adding a few moments each day — this has become a long-term effort on reflection and my own zeitgeist . It’s a beginning.
I’d like to conclude with a lovely photograph of Audrey Hepburn, the quintessential actress and former UNICEF Ambassador — a gifted woman of personal conviction and dedication to important ideals. Look at this photograph. If you’re interested in joining me in my Smile Meditation Journey, focus on this look of quiet joy and contentment. Isn’t she lover-ly?
It’s your turn, now. How do you quiet yourself? What do you think about the role of the smile in our general take on the Universe?