Smiling (more)


Everything takes practice.  Practice makes progress (in either direction: beneficial or un-beneficial).  I think this can be one of those teachings where we can understand it but perhaps only on an intellectual level at first (as is true for many Buddhist teachings).  When we grasp a teaching with only our minds we don’t get the benefits of understanding the whole teaching on a deeper heart level, which can often be a stumbling block to practice.

Smiling is something I personally practice and I find it an important mindfulness tool.  I’ve shared it multiple times before on this blog but one of my favorite quotes is from Thich Nhat Hanh that says, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”  This quote contains very profound teachings.  Looking deeply I see the teachings of interbeing, impermanence, and non-duality in this quote.

I’m a smiling type of person.  My mom is a smiling type of person too.  So I grew up with smiling.  And while I may have an easier time smiling then others who were not raised in a smiling sort of environment, because I’ve had more time to practice, that doesn’t mean I don’t continue to put effort into cultivating the art of smiling.

Sunset on a quiet Lake, glowing Clouds mirroring in the Water

Part of what I see in regards to not fully understanding that everything does indeed take practice is the common misperception that people are just born a certain way.  We see someone who’s really good at playing the guitar or singing or quilting or painting or playing football or cooking and we think: Man, I could never do that.  They’re so good!  Now of course it’s true that there are some prodigies out there who are born with certain extraordinary talents and skills but let us remember that this number is extremely low and prodigies are very rare.  A vast majority of us practice and practice and practice to gain skill at whatever it is we’re doing.  Along these same lines I’d like to share another quote that I really like:

“If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.” – Michelangelo


So back to my own practice of smiling.  That in which we practice is that in which grows and strengthens.  The more we practice the more we keep practicing and the more skillful we become and the easier it gets.  And I practice to smile – which is to say that not every smile I offer is a “natural” one.  Although I have many “natural” smiles that don’t take very much effort I also have a lot of smiles that embody the second part of the quote I shared earlier: …sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.  I make it a practice to smile in situations when I’m lacking energy, nervous or feeling self-conscious and it increases my enjoyment of what I’m doing.  (To clarify, I’ve put the word natural in ” ” because while many of my smiles are natural they are that way because I’ve put a lot of time and energy into them over the years.  I was not born with a smile – I practiced and practiced and practiced until it became a natural response.  Sometimes we can encounter the word natural and have a lot of misunderstandings about it.)
I’ve had friends and acquaintances and even people I don’t know comment on how happy I’ve looked while doing certain things such as dancing, drumming, spoken word, or while on retreat.  What they don’t understand is that a lot of those smiles contain effort – I am not a “natural” smiler when it comes to performing anything in front of others nor did I used to be a smiler when it came to being on retreat.  I work on those smiles.  And the more I work on them the more I keep doing the work, the more skillful I become, and the easier it gets.  It’s a very simple approach really (not easy, but simple).
Practice = More Practice = More Skill = Easier
Smiling is not just something nice to do when we feel like it, it’s an important mindfulness tool to develop and a crucial element in cultivating more joyfulness in our lives and in the lives of others.  Please practice to smile more dear friends, our world needs more happy people.

4 thoughts on “Smiling (more)

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