As part of ongoing efforts toward more “Visceral Awareness” (see my first blog in this series on mindfulness), I’ve been practicing wearing what Buddhists call the “Buddha half-smile.”
When I was a much younger nerd and quite bereft of self-confidence, I often would not look people in the eye. I pushed myself to become better at this as an older teen, however, to the point where more than a few people jokingly remarked that I had “an intense stare” reminiscent of Cyclops from the X-Men. This led to more awareness around facial expressions and body language in general, both of which can often be misinterpreted and lead to unnecessary stress.
Enter the “half-smile!” Nguyen Anh-Huong and Thich Nhat Hanh offer the following in their book, Walking Meditation:
“As you make the effort to let go of your worries and anxieties, please smile. It may be just the beginning of a smile, but keep it there on your lips. It is very much like the Buddha’s half-smile. As you learn to walk as the Buddha walked, you can smile as he smiled. Why wait until you are completely transformed, completely awakened? You can start being a part-time Buddha right now! The half-smile is the fruit of your awareness that you are here, alive, walking. At the same time, it nurtures more peace and joy within you. Smiling as you practice walking meditation will keep your steps calm and peaceful, and give you a deep sense of ease. A smile refreshes your whole being and strengthens your practice. Don’t be afraid to smile.”
Now…this is quite different from the annoying habit that some people (mostly men) demonstrate of telling other people (mostly women) things like, “You should smile more!” The half-smile is an individual choice, motivated by a desire to feel connected to inner joy rather than any effort to present some fake, I’ve-got-my-shit-together persona to the world. Like practicing focusing upon your breathing, practicing the half-smile is just another way to become more fully connected to your body in a world that loves to compartmentalize.
I find that as I practice the half-smile, it’s hard to dwell on negative emotions. I’m more aware of rivers of peace and gratitude that I feel inside, and I also feel more openness to the people around me. I create a more inviting space where others can be in authentic community with me.
Are you still reading this? Pause now and notice your own facial expressions. Practice the half-smile, and try to remember to practice it throughout your day. Take note of the energy within and around you, and how others interact with you.
I end this blog entry the same way as the previous one: Let’s keep doing this practice together, even if we’re not able to discuss it or observe each other. We’ve got this! (Well, we might not have it yet, but with perseverance and mutual support, we shall progress.)