Today’s Challenge: The Alchemy of the Smile

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It’s hard not to wear a blissed out grin all around Ubud. Of all of the places I’ve been, it’s the one where I feel the most connected and cocooned, yet inspired and introverted. It’s a town that stretches those who want to be stretched, ahead into the possibilities of new ways of living and back toward the depths of buried circumstances one may care to keep dusty. In the ark of my 24 hours (thank you, Kate Plumb!), I learned that a day of smiling takes a lot more than simply grinning at everything from rice paddies to happy babies.

It starts with those gaping grins, which are simply a vehicle to connect. Smiling has been a super-tool in my trusty solo-traveler tool belt, as it’s led me to new encounters and new people. However, it’s hard to stay on the surface of such a smile forever — the “how are you”s and “where are you from”s get weary after a while. My morning started with light smiles and instant depth (this is Ubud…) with three lovely ex-pat ladies, whom I would later meet for the afternoon. Gaping grins continued to dot my day, ever the energy booster during a dull moment, but a smile that I’ve often taken for granted slowly began to take its place.

It started in the home of a Mayan Astrologer, who began our session with dancer-like gestures to paint new dimensions of time, and an immediate break for a quick downward dog fix to soothe her back. My old snap smile, the one with the quickened pace and raised eyebrow, popped in as I sat nervously in half lotus anticipating the next few hours. As we talked about hidden talents, personal challenges and cycles of my life, my snap smile softened, but not into that familiar gaping grin. It moved lower and deeper, as I shared hopes and fears that melted into her predictions. She nodded with her hands over her heart, draping them out, over and around the air and sighed. With a deep, knowing smile.

My face softened and slowed (a relief to my sore, over-used cheeks), and I realized that I was smiling without moving a muscle. Just falling into the slowness and lightness I felt swirling through me. Our conversations moved deeper, to a point of that gripping softness that often precedes a tear. But it wasn’t a tear of extremes, like sadness or joy, just simple presence and purpose that settled into a wordless, toothless upturn.

Through my many temple visits, I’ve seen a lot of Buddhas and have wondered more than a few times why there aren’t more grinning, giggling statues for a teacher so happy and enlightened. But from settling into the deeper, more balanced, less ecstatic smile, I stumbled upon that smile that’s authentic connection. I felt that deep smile when I hugged a fifteen year old who shared with me what she was going through with her friends and family, and when I fell into deep relaxation during yoga nidra (also known as yogic napping… or my new favorite type of yoga!). I felt it as my unexpected companions and I giggled over a smorgasbord of raw desserts and social media mental-health pacts. (I have promised to only “like” ugly pictures if I Instagram before meditation.) I felt it as the brightness of a rising full moon drew me to the window in the middle of the night.

A day full of smiling doesn’t mean constant euphoria. It can be a happy, giggly high. A way to get out of yourself and into a conversation. Armor in an uncomfortable situation. Genuine compassion and care. Inner knowledge and understanding. Softness so guttural that it cracks perception and expectation.

In all these roles, it’s an alchemist. Resentment breaks into a glint of gratitude. Skepticism melts into a modicum of compassion. Fear sprouts into the seeds of new friendships. So smile at your smiles… See what happens and what you discover from smiling for the entire day. Either way, it’s good for the soul and sagging jowls!

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2 responses to “Today’s Challenge: The Alchemy of the Smile

  1. Paying off those braces, paid off for sure !! You look radiant and pretty as a picture. LL PXXX

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