Several years ago I was lost in thought as I walked through town, very happily strolling down the sidewalk. As I passed folks coming towards me, they would nod and smile, so I nodded and said hello back. What surprised me was that it kept happening over and over again, and I wondered why I was eliciting these warm responses. I hadn't overtly initiated contact, so why were so many people being so friendly towards me? I've always considered myself as sociable, but in this culture saying hello or nodding to a stranger is usually ignored and often frowned upon with suspicion. Following weeks of these interactions I realized that I had been walking around with a soft smile on my face for several months, as it was a particularly joyful and fulfilling period in my life. These folks were mirroring what I was experiencing inside and emanating on the outside, so their responses were to that warmth and openness of energy that I was feeling.
Once that realization hit, I decided to practice the “Inner Smile” more proactively and to notice what effect it had on my life and everyday encounters. I'd remind myself when I forgot and make an effort to bring a soft smile to my face, not only to connect with others, but as a way to connect more deeply with myself. I fully engaged with the world around me, feeling lighter, freer, and more present to each moment.
Sitting on my yoga mat one morning last Fall, I decided to explore the inner smile during my personal yoga practice. I immediately noticed the impact on the depth of my ability to quiet the mind and go deeper into the layers of each asana. Even on those days when I felt grumpy, when I remembered the inner smile, it helped me to lighten up and let go of my irritation more easily, just through the simple act of the inner smile. As my energy shifted, it allowed me to grow calmer and more at ease. Its pull drew me into a more relaxed state of being and lightened the load.
We often hear that peace lies within us, so to look inside for the truth that sustains our souls. This is the truth, but that which is simple gets complicated by our egos, as it hooks us into old patterns of thoughts, emotions and actions. It's often the case that the simplest practices boggle the mind and seem to be the most challenging for us to accomplish. However, the inner smile is a tool that is easily accessible once we begin to pull it into practice, even during those days when we don't feel much like smiling. It's a way of softening and making friends with yourself, taking the sting out of life's irritations so we can get perspective and not overreact.
Until recently, it hadn't occurred to me to bring the inner smile into daily meditation, and there as well, the shifts in my ability to sit more quietly have been profound. It's moved the thoughts out of my head and into a feeling state in my heart center, so I'm more aware of the inner tunings of my breath. It's allowed the energy to flow more freely up the spine and into the upper chakras, bringing with it deep peace.
Personally, I like the simplicity of sitting quietly, watching the rise and fall of my breath, relaxing my tongue and outwardly smiling with a soft turning up of the corners of my mouth. You might try the following guided meditation practice of the inner smile if that helps to facilitate your ability to rest in equanimity.
Sit comfortably on a mat or chair, let the jaw soften and bring the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Allow for a soft smile, relaxing the lips and facial muscles. Bring focus to the Ajna center between the eyebrows and imagine a place in nature where you feel held so you can truly relax and let go. Let this energy move into the center of your head, keeping the soft smile and gentling the eyes, so the smile extends to your eyes and to the inside of your brain as well. Then send the inner smile to any other places in the body that may be calling for attention. Let that energy swirl through the organs, muscles and bones; anywhere that wants to be held. Direct the inner smile to yourself, your loved ones and to those who may may be causing you distress. Let the warmth of the inner smile wash over you with its healing touch. Keep a balance between focused intent and remaining relaxed. Once complete, bring the energy into the lower belly, noticing internal warmth and then slowly open your eyes.
Initially you might feel a little goofy walking around with a grin on your face or you might feel like a fake, so notice those thoughts and then let them go, recognizing that it's the ego's job to keep you hooked. This is a lovely practice that unhooks old patterns that keep us small, transforming the world into a friendlier, more open place.