Smiles are attractive. We all sense it. They instantly make anyone look better, and they’re medicine for the mind, the soul and the body. Genuine smiles are uplifting, and if we look deeply, they’re also quite transcendental and slightly mystical. Think of the enigmatic Mona Lisa smile.
If we’re sensitive, we can easily tell the difference between the real ones and the fake ones, even without highly developed psychic abilities.
We take them for granted too often, but if we care to look a little closer they can unlock a new and very useful dimension to our process of awakening, and help us with one of the hardest parts: Staying alert and mindful.
Besides the practical benefits to spiritual growth, there is plenty of scientific evidence to confirm our intuitions about smiling.
The Science of Smiling
Smiles are universal and instinctive. Ultrasound images of infants in the womb have shown that even unborn babies can smile. Research confirms that smiles make us feel good, and stimulate the hardwired reward mechanism in the brain, releasing endorphins.
They’re contagious, and actually suppress the conscious control we have over our facial muscles, like the Zygomatic Major muscle, and so we smile automatically when we see someone else smile. New discoveries about mirror neurons show that when we observe something like a smile, or an uplifting creative activity, we actually mimic the other person’s neural patterns.
A lot of the research reinforces what we already know intuitively – smiling helps us heal emotionally and physically, and fight depression. We know that smiles are important for effective marketing and customer service too – even the fake ones.
Real and fake smiles have been given names to help us technically differentiate them. The real ones are called Duchene smiles, and the fake ones are non-Duchene.
Scientists Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman wanted to know whether those forced smiles can help us cope with stress. Their method was interesting. Test subjects had to use pencils or chopsticks to hold up their smiles while performing complex tasks. What were their findings? To quote the intrepid researchers: “There are both physiological and psychological benefits from maintaining positive facial expressions during stress.”
It’s not exactly news to the awakened.
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
It’s fascinating research, but we don’t need scientists to stick things into our mouths to know what smiles are all about. Even so, we take them for granted, and we might easily forget that they also point to a deep esoteric truth.
The True Esoteric Nature of the Smile
Genuine smiles remind us of our true nature, on the deepest level. Just like laughter that comes straight from the belly, they remind us what it feels like to be an authentic human being.
Who can really say where smiles come from?
The well of life’s vital force bubbles up from within, and splashes out onto a face for everyone to see. Smiles are part of who we are, at the very core.
It’s easy to get hung up on trying to become more spiritual, more awakened, and more enlightened. Smiles remind us that it’s not as complicated as we like to pretend. Enlightenment and the awakened states are natural, and intuitive. Just like smiling, we can’t really force it.
It’s true that we have to work on ourselves, but the ‘work’ part is more about staying alert in our minds and hearts to negative patterns that stand in the way. When we drop those, what remains is our natural state – the smile, and the deep feeling of serenity and connectedness to everything.
“From where does this delight come when you are not doing anything? It comes from nowhere, or, it comes from everywhere. It is uncaused, because the existence is made of the stuff called joy. It needs no cause, no reason. If you are unhappy you have a reason to be unhappy; if you are happy you are simply happy – there is no reason for it. Your mind tries to find a reason because it cannot believe in the uncaused, because it cannot control the uncaused – with the uncaused the mind simply becomes impotent. So the mind goes on finding some reason or other. But I would like to tell you that whenever you are happy, you are happy for no reason at all, whenever you are unhappy, you have some reason to be unhappy – because happiness is just the stuff you are made of. It is your very being, it is your innermost core. Joy is your innermost core.”
How Smiles can Help with Spiritual Growth
One of the most difficult obstacles to spiritual awakening is that we have the habit of forgetting to watch our thoughts and emotions as they arise. When they do arise, and we’re not conscious of them, we tend to get carried off by the train of thought and lose our state of serenity and equanimity.
We obsessively attach those thoughts and feelings to our sense of identity, out of habit, without even knowing that we’re doing it.
For example, we see someone do something violent and degrading to someone else, we might say to ourselves:
“That makes me so upset! People like that don’t deserve to be called human!”
Unconscious ego identification with our automatic reactions drags us down from higher states of mind. Instead of compassion and love, we’re feeling anger, and we’re judging. True – what happened wasn’t good or right in any way, and it’s inexcusable – but we’ve let it creep into our inner world, and ruin our peace of mind. Instead of making things better, we’re actually adding to the problem in a subtle way. We’re not conscious enough to separate the feelings, and lift ourselves up out of the situation.
As just about everyone who is into spiritual awakening knows, the key to maintaining our awakened state of compassion and love is mindfulness. We need to stay alert, and keep awake.
A useful technique is to use a trigger, and associate that trigger with remembering.
For example, some people use doorways as a trigger. Each time they go through a doorway, they remember to stay conscious and alert, no matter what happens on the other side. Over time it sinks in, and becomes a new and useful subconscious habit.
We can use anything as a trigger: Switching on a light, crossing a street, or when the wind blows. We can also use a smile – and it can be one of the best triggers, because of the nature of smiling.
If we can gradually train our minds to see our own natural state – our higher, evolving consciousness – each time we see someone smile, and use it as a trigger to remind us of what we’re trying to achieve, it can be a wonderful catalyst to growth.
It’s very simple, and easy to implement. Here’s how:
Each time you smile, or see a smile, tell yourself to remember what you’ve just learned from this article. Remind yourself of those wonderful, positive feelings you associate with awakening. Feel it in your gut. Make it real and authentic, and visceral.
Keep on doing it very deliberately for some time. Smile at yourself in the mirror, and remind yourself. Become mindful when you see a smile on TV, or on a billboard, or a magazine. Add it to your routine, or your mindfulness regime.
Always remember to relax about the whole process – it’s as natural as smiling, after all.