What’s So Wise About a Smile?

Close up of pre-teen friends in a park smiling to camera

Photo by Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

This simple gesture can illuminate our path to better understanding and wisdom.

Awakened wisdom can seem ephemeral, elusive, like pollen. So sometimes just a smile can communicate it best. Here’s partly why.

Mindfulness is becoming popular thanks to Western science. Yet it also draws from ancient Eastern wisdom traditions. As the two fields converge, there are gaps. Consider, for instance, the mind-body connection. No problem for Chinese and other Eastern cultures where the word for physical heart and spiritual mind are the same. But Western science has been following a dualistic worldview. Scientific research, for instance, is divided into a dualism of objective and subjective. Objective is good, and subjective is considered separate and unscientific. They ignore that we ourselves are both the object and subject of our studies. So, up to now, Western scientists have struggled to match up physical experiences and mental ones. This can be like asking, “How do we know if the light in the refrigerator really goes out when we shut the door?” Best maybe to just smile.

A smile reminds us that there’s more to life than concepts and words"

A smile reminds us that there’s more to life than concepts and words. A smile relaxes our armor and lets us accept what’s difficult. A simple smile affirms our intelligent alertness, our discerning curiosity, so we can see for ourselves, through direct experience. A smile can be an act of recognition, and understanding. And a smile can be a sign that what we’re seeking (such as happiness) often doesn’t need to be attained: it’s already present. So a smile can both shine a light on our research trail and serve as our diploma. (Remember, awakening is lifelong learning.)

I don’t worry about Western science. Having trained in Eastern worldviews and wisdom traditions for most of my life, I’m just waiting for it to catch up. Slowly, slowly, step by step.

Excerpted from PAUSE, BREATHE, SMILE: Awakening Mindfulness When Meditation Is Not Enough, by Gary Gach. Sounds True, September 2018. Reprinted with permission.

 

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