Oh God, I have turned into one of those people who is telling you that if you smile you will feel better. And you! Look at you. You have turned into one of those people who is reading this type of advice. The corners of your mouth are twitching … but you’re grumpy, because you’re not supposed to have to practice smiling.
Hear me out.
First, listen to what the late, great Martha Graham has to say about the poetics of the smile:
“In all of us who perform there is an awareness of the smile which is part of the equipment, or gift, of the acrobat. We have all walked the high wire of circumstance at times. We recognize the gravity pull of the earth as he does. The smile is there because he is practicing living at that instant of danger. He does not choose to fall.”
Smiling, then, is our survivalist attempt to defy what threatens to knock us off course. It’s our psychosomatic pull in the tug of war that life inevitably wages. Sometimes we have clearly won, and our smile is victorious, celebratory. And sometimes we know that our smile is more tentative, a move to kick the odds back in our favor.
When I saw Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray Love) speak in Decatur a few weeks ago, she referred to a meditation practice that consisted solely of deep, visceral smiling. The book quotes her Balinese medicine man, Ketut:
“To meditate,” he says, “only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver.”
Life is too complicated to expect that we actually be happy all the time. But we can take sweet pleasure and find thanksgiving in so many things. What results is a certain motivation for us to create beautiful things for others to enjoy. So let’s make Ketut proud, shall we?