Most of us, if not all of us, have wondered from time to time what the secret to life is. We have thought, talked, and read about it and listened to our share of spiritual teachers looking for the answer.
I have to admit that it has been challenging to limit this inquiry to just three insights and practices. I didn’t just come up with these answers in a heartbeat. Over dinner with the help of my daughter Savanna I made some progress.
Let’s begin. A big smile is huge. It’s a universal language. When we first meet someone many thoughts cascade through our minds. At a certain level we size up the other person. We want to know who the other person is. Are they a kind person? Can they be trusted? Our first impression goes a long way toward satisfying our curiosity. We look for clues and yes we can be fooled at times. Most of us would agree that a genuine smile goes a long way toward relieving tension between people. When we feel it from our core, we radiate and transcend our physical being. It’s contagious and compelling.
When we smile we usually are happy. And even when we are not at our peak, smiling has the potential to change our mood instantly. I wondered if there was an explanation for this phenomenon.
Some time ago, when I was preparing a program on stress reduction, I came across an article on the science of smiling. It was one of those articles where the author was unknown. “Smiles, frowns, and grimaces were once seen simply as expressions of feelings. Increasingly, scientists are realizing that facial expressions precede feelings and play a role in generating them.
How does this work? One theory suggests that when you use the “smile muscles” at the corners of your mouth, you change the direction of the blood flow inside your face in such a way that it causes the temperature of the blood to drop. This cooler blood enters the region of the brain known as the hypothalamus and causes the release of chemicals that can suppress pain and help a person to feel better.
Cooling the blood may promote the release of endorphins, which, decreases pain and gives you a lift. In short, smiling instructs our brains to feel good.” The implications are enormous. Medical science recognizes the effect that stress has on illness. Could smiling more be the key to health and wellness?
I’ve written about this next insight on several occasions and there is a chapter in Dancing on the River that explores this concept in more detail. How you start your day sets the tone for the day. When you start your day with calmness and focus, there is a greater likelihood that your day will be less stressful. And the corollary is true—when you start your day anxious and in a hurry, you’ll hurry thru the rest of the day playing catch-up. You never do catch-up for what you are trying to catch is an illusion. At the end of the day, most of the work gets done, but you are exhausted because of the stress you felt throughout the day.
If you have been following the work that I do you know that I am a big believer in having a committed daily spiritual practice, which allows you to connect with your center. The exact form is up to you. There are two key words here—committed and practice. When you are committed to a daily practice, you discover your center. When you don’t live from your center, the difficulties in your life seem much more challenging. It’s like driving your car without shock absorbers. Every bump in the road is magnified. Eventually all you see are imperfections. And that’s the way are lives are when we lose connection with our center. The other word is practice. You need to do it. Some days it’s easier than others. I have been practicing meditation and yoga for years, yet I still experience resistance to practicing on some mornings. But I do anyway and usually feel good afterwards.
The third insight is that life is cyclical. Just look at nature’s cycles. As I write this article in the middle of summer, I am fortunate to harvest all that I’ve planted. And nature keeps on giving fruit from the trees that have been here for many years. In the fall, the leaves fall listlessly to the ground; by winter the trees are barren. In the spring we plant the seeds anew and begin a new cycle.
That’s the way our own lives are. Our circumstances and moods change from time to time which contributes to the cyclical nature of our own lives. Some years are smoother than others. There is much uncertainty in life’s unfoldment. When we integrate these practices just discussed into our lives, we are more apt to embrace the inevitable changes on life’s journey as opportunity, as adventure and as possibility.
So there you have it. See what happens. Smile and laugh more. And take time in the morning for your morning program and notice your stress levels decreasing.
Perhaps you already have a practice that works for you. Congratulations—keep practicing. And if you haven’t yet begun, it’s not too late. Let me know what you discover.
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Mark Susnow knows change. He is an executive-life coach, life-discovery guide and recognized thought leader who inspires others to believe in themselves. He is passionate about life being an exciting journey of discovery. His enthusiastic and inspiring keynotes on change, leadership and connection thoroughly convey this message to his audiences. A former trial attorney for 30 years, he integrates what it takes to be successful in the world with the inner wisdom unfolded to him through years of yoga and meditation. In his prior career, he was covered by the NY Times, Boston Globe, and Rolling Stone Magazine. He is the author of Dancing on the River:Navigating Life’s Changes and Discover the Leader Within.