This morning, in passing by one of our mirrors at home, I had a brief glance at myself, something I have been doing all my life. As I kept walking, the image lingered in my mind and for the first time, I was taken aback and returned to the mirror. “Who’s this?” I thought. After a few quiet moments I realized that IT was beginning to happen. Youth and “beauty” are getting lost behind the passing of years. It surprises me that I am surprised about it, as though no one had ever told me that this was going to happen. But there is a difference between knowing/hearing and experiencing it.
I immediately mentally pick myself up and begin to transform that somber, flesh-hanging stranger looking at me with that familiar smile. Again, I am surprised at how simple it is, in that moment, to change my attitude. “You’re at that threshold where it still doesn’t take too much to transform yourself into the face that you know so well, that you expected to see this morning: that familiar body you’ve been living with and inside for over fifty years.”
A smile is the most natural facelift. It refreshes and brightens the eyes, the cheeks, the mouth. A smile is a door that opens and through it flows lightness, trust, connection. It brings down barriers, even within oneself. It not only expresses the obvious: joy, happiness, love, but it also creates a ripple of energy that turns coal into gold.
Try this simple experiment: When sitting in a bus, a train, waiting in line or walking in the street, look into a person’s eyes for a split second longer than is the norm and smile at them and witness a phenomenon arise. See as protective layer upon layer fall off in an instant. I do this often and am always so pleased with this brief connection with a total stranger. In a split moment, they can go from frightened, angry, sad, pensive, sleepy, nervous into bright, friendly, trusting, thankful. It is as though a window into the common denominator of true self, innocence and familiarity is opened. A moment which strips away all that we have built to separate and protect us from what is unknown. It is not necessary for me to know anything else about this person because at its core we are all the same, and this is what we recognize in this moment of magic. The hard exterior no longer exists.
And so, I take this reflective opportunity to practice self-compassion and return to the mirror with a smile on my face. “Wonderful!”. I am thankful that I have always been a smiling person. Now more than ever I realize how good it is for me to keep smiling. And for you. Unless you choose to fall into the trap that sells you a false image through the knife, the suction or the syringe, practice smiling more and look at yourself. Forget fighting the truth that you are aging and practice accepting every weakness, wrinkle, flabbiness. Because inside you are still as young as you ever were and it lies in your hands to open that window. It does take a lot of practice, acceptance and patience. We will fall back over and over. I do and I will. But really, we have no choice so why not give up the fight and ride the wave?
One of the things I found for myself is that the greatest learning and wisdom that I often have been privileged to be present with is actually the transition of a person, their death, and not being afraid of death. And I think the other aspect is, at least for me, to appreciate that every day, I have the capacity to, through my actions, improve the life of at least one person. What we forget sometimes is, even smiling at another person, which takes very little effort — for that person who receives that, it can mean an immense amount. And not to forget that these small, little actions, these little ripples, can actually end up creating a tsunami if each of us engage in them. Remember — and we know this from the science — when a person sees another person engage in a positive behavior, they’re many, many times more likely to engage in that behavior themselves. When they see another person act with kindness and with generosity and with gratitude, it becomes infectious.
From an interview on “On Being with Krista Tippett” with James Doty who is a clinical professor of neurosurgery at Stanford University and founding director of CCARE, the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.