Smile! It’s contagious!

Be Well Be Happy

Yesterday I found myself sitting, slumped on a steamy hot subway bench, wearing too many layers, staring downwards, expressionless at the dirty, brown platform tiles. It was a few days after Thanksgiving and I was tired after walking all over Manhattan. I’d finished my book and my phone was dead and the station was eerily quiet with no trains and no announcements and a steadily increasing crush of resigned commuters.

The minutes passed by. My brain chugged along the lines of hot, tired, thirsty, nothing to do but wait, resignation, irritation, getting really annoyed now… 

 And suddenly I remembered to smile. I’d been reading a passage the previous evening from Buddha’s Book of Meditation by Joseph Emet, a Dharma teacher trained by the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, and the wise words floated across my negative brain. We smile with our face, but that’s the only visible part of a smile. We can train our brains to connect the smile on our faces with a smiling heart and a smiling body.

As I remembered this, and smiled, I was suddenly aware of the change in my posture. My shoulders had moved back and down, away from my ears. My spine was straighter. I felt energy in my abdomen, rather than a sad, defeated hunched over slump. Instead of staring at the dirty ground in front of me, I was glancing around the platform at my fellow travelers. And, interestingly, my breath was deeper and slower — it had space to breathe in me. I felt so much better!

We boarded the train, finally, and my smile came along for the ride. I glanced around, because now I was on a mission to see if my newfound joy was going to have any effect on my fellow travelers. Unfortunately, absolutely everyone was hunched over a screen, apart from one child who looked over at me quickly, smiled, and then re-engaged with his phone.

This was a shame because joy is contagious. You can catch it. When you watch a child play, or a puppy frolic, it’s hard not to laugh or at least enjoy the spirit of lightheartedness. If you can view a competition with no bias, just sharing the enjoyment of the talent, the skill and the exhilaration of the winners, their joy is contagious. When you celebrate a friend’s birthday, or graduation, wedding or announcement of a new baby, you are sharing their good news and the joy passes on. When we stay in our senses, without getting too bogged down in the past or the future, and allow ourselves to be a part of another person’s joy, we can experience that transformation from ho hum to something so much more beautiful.

I would like to say that by the time I arrived at my destination, the whole subway car was filled with smiling, joyful people, but unfortunately that didn’t happen — in fact this being New York, if someone’s eyes strayed in my direction, they quickly scuttled off probably thinking I was some mad old nutter. But it felt good to carry my smile through the boroughs. Emet writes, “Let the smile be your home. If you are sitting, come home to your smile with every breath. If you are walking, come home to your smile with every step. Do not let thoughts take you away from your smile. Let the smile be the expression of your life….”

So I will continue to smile, and be well and be happy, and look forward to catching yours as we head into the Christmas season.

Sarah has been practicing yoga for over 20 years and teaches at Ocean Bliss Yoga. Born in London, she has lived for 30 years in Rockaway and has raised three children and countless dogs and cats here by the beach.

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