Thursday, September 23, 2010

smile practice

"Fear can be conquered...You can step on fear, and therefore, you can attain what is known as fearlessness. But that requires that, when you see fear, you smile." - Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Having a sense of humor can be hard when your children are screaming in the middle of the grocery store, your favorite pot and the dinner in it are burning on the stove, or you realize you left the lunch sitting on the counter at home. It can be hard to smile when you are in the middle of one of those moments of feeling so completely overwhelmed and undone by the journey of parenting that you think "I can't do this".

In those moments, if you can remember to try and breathe, you may find that underneath that feeling of not being able to handle your life, your children, your reality, underneath the current of thoughts and doubt, is the shaky churning feeling of fear. If you can touch that, continue to breathe, feel your feet on the good earth, your good heart beating away in your chest, you may be able to drop deeper and touch what lies beneath the fear. You may be able to touch the sad, happy, broken heartedness of being a human being. A basically good human being. And then you can try to smile. It might be a feeble smile at first. A small, tentative smile. But if you relax into that small, shy smile, it will grow.

The wonderful Vietnamese teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh has a lovely little smile practice: When you are feeling stuck, you can close your eyes and repeat to yourself, "Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment." I actually do this with my toddler when he is very upset- I hold him and I repeat to him "breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile." It can be that short. It helps us when we are caught up in the tightness of frustration and anger. We smile together. Or maybe I smile. Just me.

Out of that smile, so much becomes possible. Smiling is a way of opening to what is. When we open to what is, we automatically lighten up. The heaviness of our situation is immediately ventilated and we can even laugh. A burnt pot, a frustrated child, an embarrassed parent - we can laugh with gentleness at the phenomena of the moment, knowing that it will soon be a passing memory, like every other moment. Knowing this, that this moment and the next and the next after that are flowing, changing, arising, then passing away- this can help us smile when we feel so stuck. That stuck feeling comes up when we cling to phenomena - try to make it solid and permanent when it is like a reflection in a pool of water. Our smile is like the wind that shakes the image - we can let go, just like that.

The more we smile and the more we let go, the more fearless we become on this path. We can do this. We can. We can have confidence in ourselves to walk the path of parenting with sanity and joy. We don't have to spend our time on this journey just trying to keep it all together. Let it fall apart. Then smile. That's enough sometimes.


  1. Your insight is spot on. A smile and a recognition that "this is my life, whatever it is" can really make one's day. When I'm having a tough time I always find something to laugh at, and then everything else just dissolves...

  2. Yes - it is amazing how smiling or laughing can immediately ground you and open your heart!