The Smile Reflex

There’s something about this experience called life that makes taking ourselves too seriously impossible.

We smile as a reflex response. It’s no different than our eye blinking when an object suddenly comes close, or our leg jerking when the doctor taps it with the rubber mallet, or our flinching at a loud noise nearby. Reflex responses. We can smile at something that just crossed our minds, at the sight of someone who walked through the door, at the soft play of candlelight on our lover’s face, at a child chasing a puppy…and so much more. There’s no need to think about smiling before we do it. In fact, the common way to refer to these instances is to say that ‘we caught ourselves smiling’. We realized we were smiling after we had smiled.

These are moments of appreciation…unscripted…unedited…uncensored…undeniable. They occur frequently and randomly everyday and everywhere. That’s part of their charm. And we smile. And, if we’re paying attention, we notice that we smiled.

A coworker brings you a cup of coffee made just right without you asking, there’s a tap on your shoulder and a stranger hands you the phone you had unknowingly left on the counter, a friend you’ve been wondering about happens to send you an email with a goofy picture that captures what you’ve always liked about them, the repair person tells you that everything is still covered under warranty, the song in the elevator reminds you of that time in Jamaica.

None of these moments can be planned or predicted. They simply show up. This is so obvious that it could be a bumper sticker:

The unexpected. It’s not what you saw coming.

Here’s what’s not so obvious: we love these moments. We feel most alive in those few seconds…before our brains kick in…before we cover up emotionally and guard ourselves again. We love surprises. We enjoy the non ordinary, the break in the routine, and the opportunity to improvise. We smile during these moments and we smile when we remember them. We tell stories about them. We enjoy them at a level that our thinking doesn’t understand. That our thinking won’t allow.

I’ve delved into this in greater detail in my book but the essence is: life itself is a risky business. When we strive to take the risk out of life, we take the life out of ourselves. We deaden ourselves with caution and control, with being rational at the exclusion of all else, with being consistent at the expense of being creative.

There’s a line from a song, “I want to live, not merely survive.”

In the moment of a reflex smile, we feel alive.

Awakening to ourselves can begin with these. We would do well to linger and not rush by those feelings, to savor them, to explore them without explaining them, to pay attention to what it was that we felt. It’s in those moments that we can discover who we truly are.

And smile.

 

 

 

 

 

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