For three weeks I have been watching my smile practice its acrobatics. It jumps across my face when I pass someone I know. It slowly stretches toward a stranger. Leaps up for a mom and her rascally kids. Turns somersaults for our elders. Then, just as it’s running for a triple handspring backflip, it hesitates and freezes.
Right there, I find my discrimination. It may be a tough looking man on a darker night when I’m walking alone. It may be an annoying woman from out of town. Maybe a slightly crazy seeming homeless person. The instant my smile hesitates, I’ve found the person I inwardly discriminate against.
So what do I do? What any decent gymnast does:
Step back. Take a deep breathe. Release fear. And try again. Smile. Sometimes I don’t quite make it and a half smile twitches across my lips. I swallow fear and use spiritual wisdom to gain perspective before trying again.
“We are all one,” we new-age folks are fond of saying. “We are all brothers and sisters,” other faiths proclaim. And yet, who frowns at their brother as they pass on the street? Who ignores his own self? When we look in the mirror, don’t we meet our own eyes? The simple practice of smiling at each and every person I pass on the street has become my own version of ‘walking my talk’. And it is more ever-present and challenging than a week-long fast or all-day meditation.
But it’s working. New eyes meet mine. Unexpected, surprised smiles unfurl in reply to my own. One woman told me, “I always thought Santa Cruz was an unfriendly place. I’ll have to change that opinion now.” We can change the world. One smile at a time.
Stayed tuned. . .coming up next: a week of studying with Sweet Honey In the Rock’s Ysaye Barnwell at Esalen.