When I am feeling unsteady, uncertain, unmoored, irritated, triggered by whatever is current and present in my life—if, and that’s a big IF, I pause and notice, I can feel my face settle into lines and sags. My eyebrows fall, the corners of my mouth slide down, muscles of my jaw tighten and my neck constricts like angry snakes. You too?
So how do I know my face is becoming Medusa? I watched my face in a mirror, inviting irritation and anger in my head, and it happened, my muscles settled into stress face— and it wasn’t pretty.
There are fourty some muscles in the face involved in the act of smiling, some say there are more muscles involved in frowning, but the important thing is that when the muscles around the cheeks, chin, eyes and forehead lighten into a ‘smile’ shape, even if you feel irritable inside— dopamine and serotonin are released in the head, the feel-good chemicals, and you begin to feel more balanced, more at ease. The presence of those chemicals shuts down the stress reaction— for a moment, and you begin to feel happier. Try it, first tighten your face into a grimace that would scare a saint, hold it , then tighten up the face, the mouth in a pucker. Then open the mouth as wide as you can, maybe yawn, roll your head, wiggle your shoulders.
Now bring to mind something annoying, a habitual irritation or sadness.
Get still, and just lift your eyebrows slightly. Imagine you have tiny helium balloons lifting each hair of your eyebrows, then bring those little balloons to the cheeks, the jaw, the edges of the mouth. As if each cell of the face and neck were lightened, lifted and rising to the azure blue sky. Let that lightness into your shoulders, chest, back, and breath comfortably, through your nose if you can. How do you feel? A bit more settled? A little less irritable?
The trick is to keep that cascading effect of those delightful feel good hormones, to not settle back into survival mode. How?
Babies start smiling in their sleep soon after birth, and smile hundreds of times a day. Imagine a baby smiling, the utter joy in those chubby cheeks, and I can’t help but smile. They do this for their own survival; building connections with caregivers. Babies are entirely in the soul state of expansion, where feelings come and go quickly. And, babies haven’t learned resentment and judgement, blame or shame. So this smile, it brings a more constant state of happy chemicals, more ease.
We can bring that baby state of bliss into our experience as well, even though adults get really good faking ‘nice’ and ‘happy’, while feeling the opposite inside; irritated and resentful, kind of like pasting a happy face sticker on an empty gas tank. Those happy chemicals just can’t counteract the inward mind storms.
We all have our tools for balancing our mental/emotional state, I like to bring in memories of light, of happiness. And I smile. And smile.
What buoys me up? Turning my mind toward memories; positive ones. Memories of connection, friendship, silliness, simple fun. Collecting bubbles of memories in my head, swirling like pearls in boba tea, popping juicy and sweet as I savor each one.
One sweet memory bubble; I remember sitting on a cushion of my friend’s boat one summer day. We bobbed along, a beautiful day on the sea, noting and remarking on the different shapes, colors, and sizes of buoys, marking places to anchor for the night. We talked about hope, in the face of things as they are. We agreed that hope isn’t silly, or a waste, it is a revolutionary and radical choice to lean in to the open spaces in the midst of chaos and clouds of uncertainty. Fear, dread, worry, anger, grief all contract, limit, darken the mind and body. Hope, gratitude, joy, love— expand, soften, release with a sigh. While we talked, my friend painted a sky blue buoy in her watercolor journal, and right through the center, in light blue, she painted the word HOPE.
There are two kinds of hope, however. There is the wishing and wanting for things to be different than they are— which isn’t the road to expansive healing. This is a clinging, fearful urge to protect ourselves. This false hope, driven by fear, isn’t hope at all. “I hope I don’t lose my house,” is deep, dark fear, and absolutely warranted when a raging fire threatens lives. But fear keeps us in survival mode, even when the clear and present danger is passed. This unproductive, damaging fear, or stress reaction, settles in our brains, in our bodies, in our souls.
If we do nothing but spin in our stories, fear becomes habit, and habit becomes character.
I turn, in my head, toward this memory of my friend’s painting. I remember her smiling face, the sparkling waves, the warm sun. I look up as I drive in the grey, sigh, and notice a break in the clouds, a teasing of blue, a curling edge of white. True hope is to notice the beauty around us, to notice and appreciate what is, and open to the possibility of everything. To commit to seeing love and the sacred nature of things over and over and over again.
In my head, I repeat part of a meditation I learned long ago; may all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May all beings be free. May all beings be free. May all beings be free. Including me.
My head argues with me, trying to stuff some dread in between the words, but I am stubborn in my repetition, focused on my breath and this moment. Nothing dramatic happens, I finish my drive, and pull up in front of another friend’s house. She waves from the open door, and we smile. This is where hope lives, between smiles, between friends, and as I get out of the car, my smile deepens.
I can let mindless worry and fear drive me, or I can train my mind to tune in to compassion, gratitude, expansive hope and light. This is a subtle and daily practice, a choice over and over to live in an ethos of love.
“Creativity has the power to look pain in the eye, and to decide to turn it into something better.”
And this one too——
“in the end, it really is about finding the light.” From Bittersweet by Susan Cain.
Daily Energy Balance Challenge: If you are interested in a quick daily boost; soul hygiene to balance your subtle energy system each morning so you feel buoyed up, please consider joining my Patreon page, next week, as we start our Daily Energy Balance Challenge. The first free 5ish minute video practice will be posted Sunday, May 21, also the night of Heartsong Meditation and Yoga Nidra at 7PM. We use the energy of the new moon to bring in new hope, happiness and light.