Few teachings have resonated as deeply with me as mindfulness practice, specifically the teachings/writings of Thich Nhat Hanh. Aside from being a courageous political activist and prolific writer, Thich Nhat Hanh has explored how each person can start to become grounded in the present moment through practicing mindfulness. When I was a grad student, being mindful and present were nice-- mindfulness improved the quality of my day-to-day-life and made me more relaxed. But now, as the mother of two small children, I am finding mindfulness to be absolutely essential. If I am not present and grounded, then things get crazy very fast, and I start to feel scattered and out of control. When I am practicing mindfulness, even when things get out of control, I can remain grounded, calm, and present.
One of my first exposures to Thich Nhat Hanh was a simple meditation exercise that went something like this. Breathe in. Smile. Breathe out. Nhat Hanh writes,
If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. If we really know how to live, what better way to start the day than with a smile? Our smile affirms our awareness and determination to live in peace and joy. The source of a true smile is an awakened mind.I will admit: when I first did this centering exercise, it felt weird. I didn't feel especially happy, so forcing that smile felt disingenuous, forced, awkward. And I was in a room full of students. Was anyone looking at me? Did I look stupid? But, if you do this practice, especially if you do it regularly, I think you will experience what I did; smiling is transformative. Even if you don't "mean it" at first, with time, your whole body will start to feel the joy that a simple smile initiates.
Lately I have been doing a lot of smiling at Lily. It's hard not to, because most of the time when you smile at her, you are rewarded with a huge smile or even chuckle. A few times I have smiled at her during a moment when I felt scattered, overwhelmed and stressed. And, sure enough, Nhat Hanh's wisdom proved itself true. When you smile, everyone profits from it.