Sitting in Central Park on a Saturday morning, a couple walked by with two adorable small dogs. One was on a leash and the other ran free. One member of the couple needed to walk back to see if she had dropped something and, as she returned, the dog on the leash saw her and began to excitedly wiggle and run toward her. What I noticed were her smile and delight in greeting the dog and it reminded me of the power of appreciation shared with a smile.
There’s a concept called “heightening”, offered by David Spangler, a spiritual teacher and guide. What the word addresses is the natural response of “coming to life” and becoming more energized when we feel seen, acknowledged, appreciated, and celebrated. Watching the dog brought to mind the inflow of life energy that is naturally experienced when we offer and are offered delight in someone or something else.
This brings to mind a practice I’d like to invite you to play with this week. As you move through your regular daily routines, take a moment when appropriate to offer appreciation and a smile to the people you encounter, as well as to the other-than-human lifeforms you engage along the way. Remember to include as much of the world around you as you can and then notice the quality and tone of your inner experience as you do. Not only will you be “heightening” the enlivened experience of everything around you, but expressing appreciation will tend to heighten the enlivened experience within you, as well.
Also, when you smile, you give your physiology important messages that also have an impact on your sense of well-being. Play with this part of the practice by offering smiles to what you appreciate and see what that feels like to you. The smile not only gives something to others; it also offers yourself an uplift, physically and psychologically. You might also notice how a smile affects others you encounter along the way. I always think of children and the significant impact of mirroring as I walk along the street, and I make sure to smile at any child who makes eye contact with me, a smile that I hope says, “I’m glad to see you!”
You might think of this practice as another version of gratitude practice, as it draws on the same kind of awareness—the awareness that notices things that are positive in your life, things that bring pleasure, things that offer you an opportunity to share a smile with someone (or something) along the way. I can’t begin to count the number of times a day I smile with my three feline companions. They may not notice it, but my body-mind certainly does, so I’m quite liberal with my willingness to smile and laugh in the course of any given day.
Doing this kind of practice doesn’t overlook all that’s not okay in the world and in our individual lives in any given moment. Instead, it offers nourishment to an underlying sense of well-being and helps to create a more expansive “container” within which we can meet and deal with what may not be so easy to manage.
As with all these practices, please remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion and to pat gently on the head any judgments that may arise. Allow them to simply move on without your having to do anything with or about them. We often can’t help judging, but we can do something about our relationship with these judgments. Learning to ignore them and to consider them just a blip on the screen is one way to allow them to flow on by on your constantly moving stream of consciousness.