THE BUDDHA, IN all his great wisdom, taught about his smiling meditation many long years ago. Although I do this regularly anyway, yesterday I had occasion to use it for medicinal purposes, in a manner of speaking.
I was on my way to visit my friend in the hospital. Apart from my visits, and a few from his best mate who has walked a good distance to and from the hospital to see him (he doesn’t drive), no one else has popped in to say hello. With a potentially life-threatening condition that could erupt at any moment, I’m well aware that every time I leave him, it could be the last time I see him. So I’ve been doing whatever I could to make him smile during this very difficult time.
Yesterday, I’d managed to get a collection of goodies for him, including his beloved daily newspapers, some treats and snacks, my iPod so he would have music, and I’d gotten his laptop, as they have internet in his new ward (imagine that!). Knowing he had spent a dreadfully lonely (not to mention frightening) week in hospital with nothing to do, it was really important to me that I get these things to him.
But not far from the hospital, I became aware that the exhaust system in my car was falling apart. The clattering and dragging noises became extremely loud just as I pulled into the hospital car park. I dared not go another inch, especially after I got out and saw the way the muffler was firmly lodged between the pavement and my car. I was afraid that driving any further would damage something even more, so I had to stop immediately.
I sat there, in the middle of the road, parked cars on either side of me. In a panic, I rang my breakdown company immediately and was told that as I was blocking traffic, they would be extra quick.
Minutes after speaking to them, a car pulled out of a parking space just in front of me so I was able to move over and get out of the way. But as the breakdown people told me that they would be arriving shortly, I couldn’t take my bag of goodies to my friend who was just there across the car park.
In those few minutes, I’d managed to work myself into quite a state. Not because of my car or the bother or inconvenience of any of that, but because of my compassion for my friend, and what a difference it would have made to him if I could have just gotten that bag of goodies to him. I was terribly disappointed on his behalf that if I missed the little bit of visiting time that was left, he would be stuck with no company, no music, no computer, nothing to do for at least another 24 hours.
My mind, body and spirit do not appreciate it when I get upset like that, so right away, I remembered the smiling meditation. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, exhaled slowly and then planted a little smile on my lips. I didn’t feel at all smiley, but I did it anyway, as that’s the point of the meditation. I thought about that little Buddha smile on my face, and concentrated on having it spread into my cheeks. They were smiling, too. I thought about the corners of my eyes moving up into a little smiling position. I imagined my eyebrows, my scalp, my ears and even my hair smiling, and in just moments, I felt peaceful again, relaxed, centered and refocused. I carried on with the smiling meditation, and imagined that warm, happy feeling moving down into my chest, my abdomen, my arms, legs, hands, feet. I focused on every part of me smiling, including my heart, my lungs, and all the other organs.
There is a proven biochemical reaction that occurs when we smile. Evidence has shown that when we hold even a fake smile for a short time, it alters our chemistry in the same way as a real smile would do, and our bodies actually think we’re happy. All kinds of “feel-good” endorphins are released into our bloodstreams and before long, we feel better and the smile is real.
I sat there yesterday, doing my smiling meditation, feeling happy again while waiting for the rescue people. I was certain that they’d arrive shortly and while they were sorting out preparing my car to be towed, I could dash across the car park and deliver the goodies to my friend, even if it meant a “drop-and-run” service.
A few minutes’ wait became 10, and 10 became 20, and 20 became 30. Good thing I had been able to move my car out of the way just after my phone call, but when the end of “visiting hour” arrived, and I still sat there, I was tempted to blow a gasket at the thought that I could have gone in, had my visit and delivered the Happy Bag, and still had time to kill.
But as there was nothing I could do, I took another deep breath, closed my eyes and used the smiling meditation to refocus and stay calm. I started to think I would be late for the 4 p.m. telephone appointment I had, with no way to contact the person in Canada to let him know I would be late. Every time that distressing thought rolled through my head, I smiled a little bigger and soon stopped worrying about it. I could not change the situation; I could only change my response to it.
Apparently, when you’re blocking traffic, and the rescue people say, oh, dear, we’ll get someone out there very quickly, it means two hours. Extra good thing I was able to move my car out of the way…but the breakdown company had not known this! Finally, the big blue tow-truck turned up. It was nearly 4 p.m. If he was really quick about getting me home, I wouldn’t be too late for my appointment. My back teeth were floating and before I could even ask if I’d have time to go into the hospital and use the loo before he took me home, he had given my muffler a good yank to dislodge it, chucked it in the trunk and said I could drive home.
I could not believe my eyes. I could have done that myself two hours earlier, gone into the hospital, had my visit, dropped off the Happy Bag and easily made it home in time for my appointment.
I could have come unglued and kicked myself from here to next Thursday. I could have cried with disappointment and frustration and “If only.”
But instead, I just smiled.