The Evolution of a Smile

frownfrown2  smile

About 10 years ago Master Johwa introduced me to smiling as a meditation for spiritual growth.  I remember it rather well.  It took so much effort to simply smile for no reason that it is actually incredible when I think about it.  I resisted consistently for a long time and we had many conversations about it.   The first step I took wasn’t very noble.  I would smile for appearances and for the sake of avoiding having to talk about it anymore, lol.  When I was alone I wouldn’t smile at all and now that I think about it I always had a stern and serious look on my face.

After some time I would use smiling periodically with the intention to release some steam when feeling angry.  It seemed to work pretty well and I would say at the very least it is much better to smile when angry than not to.  I remember while working one day my co worker saw me smiling and said, “Wow Matt you look so happy all the time”.  I remember being so stressed and angry at that time I let out a laugh and figured at least while smiling my anger isn’t bothering other people.

Later I smiled as a sort of affirmation to be happy.  I wanted to be happy and people who were happy and seemed to go through life easier than myself were usually smiling.  I did that for some time on and off.  At times I could see that I was trying to appear happy to others.  I would smile to try to make myself feel good or to appear happier than I felt to others.  It was always short lived and disappointing.

After that I developed a little more sincerity about smiling.  I wanted the real thing of happiness and not just an appearance of it.  I began to smile wider especially when I was upset.  A valuable thing I learned is that if you do it sincerely in the hardest moments you can get really big benefits.  I found that if you smile wide when really upset or even while crying you can discover something new about yourself and your emotions.  When I went through a hard time several years ago and was crying I forced a smile the whole time as wide as I could.  When I did that I felt energy inside my body and chest.  Then the energy washed upwards like a wave and it literally felt like it splashed warm water into the front of my brain.  When it did tears came pouring out.  I didn’t really appreciate it then because I was so focused on my emotions but looking back a valuable thing to learn from that is my emotions are distinct from myself and seem to operate like a system.  It’s almost like a living machine.  I guess I was to invested in the machine to really get the most benefit possible at the time.  I think there is great fear in distinguishing between me and the machine.  I feel a deep sense of identity with it and want to take it seriously and pamper it.  I also want others to do the same and if they don’t it makes me angry.

Smiling widely is the most effective for me so far.  If I stretch my smile so that the muscles behind my ears are pulled back as far as possible there is an effect.  I try to imagine the muscles meeting each other in the back of my head and sometimes even passing each other.  I noticed that when I do this my mind gets quieter and it gives a sense of brightness in my head.  It gives a very clear feeling of a distinction between me and my thoughts and emotions.  When that experience comes it is an important time for me because it reminds me not to be afraid of not identifying with the machine of emotions and thought.   During the week there were times when my attention was pulled from myself and the machine started churning out thoughts ceaselessly.  At that time I am my thoughts and emotions.  When I stretch my smile back and bring my attention back to my breathing and my heart I step out of it a little.

When ever I have talked about smiling as a practice to others in the past the most common response I would get is, “I don’t feel comfortable doing that because I don’t want to be fake”.  I understand the logic but disagree with it wholeheartedly.  From what I can tell so far that logic comes from our emotions to be recognized a certain way by others.  We may think that we are the ones making that choice but these days I believe that choice is being made for us.  Maybe we don’t recognize this because we are so identified with that desire we think it is ourselves.  However, when I practice diligently there is a hurdle that is overcome and a new sense of Self maybe there that has no problem smiling at all.  If that is our true Self then not smiling maybe much more fake and forced than smiling.

It seems strange to people if someone is smiling to much.  I felt that way before as well.  Isn’t it strange that we all want to be happy but criticize others as being strange or weird for smiling to much?  My wife bought a women’s magazine the other day that had an ad with two models sitting in a slouched manner with a rather blah and depressing look on their faces.  She is younger and from another country so this style of advertising seemed strange to her.  She saw it and laughed then asked why they look like that.  I realized then that being serious and depressed is actually accepted as looking cool and trendy.  It’s a little frightening when we stop and look at how the simple things we take as common place are going in such a different direction than our inner and natural state.

Looking back I think I can say that my reluctance to smile was to hold on to an image of myself that I thought was appealing to others and gave me a sense of security.  If I am macho it is accepted by men and appealing to women while keeping me emotionally distant and safe from getting hurt.  Lol, I think that must be right because it felt uncomfortable to read that back to myself.  Now smiling is a practice of bringing out and enjoying my sense of true Self with hopes that eventually that is all that there will be one day.  I am really enjoying it now more than ever and as it evolves more I will update this posting 🙂

young grandfather

in my grandson I see me as I was, and feel the child still within.

seeing through each other’s eyes we will smile at sunrises and sunsets.

listening through each other’s ears we will marvel at the howling wind, the roaring sea,  and the singing of birds,

and in our dreams there will be as much joy as in each precious moment that we get to share.



Less Me, More Free


If there is one thing that I am sure of from practicing meditation while working it is that the less serious I take myself the happier I am.  When I take myself seriously and make myself the star of my personal movie, which is usually a drama where I have been under appreciated my whole life, I couldn’t be less comfortable in my own skin.  Being the star and being important is a lot of pressure.  You always have to worry what others think, how you look, and have to defend your character a lot to keep his role going on.

A very important lesson I have recently learned and am still learning is that meditation for spiritual growth and to know who I am can’t be done while wanting to hold on to my dramatic story, and letting that go seems to be a big process and part of the path to my true Self.  I have to ask myself regularly, “How serious is this problem?  Is this effecting the purpose of my life or just my character in this story that I am identifying with?”.  One of the things I do to help me is to think about how insignificant the issues are to me today that seemed so important 20 years ago.   After all when I was 6 years old getting that cookie seemed like the most important thing in the world lol.

Although that may help to put things into a different perspective, focusing on my heart and breathing helps put me back into the right experience.  The more I practice the more I see that there is a difference between me and my thoughts and emotions.  Using my thoughts may help put a band-aid on the problem momentarily but through meditation I keep finding that identifying with my thoughts is the problem to begin with.  It’s the same thing as identifying with the character in the drama, and as long as you are starring in it what else can you experience but the drama?

Letting go of this to get that seems to be the daily motif these days.  To experience for myself what it means to be my true Self I have to let go of the importance of my character.  I have found that laughing at myself, making fun of myself, and talking about myself in the third person is a little helpful.  I can say things like, “Oh, poor Matt isn’t getting the respect he so obviously deserves.”  Again this helps to change the thoughts to a different point of view but to focus on my heart and breathing during my daily routine brings about an actual experience of my true Self.  When experiencing this there is much less thought and it is detached from my sense of Self.  I like to say there is less Matt.

When not taking myself to seriously there is less thoughts and less Matt and more of a sense of peace, happiness, and aliveness.  There is  joy for no reason.  As I interact with others there is a strong pull on me to go back into my sense of “Mattness”.  When in that sense of Mattness I look in the mirror and see me.  When in the sense of my true Self I look in the mirror and see a body that is not me at all.  It’s times like this when spirituality seems to be nothing more than a case of mistaken identity and a process of retracing my steps back to the real me, nothing more nor mystical.

Before being around others that pull me into Mattness seemed like a curse.  When my consciousness is high it seems like everything is a  blessing from heaven and is there to help me find my true identity again.  Without those people pulling there is no chance in daily life to do the work.  With those people there is no need to escape to a mountain and meditate.  I heard someone say the only way out of this world is through it.  Family members seem to have the strongest gravity to pull me into Mattness.  I heard someone else say that if you think you are enlightened spend a week with your parents, lol.  In that sense family, friends, and spouses can be the greatest tools in daily life to practice meditation and awaken to the true Self.  When I can have a total equanimity around all of these people through out an entire day I think I will celebrate and thank them a lot.  Looking forward to that day.

1 to 3

my mind gives instruction, my body executes action,

my soul supplies the fuel.

without destination i go no where. without movement i go no where.

without energy i go no where.



Living Meditation vs Routine

Image  Image

I wake up and drive to the market.  Get my cart and load it up.  50 pounds of potatoes, 50 pounds carrots, red onions, spanish onions, 50 pounds of lemons, 50 pounds of salmon, 200 count cherry clams, box of chicken filets, various cheeses, 15 dozen eggs, endless veggies and so on.  Drive my wife to school then drive to the restaurant that I work at.  Clean the bar, cut the lemons, cut the limes, cut the oranges, open the wine, clean the windows, turn on the lights, turn on the heat, turn on the music, get dressed, fix my hair, check the messages, count the register, set tables for larger reservations, unlock the doors and wait for the customers.  These are the first 4 and a half hours of my day every day with almost no variation.  Some times I feel like the character Phil in one of my favorite movies starring Bill Murray entitled “Groundhog Day”, where he awakens every morning and it is the same day with the same events and only he is aware of it.  Actually it makes me laugh to think of it because I even repeat the same morning conversations with my co worker at the market and with other co workers when I arrive at the restaurant.  I know exactly what to expect, what they will say, and how they will react to everything that is happening.  I never realized it until writing this but I really do feel this way and maybe that is why I like that movie so much.  I think I relate to Phil on some level and even my wife calls me a groundhog as a nickname.

When I approach my morning routine unaware and unfocused on myself, which happens sometimes for various reasons, I think I experience life the way Phil did at the beginning of the movie.  I experience discomfort, anxiety, frustration, irritability, pessimism, but above all else what seems to be a deep sense of discouragement about how life is going in a different direction than what I truly want.  If I let myself go like this for several days I can sense that I am in some kind of danger.  Not physical danger, but a danger of losing hope and the will to pursue my dreams.  I don’t know if it is correct but I would call this a kind of spiritual danger.  I have experienced it more times than I would have liked but I can’t say it’s without some benefit.  The biggest benefit is knowing that these times come and if you hold on to your true self in anyway possible then you will come out of it sooner or later and can continue with great hope and some valuable lessons learned.

That is how the personal experience of my morning routine feels like on a bad day.  On a good day I start my morning with my dream in mind and stay focused on my sense of being within my heart. This experience is completely different.  The routine is the same but the experience is incredibly different.  When I am able to keep my focus inside myself there is a great feeling of hope, positivity, love, effortlessness, joy, and clarity.  Everything seems just right the way it is and it seems so easy to do what I want.  There is no sense of trying to change others, judgement, comparison, trying to win something, trying to be more than something.  These are the things I have found while focusing on myself.  I have found these things in everyone else I interact with as well.  After a while I could forgive a little easier because all of the things that people were “doing” to me is no different than what I have been doing to them.  After some time I can feel a sense of space between me and those tendencies.  They are still there but I can distinguish them a little more from myself and catch a lot of them before they come up and run loose.  This little bit of space makes the experience of life’s routine so much more pleasurable it is with no doubt the greatest accomplishment I have made for myself in my entire life and motivates me to make more space everyday.  I laugh at myself when I read these words because I know it is just a very small step but it honestly means so much to me and took so much effort that I am very proud of it and don’t want to lose it.

On a great day I am doing the same things and having all the same conversations with a sense of a wonderful brightness.  It is as if I am very active within the routine but completely uninvolved emotionally with all that is happening in it.  Instead of involving myself emotionally I am just purely enjoying myself and everyone there.  For no reason there is joy, gratitude to others, love, and feeling of being very alive.  Everything seems so bright and full of promise.  I wear a smile from ear to ear with no need for a reason, similar to Phil towards the end of the movie.

Some days it’s easy and some days it seems almost impossible but the memory of what it can be keeps me going.  I am very confident that if utilizing this type of meditation that I learned from Master Johwa as much as I can everyday to the best of my ability it will only be a matter of time when a great day is just a normal day.  That’s one of my wishes.


resting in bed, listening to the sound of the storm-breathing calmly
at the window to see the snow fall-with quickening breath
outside in the cold-with the wind huling the snow this way and that.
shoveling the heavy, wet snow-breathing deep/gulping the air
until later-outside again, in the cold, beautiful stillness
with the settled snow, so peaceful and pristine