We live in a time where frightening political and global events seem available around the clock, and the suffering caused by these events, directly or indirectly, can easily overtake our mental and emotional states. I often feel overwhelmed by news of terrorist attacks, shootings, weather-related disasters, the consequences of climate change, political upheavals home and abroad, and many other events too numerous to mention. Oftentimes, the overwhelmed feeling is eventually replaced with a sense of powerlessness, apathy, contempt, or disgust, and I seem to internalize these as a general feeling of antipathy toward the world and my ability to have any impact on it. In fact, my general approach to contributing toward “changing the world” has been limited to a few local volunteer activities, a regular meditation practice, being a solid family member, and distracting myself from the larger and more complex issues that impact our world. After all, what can one person do?
Thich Nhat Hahn offers the following insights into how to balance the dreadful and wonderful aspects of living in the world in this excerpt from the book Being Peace, which is a collection of excerpts from talks Thich Nhat Hanh gave to American practitioners in 1985:
Meditation is to be aware of what is going on—in our bodies, in our feelings, in our minds, and in the world. Each day 40,000 children die of hunger. The superpowers now have more than 50,000 nuclear warheads, enough to destroy our planet many times. Yet the sunrise is beautiful, and the rose that bloomed this morning along the wall is a miracle. Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects. Please do not think we must be solemn in order to meditate. In fact, to meditate well, we have to smile a lot.
I am reminded by Thay’s words that the smile may be one of the most important aspects of meditation, and a simple, mindful act of blossoming awareness and loving kindness. By its very nature, a smile demonstrates that we are aware of the present moment and we are experiencing it as joy, which can be a powerful source of inspiration to others. We hear a lot about the power of the smile and its ability to change the world, and the following excerpt from the book Smile Anyway by Richelle E. Goodrich, captures this nicely:
One smile has the power to…
Soften stone walls.
Warm a cold heart.
Invite a new friend.
Mimic a loving hug.
Beautify the bearer.
Lighten heavy loads.
Promote good deeds.
Brighten a gloomy day.
Comfort a grieving spirit.
Offer hope to the forlorn.
Send a message of caring.
Lift the downtrodden soul.
Patch up invisible wounds.
Weaken the hold of misery.
Act as medicine for suffering.
Attract the companionship of angels.
Fulfill the human need for recognition.
Who knew changing the world would prove so simple?
This Thursday after our meditation period, our dharma discussion will focus on how to balance the dreadful and wonderful aspects of living in the world by smiling. We will explore the following discussion questions:
- What has been your experience with giving and receiving smiles?
- How do you make your practice and your lives lighter and more joyful in a world that is both dreadful and wonderful?
- How has your practice helped?
You are invited to join us for this interesting and important discussion. Below you will find the full excerpt from Being Peace and some quotes on the power of the smile.
“I will never understand all the good that a simple smile can accomplish.” – Mother Theresa
“If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
A simple smile. That’s the start of opening your heart and being compassionate to others.” – Dalai Lama
“It was only a sunny smile, and little it cost in the giving, but like morning light it scattered the night and made the day worth living.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Excerpt from Being Peace
Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time. If we are not happy, if we are not peaceful, we cannot share peace and happiness with others, even those we love, those who live under the same roof. If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace. Do we need to make a special effort to enjoy the beauty of the blue sky? Do we have to practice to be able to enjoy it? No, we just enjoy it. Each second, each minute of our lives can be like this. Wherever we are, any time, we have the capacity to enjoy the sunshine, the presence of each other, even the sensation of our breathing. We don’t need to go to China to enjoy the blue sky. We don’t have to travel into the future to enjoy our breathing. We can be in touch with these things right now. It would be a pity if we are only aware of suffering.
We are so busy we hardly have time to look at the people we love, even in our own household, and to look at ourselves. Society is organized in a way that even when we have some leisure time, we don’t know how to use it to get back in touch with ourselves. We have millions of ways to lose this precious time we turn on the TV or pick up the telephone, or start the car and go somewhere. We are not being with ourselves, and we act as if we don’t like ourselves and are trying to escape from ourselves.
Meditation is to be aware of what is going on-in our bodies, in our feelings, in our minds, and in the world. Each day 40,000 children die of hunger. The superpowers now have more than 50,000 nuclear warheads, enough to destroy our planet many times. Yet the sunrise is beautiful, and the rose that bloomed this morning along the wall is a miracle. Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects. Please do not think we must be solemn in order to meditate. In fact, to meditate well, we have to smile a lot.