My husband Monte has been a Senior Auditor in a Conversational Hebrew class at CU taught by Eyal Rivlin since the fall. The bitter sweet last class was held on Zoom last week for students living all around the country. The students were all given the assignment to each create a new Hebrew word. Monte made up a timely one that was inspired by our new, COVID19 mask-wearing lifestyle.
His new Hebrew word suggestion was Cheyuch Pandemia Neestar, which translates into Hidden Pandemic Smile.
This new word totally speaks to me. I have been struck by the fact that each time I pass someone on the street, my face covered in a mask, their face covered too, I say hello and smile. Because the masks can muffle sound, often times people don’t hear me say hello, and my smile is hidden, of course, behind the fabric of the mask. As a result, often these days people don’t acknowledge me as we pass each other— at least six feet apart — on the street
So this is what I’ve noticed. My generally-friendly attitude will quickly shift into to judgement mode or hurt mode because of the lack of response I am getting. “What’s wrong with them?” I start to ask myself, and then my mind, like a run-away train begins to ask “What’s wrong with me? Why aren’t they being friendly? Am I being too friendly??” It’s a slippery slope, all because my smiles and intentions are hidden behind my mask.
One thing that has allowed me to get off that slippery slope is to shift my focus away from looking for any greeting in return. Now, instead, I’m starting to understand the value in my smile, even if the only one benefiting myself.
In Psychology research, there is something called the facial feedback hypothesis that states our facial expressions affect our emotions. If the facial-feedback hypothesis is correct, then not only do we smile when we feel happy but smiling can make us feel happy, too, even when we start out feeling sad.
And, if there is wisdom to be found in popular culture, then we are told our smile can be a valuable mindfulness tool in the movie Eat Pray, Love. In the film, a wise Guru from Bali instructs Julia Robert’s stressed out character to lighten up her facial expressions. “You make serious face like this, you scare away good energy,” he tells her. “To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clear away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver.”
I’m not sure about the liver part, but if you are a meditator, you may want to try bringing your smile into your practice sometime and see what it does. As you settle in for your sit, you could try gently moving your lips into a smile — it doesn’t have to be big gesture, or forced. Then, try holding the smile, maybe for just the first few breaths, or longer if you wish. Throughout your meditation, observe with curiosity, what sensations in your body you may be experiencing as a result of all this smiling.
If you would like to listen to a a Guided Smile Meditation, here’s the link to one by the well-known meditation teacher Tara Brach.
If you’re not a meditator, you can just start to be mindful of your smile, and of your masked interactions on the street. And remember, for now, smiling with your eyes, and a simple wave hello, may be your best option for community connection during this Moment of Masks we are all experiencing.
And just fyi…If you are interested in starting a meditation practice, or already meditate, you may consider joining the virtual, daily 18-minute morning Boulder JCC meditation sit using this link…https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJctce-qrD0jGNRHf2UEHDkC6R4tlUiBmKtk