You are on a tropical beach with your toes curled in the sand. The sound of the palms brushing together in the breeze teases the coziness of rain without a drop in sight. The dance between the grains of sand and the motion of your feet discards any overactive thoughts or preoccupation. Leaning forward, you step into the water. First your ankles, then your calves, then your waist. The calm of the warm water and the summer sun coats you with a soothing, peaceful sensation. There is a security in this experience that seems to be eternal. Birds glide with acceptable aimlessness, yet purposeful precision. You fall into a rhythm as the waves land on the beach and are lassoed by the tide for their return to the deep. Time is suspended in the ultimate manifestation of a present moment. The rolling water begins to stretch, building and shrinking in form during its cyclical existence. As the tide begins to wash back to sea, you are suddenly jolted with the reminder that this sense of control is an illusion. Your extended present dissipates into a tumultuous future of being whisked out to sea by a rip current. The harder you fight your situation, the more dangerous it becomes. In this form, the force is more powerful than your ability to physically overcome it, and the strength of your muscles, tendons, and lungs struggle to keep up. Cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline drive your initial response, which may not be the best one to follow. The answer is counterintuitive but extremely simple if you choose to accept it. It is possible to navigate an uncontrollable environment. It doesn’t mean we gain control of it, we just discover the means to operate within it.
The illusion of control is our security mechanism, but the craziest of ships rarely offer the opportunity to pilot them at the helm. You are a passenger on a journey without a defined destination. We can’t always steer the ship, but we can control our response to the stimulus. A clear head and present moment awareness are priceless during the most challenging times.
When things get crazy, I crave simplicity.
Today seems like a day to keep it simple.
When I was a kid, my Dad always said two words that seemed to bring any situation back to center. It made a tough situation bearable and a wonderful situation even more enjoyable. He would say it before he went out of town, or when I was getting ready for a hockey game, and in many other times that benefited from this beautiful call back to simplicity. When I went off to college, I distinctly remember it echoing as a final sign-off after most of our phone conversations. The words seem more powerful now than ever.
A smile promotes an internal biological reset and a changing of the guard of neurotransmitters. Norepinephrine and cortisol are traded for dopamine and serotonin. Psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach starts most of her guided meditations with the felt sense of a smile. Given a challenging situation, your first reaction will not always be to smile. You will be drawn to swim against the strong rip currents when swimming horizontally to shore offers the best outcome. Our bodies are trained to respond to challenges like these in a specific manner, and while that helped us avoid becoming dinner in our prehistoric search for dinner, it cannot be applied to all situations that our brain may categorize as challenges. Just like an aggressive outfielder resists the urge to step forward to track a baseball smashed from the bat into the outfield, we should resist the urge to let anger and frustration drive the first step. A smile will not immediately change the events thrust upon you, but it will forge a path to positivity in your response to them.
A smile is contagious and the power of a smile has external benefits that can extend exponentially to those in our environment. Gabby Reece mentioned this concept during an interview on The Tim Ferriss Show and I love it. In teaching her kids, she tells them to be the first person to look someone in the eye and smile. The world can seem like a massively chaotic monstrosity in which the larger things rule over the smaller things. From a slightly scientific perspective, we know that our world spins in fields of energy that begin with brief but powerful interactions between the smallest things. Even though the larger things may not be aware, these small interactions are the catalyst for the dance that is our experience of the world.
Simple reminders to get back to center.
Keep smiling and be first.
I am smiling.
Thank you, Dad.