What is the Inner Smile

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Man without smiling face should not open a shop.

- Chinese Proverb

The Inner Smile is a simple, effortless Daoist (Taoist) meditation on how to live with an open heart. You can practice it sitting quietly, or while engaged in everyday activities. The Inner Smile challenges us, in a series of "smiling baby steps", to unconditionally accept every aspect of our body, mind, and spirit.

The Inner Smile connects our biological self, our psychological self, and our spiritual self in a practical way. It ingeniously captures the power hidden in our natural impulse to smile. It doesn't try to fix anything or ask any part of us or others to change. It relies on the power of non-verbal communication coupled with a clear mind intent to "creatively find" the harmony hidden within everything.

To paraphrase Lao Tzu, the Inner Smile "does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone". The Inner Smile cultivates the spontaneous nature of our inner heart to accept all experiences in life at their most profound level. This may sound a bit abstract. Our western minds demand more detailed guidance. What makes the Inner Smile practical?

What makes it practical is the Inner Smile's power to cultivate our "chi" - the subtle breath infused by Nature in our body-mind-soul. This internal effect of the Inner Smile is greatly amplified by various kinds of chi kung (qigong). What is chi kung? Literally it means "skill with subtle breath". It is the ancient process of allowing (yin) and encouraging (yang) subtle energy to flow harmoniously in our life.

Chi Kung was originally known in ancient China as yang sheng, or "nourishing life". Its methods embraced both the stillness of meditation and the movement of life. Its art became most famous for its simple, gentle healing body movements.

The ancient principles of chi kung are the grandparents of the well known martial art, tai chi chuan. In China tai chi chuan (taijiquan) is quite young, only about 800 years old! The huge time spans involved here give us pause to reflect on the superficiality of modern knowledge about human nature.

What could be easier than simply smiling? Can we really learn to practice it as a skill? Many people who practice the Inner Smile experience immediate calmness. For others it opens up inner vistas of spiritual joy. Some practitioners experience spontaneous "miraculous" healing from psychological problems or diseases.

Although it is simple, inner smiling is a skill that improves over time and ultimately leads to deep spiritual realization. Some people get stuck in a chronic "Inner Frown" state, the opposite of the Inner Smile. They may need special help, which is offered in this book. It is important to note there is a big difference between the Inner Smile and the ordinary "outer smile". I will give more details on that later.

Where does a smile come from? Should we ask Leonardo Da Vinci, who painted the Mona Lisa? Some scholars think it is his self-portrait, disguised as a woman to amplify the mystery of her smile. Our impulse to smile is certainly, at core, a mystery. But the key to engaging this mysterious smile can be found by the most ordinary person, not just great artists.

Mona Lisa's Inner Smile

We should note at the outset that smiling is energetically very different from laughing. "Laughter is the best medicine" the saying goes, and laughing certainly releases tension and is good for the body in a number of different ways. According to Chinese medicine, if someone laughs too frequently or too loudly they may have excess heart chi and are unconsciously trying to release it. Laughter is more of belly centered emotional release than smiling.

Smiling is more subtle than laughter, a more inward and more sustainable experience. Someone who smiles continuously is not considered in excess, assuming it is not a "phony" outer smile. Smiling is less about emotions, which are our response to outer life events, and more about subtle feeling. Inner Smiling cultivates this feeling to a high level, focusing on the spiritual joy that arises from our inner soul and radiates out as subtle presence.

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