Look up and smile

My friend Alexa was in town from South Africa a few weeks ago and tried looking up and smiling while here. It’s a brave thing to do, looking up and smiling, especially when in New York, where eye contact alone can be viewed as (1) an invitation or (2) a threat, but she wanted to see if it made a difference, so she did it.

It isn’t lost on me that she tried this while on vacation, not in her hometown. Tourists look up anyway, showing excited, expectant faces to the locals hurrying past them. They are taking pictures, figuring out street signs and searching the eyes of the people walking by for some bit of recognition. I am no different. When I used to go to Paris, I watched everyone, hoping to see a flash of outfit approval from a real, live French person. On a recent trip to Mexico, I was much brighter, much more curious and friendly than normal (but not too curious and friendly because all-inclusive resorts still have a whiff of “I never thought this would happen to me…” about them). With nothing to lose, it is simpler to put yourself out there, but no less scary. No less brave.

Alexa had a great story to tell from day 1 of her experiment. She was walking down a street in SoHo, consciously looking up with a smile on her face. Halfway down the block, she heard her name called. “Alexa?” She turned around and saw a man she’d known in New York more than 30 years ago. After a squeal-filled reunion, they went to a cafe to catch up, where she asked him how she recognized her from across the street, so many years later. He told her that he didn’t recognize her at first, but instead noticed a confident woman who was radiating lightness. It was only after he saw her that he realized he knew her.

Confidence and lightness were beacons, preceding her down the street and drawing people to her. How amazing is that and what a great lesson for all of us! When you look down, or furrow your face into your own head, the universe gets nothing and no one sees you, simple as that. And sometimes that is what’s needed to survive . I’ll admit to weeks where I focus downward and inward, even though I know I shouldn’t. I know it’s bad for my soul, bad for my posture, bad for my life, but you can’t shine outward always.

But when you can muster the bravery, give it a try. Even if it’s just when you walk down the frozen food aisle at Trader Joe’s, look up and smile at the air around you. It does no harm and may be the first step in a long-overdue reunion.

Reading words in new ways

“Rise and shine!” is a made-for-TV idiom. Doesn’t it make you think of a blonde mom, lovingly waking up her adorable blonde daughter and both of them smiling at each other over bowls of blonde breakfast cereal? It does me. Both the phrase and the cereal are sweet and devoid of much nutritional substance — a perfect pairing, made for Madison Avenue or a saccharine sitcom, but not for real life. Real life mornings are more resigned than happy, more hurried than loving and not so sweet, right?

rise and shineBut this morning I rethought “Rise and shine.” Not because today was any sweeter or happier or more loving than any other, but because at the moment I stumbled upon this image, I happened to be open to Spirit. Never underestimate what can happen when trolling for Pinterest content!

“If you rise, you will love,” Spirit said. “If you love, you will shine. It is inevitable.” The second I heard that message, I knew it was true.

“Rise” is a powerful word, filled with all sorts of energy, isn’t it?

For some reason it makes me think about the subway commute to my latest job. It isn’t the shortest or easiest one I have had since moving to New York, and the ride home is particularly tiring. Stone-faced worker bees, Happy Hour chatterers, groups of excited high school kids, parents bringing home their sons and daughters and the inevitable tourists, all converge on the A train to get from Columbus Circle to Brooklyn. The downtown cars are crowded, loud and often don’t smell particularly good. Most evenings I find myself burrowing into the Middle Earth of my own brain to endure the ride.

But what if, instead of ducking into my head, I choose to rise. To look up, stand up and send out love to all the other passengers. Send love to the Hobbit inside me, while I am at it. To shine, if you will. What would happen? What could happen? Why not try it and find out?

So that is what I am going to do. I set my intention to rise and shine and write about it all. Are there times when you find yourself burrowing down into yourself? What happens if you stretch up and send out love? I’d love to know!