The Special Magic of a Smile
By Sarah Mane
The other day I arrived at a cute café in Santa Monica, California to meet a dear friend for lunch. I was early. The café was crowded, and the wait staff were busy. One of them made her way over to me careful not to bump or disturb other patrons. She had a look of concentration on her face, but when she got to me she smiled. That smile transformed her, she was warm friendly, and beautiful. Such a genuine, open gorgeous smile! Her face lit up and I felt completely welcomed and uplifted.
Such a simple interaction, and such a common one. But I was inspired to find out what had really happened there at that moment in the café in Santa Monica. My secret resource for delving behind the curtain, to find out how things tick, is Sanskrit. Sounds unlikely? Let’s find out if Sanskrit has something to tell us about that smile.
First, in English, we define the word smile as a ‘pleased, kind, or amused facial expression, usually with the corners of the mouth turned up’.
Seriously, how does that technically accurate dictionary definition relate to the warmth, the beauty, the radiance of a simple interaction near the Santa Monica Pier?
Let’s look to Sanskrit and see if we can get another perspective.
Sanskrit shows us how to experience the meaning of a word. It has an ingenious way of leading us beyond the dictionary meaning to the felt experience of a word. It gives us a real understanding with a ‘lived’ experience, a happening, rather than through mere thought or concept.
Words in Sanskrit can be traced back to a root form. This root form is where the magic happens. It is like an acorn, the seed of an oak tree, immeasurably small when compared to what grows from it.
The essential meaning of a word in Sanskrit is contained in these roots. And these roots are verbal. A verb is an action, and action is a form of energy. So, at the heart of a Sanskrit word is its powerful intrinsic energy. This is what we understand through experience and not through thought.
To understand the real meaning of a smile, we need to really smile, we need to feel it when others smile at us, and we need to live that experience, to take note what happens within ourselves and with others.
The word for ‘smile’ in Sanskrit is smitam. It almost invites you to smile when you say it. But what is a smile really? How does Sanskrit describe ‘smitam’? What is the lived experience of smitam?
Sanskrit tells us that ‘smitam’, a smile, means ‘fully blossomed, fully bloomed and expanded’. It is like a beautiful flower. And just as a flower fully blossoms in the warmth of the spring sunshine after the bleakness of winter, so our smile, fully in bloom, warms the hearts of all whom we meet. It is, as Shakespeare says, ‘twice blessed’. A smile blesses the one that gives and the one that receives.
A smile is transformative. The energy, love and warmth that fully blooms in our smile can change everything. Our smile warms and lights, reassures, nourishes, inspires and uplifts, and brings joy. Our smile can relax a tense moment and lift a burden from one who is troubled. A smile creates connection, unifies, brings people together. It can open a heart that is closed, spread a healing balm to the afflicted, comfort those in need of just a little joy in their life. It is companionable, easy, friendly.
All this is ‘smitam’. The Sanskrit takes us way beyond the corners of the mouth ‘usually upturned’.
When we see a flower in full bloom the immediacy of our response is to connect with beauty that goes beyond mere analysis of colour, shape and perfume. The flower gives that beauty freely, it places no demands upon us. There is no bargaining, no give and take, just an abundance of ‘giving’. Our hearts open and love arises naturally. Love is nourishment for the soul, love is nourishment for all.
While the meal in the Santa Monica café was delicious and satisfying, that sustenance has past. But the smile from the waitperson, when I recall it now, continues to be uplifting. I can still experience that smile and its effect long after the moment.
So with ‘smitam’ there is a powerhouse of energy coiled up inside this simple word. The same energy that bursts forth when a field of flowers blossoms and releases the blessing of color and scent into the world. This is Nature’s smile, and it is there for us to enjoy, and if there is anything required of us, perhaps it is just to pass on some of that joy to others.
We all experience this when we give or receive the gift of a smile. Sanskrit just gives a beautiful name and shape to that experience. That’s the gift I received in the café. That’s the special magic in a smile.
Sarah Mane is a Sanskrit scholar with a particular interest in the wisdom of Sanskrit as a means to life-mastery. Her new book is Conscious Confidence: Use Sanskrit to Find Clarity and Success. (© 2020 Findhorn Press. See InnerTraditions.com) consciousconfidence.com