I'm not quite certain why this image called to me this morning; I suspect it may have something to do with ducks flying south for the winter and my having made the reservations for our annual Thanksgiving trip yesterday (this year my husband's family is gathering in Florida -- a LONG way from Seattle!)
But I know that what I liked about the image is that the four ducks who are heading forward look very confident, and the sideways one in the lower right corner looks like it's reassuring an apprehensive mate; notice how short the mate's neck is compared to the others?
When we're confident that we know what we're doing and where we're going, our necks are longer; our shoulders low and relaxed. But when I get anxious or apprehensive, my shoulders have this way of creeping up to my ears. I always thought that was just where I hold tension, but looking at this picture I'm thinking maybe it's really a turtle-like response: I'm willing to stick my neck out when I'm sure of myself, but part of me wants to pull into my shell when I worry I'm in danger of making a fool of myself.
Writing that, I had a sudden image of my Dad: when he wasn't sure, his shoulders would creep up and his eyes would get kinda squinty, too; almost as if he were a child, thinking, if I can't see you, you can't see me? When it was really extreme, his head would turn off a little to the side, as if to ward off a blow, and one side of his mouth would kind of creep up.
Remembering those things, I find myself feeling them in my body, and suddenly I'm reminded of that wonderful study quoted in Blink, about the two scientists who were studying facial muscles. When they were analyzing all the muscles involved in frowning and anger, they actually found their moods switching toward anger, and came to realize that there might actually be some truth to the old adages about "putting on a happy face;" that smiling and frowning can actually cause your mood to change.
We were speaking of this yesterday in our spirituality class; about the messages we got as young women, messages that taught us to hide and supress our angers and fears, to "make nice," to be "sugar and spice." My mother-in-law used to say the job of a mother was to civilize her children, and certainly teaching these messages encourages a certain amount of civility -- and presumably a child who learns to smile in spite of everything will feel a bit cheerier.
But we've all see the other kinds of smiles, the fake ones, the ones that mask anger and fear -- and we all know they don't do a particularly good job of that. How can we raise our children -- and ourselves -- in such a way that the need to be gracious and functioning members of society is balanced with a determination to be true to and honest with one's self? It seems to me that when we achieve a good balance there we get more confident, better at sticking our necks out, taking risks, moving forward, helping others, being ourselves. And then the smiles become more real, more honest, more likely to create reflected smiles in the lives around us.
I'm thinking now that the way to achieve the balance between respect for others and respect for ourselves may have a lot to do with unconditional love, that loving voice of acceptance that somehow gets planted deep within us. It doesn't matter quite so much where it comes from -- our parents or grandparents, our mates, or somehow from our faith -- but it does seem to make an enormous difference in how we move in the world.
Which may explain why I feel the need to meditate. Not having heard or felt that loving acceptance from parents or mates for the first 30 years of my life, its voice took a long time to get planted, and I still need to be conscious about listening for it; it's all too easy to lose that grounding and get off track; to get fearful or anxious, to pull into myself and back away from challenges, to question my motives and decisions -- which is not necessarily a bad thing ...
But meditation brings me back to a place of acceptance, to a still place where both the part of me that rushes into things and the part of me that questions all my decisions can co-exist more comfortably. In that space of unconditional love, I can get all my ducks in a row: all the wise and creative and fearful voices in me can be heard safely and then, working together, can make hard decisions together and move forward without flinching or squirming. They may not make the best possible decisions, but at least they'll help me be the best that I can be.