I remember the first time it happened – the first time I truly noticed.
I was walking home and arrived at a corner. I looked up to see a man ride past on his bike and in one magical, smooth, natural moment he caught my eye, smiled, winked and nodded at me all at once. My heart responded by filling with a feeling of overflowing fullness and the corners of my lips turned upward.
I thought to myself, “there’s this whole secret language. There’s this whole secret language out there of which I have not been a part”. It felt like an underground movement – nods, winks, smiles passed on only to those people in the “know”. And here I was after all these years being included.
I smiled the whole way home thinking of the magic and secret that was just revealed to me. I can still clearly see the man’s face.
I started noticing more and more – people smiling at me on the street. Saying, “good morning”. Sometimes every person I passed on the way to the subway in the morning would offer some sort of acknowledgement. It’s hard to say who started it – me or them – but it doesn’t matter.
Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to travel to India.
The secret language I had found in New York was everywhere. Everyone – and I mean everyone – looking each other in the eye. Offering and receiving a deep sense of connection. Every person I met took the time to look me in the eye, smile and sometimes nod or prayer their hands to their heart center and bow. They would often bow in acknowledgement and say “namaste”. The light in me sees/honours the light in you. And there it felt so powerfully true. I became immersed and always offered back the same acknowledgment in return. It was all so deeply filling. So fulfilling to engage in this way with fellow human beings.
That’s what was happening so subtle on the streets in New York.
I came back and reentry was rough. I was immediately depressed. I felt isolated and without connection. The secret language seemingly had disappeared here.
In time I recovered and resolved to keep practicing. To smile at every single person I pass. To acknowledge people on the subway. To carry on the legacy of the secret language that man on the bike had invited me to participate in. An initiation.
And so I do. I practice.
And I watch without judgement and am so honoured not only by the people who respond with a big gracious smile, those whose hearts seem to open, but also to those who look away, or down, or straight ahead. At that moment unable to connect in that way. And that’s okay.
I notice my own responses. How I fill through every cell when someone smiles back. How my heart lifts. How I smile even more deeply. How I say “good morning” or “hello” back. Or sometimes say it first. How I’m still surprised when someone greets me verbally, but I love it. How when someone looks to feel uncomfortable or seems to avoid me what my responses are in those moments. To know that I don’t know how they feel or what’s going on in their lives. I ask myself can I still feel full without the exchange of a smile? Can I still give them the acknowledgement and love without feeling it back? Can I let go of expectations each and every time? Can I let go of judgment?
Of course I too do not yet practice this at every moment or with every person I pass. And when I haven’t been speaking this language for a couple of days I notice. I notice that I feel closed off and anxious. Ungrounded. And then I realize that I’ve been caught up in my own thoughts or focus and haven’t been acknowledging others in this way and so I come back to the practice again and again.
As with any language it takes time to learn to speak. But it’s no secret. Whether or not it’s with a smile – this is a language that we all know. One we each have access to. And I feel so grateful to that man on the bike for my initiation and to be able to practice with everyone I meet.