Posted by: Abby Caplin, MD | November 7, 2009

Face Value

This week I went to a conference where Sylvia Boorstein spoke. She asked the audience about our “practices”—-not where we worked, but about which daily “mindfulness” routines we were using.

People raised their hands. One woman practiced yoga, another Tai Chi. Others sat quietly for at least 15 minutes a day.

I’ve tried out lots of practices (Yoga, Tai Chi, sitting meditations, etc.), but I had to think. What was my practice NOW?

I suddenly recalled an experience that happened to me a few years ago. I was driving out of a hospital parking garage, having just come from a routine appointment. I don’t find medical appointments particularly fun, and I was probably thinking about that test I had to return for the next morning. As I pulled up to the parking attendant’s booth to hand her my ticket, I saw her do a double take when our eyes met. She quickly emerged from behind her glass, came to my car window and leaned in.

“Oh, Honey!” she said. “I’m so sorry. It must be terrible. Let me give you a hug!”

I was stunned. Did my face look that distressed? What message was I putting out? I hadn’t gotten “bad news.” I was functioning. I was driving, for heaven’s sake! I had a warm home, food, clothes and family. I even had a healthcare support system that would allow me to get the test I needed!

I could see, hear, walk, talk, breathe. I didn’t even have to work in a parking garage ticket booth.

I took the hug, but I felt guilty all day. Based on what she thought I was dealing with, I didn’t really deserve it.

So since then, I have cultivated a “face practice.” Several times a day I check in with myself. What message am I putting out through my facial expression? Does it truly reflect my inner feelings and circumstances? If so, how bad are they—really?

If I intuit that I’m thinking “small,” distressed and “in it” (meaning I am letting aggravation consume me), I think about rearranging the muscles of my face. I become acutely aware of my vision, what I see. Not everyone can. I listen, enjoying the fact that I can actually hear. Not everyone can. I take a deep breath. Not everyone can.

As I do this, my facial muscles rearrange themselves. Sometime I top my “face practice” off with the thought, “Thank you!” and I notice my lips curving up at the corners.

And thank you my sweet and loving parking attendant. You are such a healer.



  1. Face Value,

    The Buddhist monk from Vietnam wrote about “practicing with a smile,” or to “practice smiling.”

    I become aware of that when I meditate, and my lips start to curve up at the corners the same way you described it in your post above. I really believe that I have captured the “Buddha smile,” if there really is one. You know, that slight hint of a smile that conceals a secret that only the child within you can relate to.

    That is a smile on the face of the Buddha statue, isn’t it?
    I wonder if a parking attendant some 2,500 years ago would have squeezed a hug out of him after he visited a village doctor?

    Just a thought or two that arose in me while reading you!

    Michael J

  2. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for reading, and for your contribution!
    Yes, you are speaking of Thich Nhat Hanh. I’ve tried just pasting the smile on my face, to see if that changes my mood. For me, though, it doesn’t seem to be as effective as just taking a moment to take in the moment. But, of course, this is what you are doing when you meditate—:)


  3. ” . . . taking a moment to take in the moment . . . ”


    Did you just make this up? I bet it just came out naturally, as if such a poetic phrase comes easy for someone who gets free hugs from the way she unintentionally looks.

    Ain’t it nice to be on such a path where really good stuff is at one’s fingertips?

    Michael J

    • Now you’ve got me smiling!

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