The Enigmatic Smile

The Enigmatic Smile

[Apologies for a rather longer offering in this post]


The smile of the Mona Lisa is said to be ‘enigmatic’

In seeking meaning for our lives great thinkers of the ages past
Have sought to help us to reflect on our brief span while here on earth
That having travailed in this world, and as our days stretch to their last
We may in time proclaim our little life has had some worth

The Socratic message helped to show us how to be
Plato, to the notion of the ideal form, a yardstick and a perfect guide
Aristotle claimed that through ethics we can be free
Augustine, that by freewill, into evil we may slide

And so down the years one long great noble procession
Of heroic thinkers, ready to direct our thoughts and mind
Aquinas, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Nietzsche in succession
Earnest seekers, men of faith and doubts of every kind

Of course for years we searched for meaning through astronomy
How life began, how it might end, our earnest quest sustains
The universe the heart of all cosmology
Our unrelenting search for purpose still remains

Then followed on the rise of science and technology
A brave new world which questioned all belief
Measured all our deeds in terms of each new ‘ology’
In sociology, or psychology we’re sure to find relief

There can be little doubt that science’s great progression
Has brought for millions release from ills and deprivation
But oddly in the minds of many remains a feeling of depression
The benefits of knowledge yet to prove our sure salvation

Perhaps fears raised by anxious thoughts on world ecology
Have tempered hubris borne of all these gains
The warnings raised by experts in meteorology
Foreboding life that offers unremitting pain

However, notwithstanding all hidden cares and apprehension
A new nostrum to ensure our fears are kept at bay
From that great power house of new invention
Yes Uncle Sam – the mighty U S of A!

It seems odd that despite centuries of deep reflection
Mankind had not stumbled on this simple and reliable solution
But in the nineteen fifties, after some introspection
Of thinking habits, a great new revolution!

You’ve heard of it before – you know it must be good
Cast aside all doubts, no need for bingeing or for drinking
This new solution to depression and low mood
None other than the Power of Positive Thinking!

Earlier versions of this brand achieved great fame
I think especially of ‘New Thought’ – you know of it as ”Christian Science”
Mary Baker Eddy, the promoter of its name
Illness could be cured by thought and body in alliance

But the 20th Century variant met even more acclaim
Its great advocate Norman Vincent Peale, shared its enormous potential
That “positive thought” was not just a punchy name
Its message soon hugely influential

And so sidelining the wisdom of the philosophical ‘giants’
Economists, political theorists, theologians and purveyors of such complex notions
The new peddlers of “Happiness” were soon to regale their clients
With joy untold to counter each and every dark emotion

The positive psychology movement, was cast by some as simply magic
Though many claimed it’s weakness was a certain lack of rigour
And others said to trust its simplistic dictates could prove tragic
But despite all that its growth throughout the West has shown great vigour

The advocates of living life with an ever-ready smile
Not just on the face, but in the heart each hour and every day
Proclaim life will prove for us to be so much more worthwhile
In illness, or any kind of trial, our fears it will allay

In the affluent West a new industry has been born – the speaker motivational
Their task to encourage all the staff – especially those who’re disaffected
To meet each demand and need that’s organisational
And if they can’t then very soon they will be disconnected

In illness too, no matter that the diagnosis is quite dire
And the only future looks extremely bleak
Positive thought demanded thus to lift you from the mire
It’s your duty not to show that you are weak

Of course there are considerations other than just health
Who wouldn’t be positive about gaining much more cash?
It’s claimed that smiling is the thing to attract so much more wealth
Just visualise and it’s sure to come – there’s no need to be rash

But while we’re on the matter of our money and all that we hold dear
It has been claimed the credit crunch and everything to follow
Was caused by a smiling self-deception ‘gainst our inner fear
Which makes rictus acquiescence somewhat hollow

And so from my simple thesis you’ve had just a tiny glance
Of all that can be gained by positive emotion,
Protected ‘gainst the vagaries of risk and capricious chance
Your duty now to make quite sure your smiles will gain promotion

So what then is the final word – negative thought an equal danger?
Perhaps we need to monitor our thoughts to find the middle way
For when reality and truth become to us a stranger
Then surely false emotion only will hold sway



And now I am tempted to add a codicil to my earlier musings
As more recent concepts in this field have now arisen
I hope this will not lead to even more confusion
And ensure that our thinking will never us imprison

But rather bring  freedom through deep mediation
Guided by TM* or Mindfulness based concepts
We may readily accept our own living emotions
Threats to our peace we thus learn to contest

And thus through the means of such cognitive therapies
We might learn to cope in the maelstrom of our life
Finding a measure of calm and serenity
Heralding peace and negating all our strife

Ken Fisher

*TM Transcendental Meditation

[Reflections based on the book “Smile or Die” by Barbara Ehenreich]







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