If you look at a childhood photograph of yourself and then in the mirror, you’ll see it: You’re still the same person, and yet you’re not. Your face has changed, becoming rounder or more angular. Lines and wrinkles have formed. Between then and now is a life, and that life has left visible traces, which tell a story about you.
Practitioners of the ancient art of face-reading say your face reveals a great deal about who you are and how you’ve responded to the events
of your life. A branch of Chinese medicine, this art was first developed three thousand years ago, and it is still practiced today. Siang Mien, as
it is called in Chinese, is used in Asia for purposes such as assessing job applicants, because their outward appearance is believed to hold clues to their personalities, innate talents and character.
But other cultures also have face readers, people who can read the story your face tells. A face reader looks at how people have used their inborn energy and sees their strengths and limitations. A face reading offers insights into your personal qualities and talents and how to make the best possible use of the energy that nature has given you. It is meant to help you live a more authentic life and display your true self to the world. When you live that way, you are less likely to get overwhelmed or to suffer from burnout.
Chaja Kruijssen is a psychologist and a face reader. “When clients come to me in my role as a psychologist, I ask them to tell their own stories,” she says. “But as a face reader, I start by telling them what I see in their faces and what that tells me about the issues in their lives.
That often leads to a deep and fundamental conversation about the person’s life. When we are truly seen, it has a healing effect. It brings about the recognition and acceptance that we have all struggled and gone through the same processes. By noticing where you still have inner work to do and accepting the challenge, you can even change your face.”
The main goal of face reading is for you to become more truly yourself. According to Chinese teachings, that naturally makes you more beautiful. The Chinese believe that true beauty mainly has to do with the degree of shen that radiates from your eyes. Shen is your natural vital energy, your flame of life. When you take good care of that energy by doing things that really suit you and developing your talents, your face takes on a bright, healthy glow. Then you’re in your element, walking your “Golden Path.” Happy people have light in their eyes and lustrous skin. You can see their spirit.
“But becoming your true self and discovering what suits you is still a big job. We often try to fit in, run ourselves ragged, or have jobs that don’t really make us happy. We spend too much time caring for other people or stay in a relationship that isn’t flourishing,” Chaja Kruijssen says. “It’s interesting to see that people in poorer countries often have a lot of shen in their eyes. They’re better at taking life as it comes and going with the flow. The cultures of those countries are less ego-driven, and success is not the measure of everything. They may have many lines in their faces — after all, they’ve lived, learned lessons, and experienced sorrow — but their faces are their own. There’s great beauty in that.”
You can see quite a bit in your own face. Stand in front of a mirror and look at your face while it’s at rest. What do you notice, if you’re gentle and honest with yourself? Is there a certain expression? Do you see shen in your face?
Maybe you’ll notice that one half of your face is different from the other. Face readers say the right side of your face is what you show the outside world. The left side is connected to your inner world. To see the differences, you can cover each side of your face with a piece of paper. Start by covering the left side. Then the face you see in the mirror is the self you show to the outside world. Then cover the right side of your face. Now you see the left side, the side that reflects your inner life, the person you truly are. Now put down the piece of paper and take another look at your whole face. Notice whether and how the two parts of your face differ. Are you showing the world who you are inside?
Lines in your face form partly from a repeated facial expression. Facial expressions stem from a certain feeling. Suppose you see that your mouth has a dissatisfied curl. You might ask yourself, What am I unhappy about? Or if you often wrinkle your forehead, you might wonder, What am I angry about? Am I too driven?
If you accept, resolve, or cope with everything you experience in your life, it won’t leave deep marks on your face, according to Taoist tradition. But when you can’t cope, your energy stagnates. Stagnant emotions like sorrow can cause deep lines. Lines of sorrow run down the cheeks. According to Chinese teachings, they correspond to the lungs, which are linked to the emotion of sadness. When you see lines of sorrow in your face, you might ask yourself, What am I still sad about? What emotions haven’t I fully acknowledged yet? “If you then make a
place for your sorrow, you can even change the weight and depth of the lines,” Kruijssen says. “You can be proud of those lines. They show that you’ve been through transformation.”
Here’s an interesting test: Hold a pen or pencil against your cheek, in a straight line down from the middle of your eyebrow. If you can easily blink without touching the pencil, you have deep-set eyes. Face readers say that’s a sign of an introverted nature. Introverted people tend to recover their energy best by spending time alone. If you can’t blink without touching the pencil, then you’re probably an extrovert. Extroverted people recover their energy best in the company of others.
Text: Julika Marijn