Monday, February 2, 2009

Meditation in the Dentist's Chair

This morning I had an appointment with my dentist to have two cavities filled (only 5 more to go! Yay!)

For as long as I can remember, my way of coping with dental visits was to distract my body and my brain as much as possible from the pain, discomfort, and awkwardness of the experience. I mean, there is a whole lot of drilling and drooling to contend with at the dentist's office and if there were ever any moments of my life I hesitated to embrace, it would be these.

One method of distraction I'd use was to focus entirely on my hands--and as soon as the huge scary novacaine needle was about to pierce the wall of my mouth, I'd start tapping or scratching the top of my left hand with my right one, in a semi-successful attempt at redirecting my awareness from one area of my body to the other. And of course I'd keep my eyes closed and picture myself sipping on fruity cocktails in an exotic beach somewhere very far away from here. As usual I'd attempt to push away the unpleasant, and summon a degree of neutral-to-semi-unpleasant sensations in their place.

Today I experimented with sitting zazen in the dentist's chair. As I lay there reclined in the chair, I simply focused on my breathing and paid keen attention to the cold sharpness of the needle as it dug into the top row of my gums. I kept completely still as my hands rested on each of the chair arms, my body open and vulnerable to the entire experience. My mouth and tongue gradually numbed, and I took stock of what that felt like: nothing actually, it felt like nothing. A second injection followed and again, I sat motionless, and didn't entertain any judgments or opinions about what was happening, I just let it happen and submitted to the moment.

My dentist conversed with her assistant as she filled my two teeth (are they still putting mercury into our mouths?) and before I knew it, it was all over. Uncomfortable and awkward, complete with saliva streaming down my numbed-out mouth and onto my shirt, but it was over.

No big deal, just a dental appointment I decided to keep.

By the way, if you don't floss now, start.


They call him James Ure said...

It's so wonderful when Zazen is apart of all of our everyday activities. Bowing...

Lone Oak said...


Good thoughts on alleviating suffering right were it lives! I recently spent over an hour in an MRI machine, doing corpse-like Zazen, regulating my breath for the study they were doing. When I emerged at the conclusion, the big smile on my face came as a surprise to the attendants and the doc, who usually see stressed out patients at that point.

You never know when you'll find opportunities for practice!

David Clark