Being peaceful, calm and sitting in mindfulness is easier when you’re relaxed. But as chance would have it, I had the opportunity to practice in the complete opposite of that mental state.
I had a tooth break — half a molar fell out when I was flossing – I guess the filling was breaking down. In short, I was really stressed and scared when this happened as I had a full day of work ahead and children to drop off to early-care at camp. How do I cope with one of life’s little “gremlins” of a surprise?
Well I honestly believe mindfulness practice helps in a “multi-mode” kind of way. You have bigger “mental” and “heart” and “trust” muscles to react to these little gremlins that pop up. Just like physically working out gives you stronger bones, stronger muscles, better flexibility, more of the “happy” hormones surging through you — i.e. multiple benefits, so does mindfulness practice build up better reactions under pressure.
So the tooth pops out onto the bathroom floor with a distinct “clink”. When you’re flossing, you’re never supposed to hear a “clink” so right away my mind pops up into “alert” mode like a prairie dog who hears an unexpected sound.
About five thoughts descend into my mind –
- Am I going to shoot into intense pain? Fear grips me on this one.
- If I’m going to make the train, I need to get lunches packed and I’ll be late doing that! Anxiety fills me on this one.
- My body is falling apart — is getting older really this harsh?? Worry creeps in on me here.
- I need to go see the dentist – how am I going to get an appointment, and what about all the work I have to do today? Panic floods me on this one.
- I haven’t eaten breakfast – what if I can’t eat and I’m starving now! Sadness grips me on this one.
Like a super hero to the rescue, the little bit of mindfulness “muscle” I’ve built up (with my less than regular practice) helps me out. So this happens:
- I breathe. In fact I take a few slow breaths while standing very still.
- I check for pain. There is none.
- I inspect the tooth that fell out, and the part that is left behind. Seems very weird but I accept I can do absolutely nothing about what is already done (this is half the battle if you’re into control and project managers tend to like their control).
- I call my dentist and find out the office opens at 8am, which is precisely the time early care starts and I need to be dropping my kids off. They give an option to call if it’s a dental emergency, but as I’m in no pain, and it’s less than an hour, I decide not to page anyone out.
- I assess my options and decide to try my luck at the dentist, taking the kids with me to the office for when it opens.
- I breathe and tell myself everything will be OK. Because, really, I have no control of this circumstance, and I can just flow with stress in my mind about it all, or flow with peace in my mind about it all. I choose the latter as life has taught me again and again that what I conjure up in my mind is pretty much exactly what manifests in reality.
- I walk in at 8:00am to the dentist. My actual dentist is there at reception! Am I ever glad to see this man. I show him the tooth. He immediately calls his assistant, and he has me in the chair by 8:01am and has put a temporary covering over the sheared off tooth so I can eat (yay!). He says to come back in for a filling replacement, and lo and behold, they have an appointment the very next day for me.
- I end up taking the kids to camp by 8:20am and taking one later train into Toronto.
- Because I’m on this later train, one of my best friends finds me, and we have a very chatty, happy commute into Toronto. A stranger on the train noticed us talking and offered to switch seats with me so I could sit next to my friend.
All in all, the moment I gave up release of this situation in terms of thinking negative thoughts that flowed into negative emotions, is the moment some other force seemed to take over and guide my day into the best possible it could be from that point forward. Of course I made decisions, but with a calm, clear mind. This, I believe, was there for me because I had practiced stillness.
I also had an extreme chance to build more mindfulness muscle the following day as I lay in the chair totally afraid of what would happen as I received 2 very long needles to freeze my mouth, and then my dentist proceeded to drill holes, stick in pins, grind and polish with tools that made the most terrifying noises I’ve had to listen to within two inches of my head.
I lay in that chair and practiced relaxing every muscle I could and training my body to relax at the sound of the drills. I was so tense but each time he started up one of those tools, it got easier and easier to ‘chill out’. I visualized everything going well. I visualized positive energy flowing to my dentist when one of the pins would not thread into the holes he drilled, or when the ring he had to put around the tooth would not go on properly.
Each time I did this visualization he got it to work as it should. Whether that made a difference or not ..I’ll never know. What I do know is that when you visualize the best scenario…it comes true. And mindfulness skills certainly helped me during a very stressful and scary time.
In the end I was so full of gratitude and awe of the how life can work — the visceral force that seemed to help this happy ending come about, that I bought my dentist and his assistant a flower arrangement, wrote them a note about how wonderful their care and service was, and I delivered treats for the office staff. I could not imagine feeling this much joy out of an event like this. But that’s what happens when you’ve got the muscles — it feels effortless.