Socially Phobic

July 18, 2007

Back Again

Filed under: meditation,spirituality,Things that help — iambrave @ 1:42 am

Hi, how are you? Good, I hope. We can chit-chat later, and I’ll get you up to date on the things that I’ve been up to. But it’s late, and I’ve been working reeealllllly hard on regulating my sleep schedule, so I’m going to make this one brief.

I wanted to make note of an experience that I had today. First, some background. I’ve been exploring Tonglen meditation and the work of Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun. I’ve been reading a book that she wrote called The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessnes in Difficult Times. I feel like I am not well-educated enough to write much on this topic, but I understand Tonglen to be this, in essence: during the meditation practice, you inhale pain and suffering and discomfort, not only your own, but that of the world, and then exhale calm and relief. Wikipedia says that in the practice, one visualizes taking onto oneself the suffering of others, and giving to others, one’s own happiness and success.

The book says:

Many of us prefer practices that will not cause discomfort, yet at the same time we want to be healed. But bodhichitta training doesn’t work that way. A warrior accepts that we can never know what will happen to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not knowing is part of the adventure, and it’s also what makes us afraid.

Bodhichitta training offers no promise of happy endings. Rather, this “I” who wants to find security – who wants something to hold on to – can finally learn to grow up. The central question of a warrior’s training is not how we avoid uncertainty and fear but how we relate to discomfort. How do we practice with difficulty, with our emotions, with the unpredictable encounters of an ordinary day?

…we can ask ourselves this question: ‘Do I prefer to grow up and relate to life directly, or do I choose to live and die in fear?’

I guess the links to anxiety are fairly obvious. But really what I want to talk about is my trip to the dentist today. It sucked. I already had tears streaming down my face from the gagging from the X-rays (man, do I wish sometimes that I weren’t such a delicate little flower), and then came the cleaning. The cleaning was horrendous. I hadn’t been to the dentist in almost 3 years, and my teeth were in drastic need of some work. The last time that I had my teeth cleaned, the pain was so bad that they I had to come in twice so that they could Novocaine each side of my mouth. Today, I found out that my insurance didn’t cover multiple visits. And so, I had to do it all without any sort of analgesic. The hygienist used some sort of cleaning machine, and the pain ranged from god-awful scraping/cutting of my gums to the feeling that she was possibly striking the center of each and every nerve directly. (Side note: it’s my own damn fault. I am flossing three times a day from now on.)

So, I was in pain. I would estimate that the cleaning took around 45 minutes. But at certain points, I realized that I was holding my breath. I started to meditate into the pain. I accepted the pain for what it was. I tried to experience it fully. And you know what? I think it helped. I was able to cope better at the moments during which I was focusing directly on the pain; the times when I wasn’t trying to change anything. (I wasn’t able to take it so far as to take on all of the pain of all of the dental patients everywhere, or even to exhale relief. What can I say, I’m still a novice.)

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…it’s a cliche. And it has always sounded great in theory, but I’m not sure that I really understood it. Now I get this: I was definitely stronger after the dental cleaning from hell today. First, the endorphins that seemed to kick in afterwards were glorious. I was high simply on the fact that no one was stabbing my gums anymore. But also, as far as relating to life directly goes, accepting the full adventure: it helped me to remember that sometimes you have to spend some time at the bottom before you can fully appreciate just being normal. The dentist made the rest of my day better for the simple fact that I wasn’t at the dentist anymore.

That’s all. I hope this is coherent. It’s way past my new 11:00 bedtime (can you believe it??? But more on that some other day).


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