“You made it easy on me!” the hygenist said when she was finished cleaning my teeth. She went on to laugh that she could make up some reason to keep me for the full length of the appointment if that mattered to me.
Her comment made me feel even better than she realized—I’d been consciously trying to make it easier on her—and me—by monitoring the tension in my body and working to release it in the moment. My little goal—set the night before—had been to make it as easy for her (and therefore easier on me) as possible.
This sounds like a minor thing, but I have been doing unconscious battle with dentists and hygienists ever since I first encountered and exasperated them in my 20’s. My rational brain is just fine with dental work, but something in my unconscious is very actively trying to get their hands and tools out of my mouth. Now.
Reflecting on yesterday’s experience, I realized that this wasn’t just a matter of “trying to relax”. I was using meditation skills—and experience in trying different techniques—to make things easier on myself.
My primary form of meditation gives me practice in coming back to the moment, and noticing what’s happening in my body and my immediate surroundings. That gave me the ability to notice tension in my jaw and neck, or a tendency to hold my breath and brace myself for discomfort. Once noticed, I could slacken that tension.
But I didn’t want to stay too present—tending to the sensations on my teeth and gumlines wasn’t going to help in this situation! So then I went to visualization—something I don’t do often as a form of meditation, but I know about it and can deploy it when it’s appropriate.
What comforts me and relaxes me? Animals. So I imagined the way my dog greets me when she wakes from a nap and wants some cuddles or playtime. What it’s like to offer my palm to the velvety nose of the horse down the lane. The warm sensory extravaganza of caring for goats on the milk line in days gone by. Those memories and imaginings helped prevent the tension from just surging back in. It gave me something actually enjoyable in the experience.
Cycling between these—mindfulness of the present, adjustment, visualization, and return to mindfulness—gave me the ability to make this minor dental appointment better for myself and for the hygienist, too.
That’s the kind of payoff that meditation provides, and that we don’t talk about enough. The conversation around it tends to go to zen masters or Navy Seals or some other kind of “top performer” person I can’t really relate to in my own life.
But what I’ve found is that meditation makes minor things easier, and more pleasant, for a very average person like myself. It gives me a capacity that I didn’t have before, and that I can apply in a way that’s good for me, and even good for others in my life. That is a huge benefit.