Have you ever met anyone who actually likes going to the dentist? No, neither have I.
Thankfully we have wonderful people in this world that devote their training and careers to studying dentistry. I have found the most wonderful dentist who a few years ago put me at ease and helped me get over a life long fear of going to the dentists after a particularly traumatising experience when I was a young girl. The experience involved my father having to help the dentist pin my arms down while they prodded over and over again to get an anesthetic needle into my vein so they could extract some teeth. All I finally remember about that experience is a mask going over my mouth and falling asleep crying. I woke up, teeth gone, in pain and being sick. There really is no wonder people have a fear of the dentist, in my era anyway.
Taking my children to the dentist is a very different experience today, they actually get excited and look forward to going, having a chat with the dentist, getting to push the buttons to make the chair go up and down and eventually getting their goody bag or stickers at the end.
I wanted to share an experience I had recently which in terms of procedure was one of the worst I've probably had to encounter so far, so it pushes the boundaries of pain and thinking to outside an everyday level. My understanding of the nature of thought playing out was totally visible to me on this wet windy morning, I was in a place of observation as I saw how my thinking created a physical reaction in my body.
I had a morning appointment and I arrived early and was very at ease and I was feeling grateful for being in a fairly light mood, with little on my mind. I sat in the chair and as it reclined back I was almost ready to fall asleep. The dentist explained what he was about to do and explained every detail of how he would carry out the procedure.
I didn't even feel the needle sink in to my gums over and over again, I remember daydreaming and thinking about something else entirely, until I started to feel my lip numb. This anesthetic procedure alone would have started up the thinking cogs, probably the night before and caused a sleepless night. After that the cutting, the grinding, the pulling, the stretching, the drilling began. I remember observing thoughts flying in every now and again as clear as day. "what if it doesn't work" "what if his knife slips and he cuts my lips open", then I saw his glove coming out of my mouth covered in blood and felt and tasted the blood running down my throat "arghhh!" "what if I get MRSA or other infection?" "who will sort out the kids?" "what about when my husbands away and I am feeling ill?" "how will I cope?" Each thought building up one on top of the other, proceeding down a path of great personal destruction, thinking the worse, looking for a panic reaction and some anxiety to bring into this experience. My fists would tighten each time.
What was so amazing, is that because I was just lying there and had nothing else to do but to observe these thoughts, I was able to see them for what they were, just unhelpful thoughts coming to supposedly "protect" me, each time I saw this my fists loosened and my head cleared and I felt peaceful, and once again started to hear the background music playing again. I remember this happening a few times during the 70 minutes or so I was in the chair.
The thoughts were so visible and clear, with lots of feeling.
So I drove home and because I hadn't eaten I couldn't take my first painkiller. The drive home was pretty occupied with the thought of pain and the way it pulsated in my gums. I was thinking about it because I was driving I had time to think and be quiet.
The moment I got home, getting my lunch ready I realised that as soon as I was occupied with getting stuff out of the fridge, or preparing the soup (yes with a straw), that I wasn't feeling the pain. It just wasn't in my experience, until I stopped to wait for the microwave to finish I felt the pain again.
So what does this mean, well in this case having to think of something else and not having a clear mind was useful as it took away the experience of the pain in those moments. It was so clear to me that the moment I was preoccupied and using my thought processing system for something else it didn't bring the experience of the pain through my senses.
I'm not saying we can avoid the feeling of pain, but we can recognise that our experience of pain is coming purely from our thought system using the senses we have to be conscious of that experience in that moment.
I know from past circumstances that I would have handled this very differently, I would have started fearful thinking about the day well in advance of the appointment, told many people how nervous I was as if that would help me feel better, have a sleepless night worrying about the pain and what if it didn't work. I would probably have been in a low mood and thought it would be appropriate to be snappy to people around me, get them to feel sorry for me etc etc.