Yesterday I had a root canal. That’s not the most enticing way to begin a blog post but please bear with me. Kelly and I often say that we have good bad luck—that is, we have bad luck like anyone does at times but it generally turns out well—and that’s what happened yesterday.
I’m working on a new book, and so in the dental chair I had a pen and notepad in my lap. I expected that the nitrous oxide administered by the dentist would aid me in thinking about the book. That was my plan: I would be going deeper into the wisdom of Saint Francis of Assisi while somewhere else the dentist and his assistant would be taking care of business in my mouth. I had explained the pen and pad to them; from previous experiences with nitrous, I figured I’d take the dental work in stride.
And so we began. The book I’m working on is in a new genre for me, coloring books for adults. These have become very popular. I’m no artist but I love typography and design, and I’m about halfway through a coloring book featuring the famous Saint Francis prayer that begins “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” (Turns out he didn’t write it, but it does reflect his ideas.) As the nitrous oxide helped to relax my body, I got an idea for the book cover and scribbled a few words on my pad. I had some ideas for the pages I haven’t designed yet and made another note.
There was one aspect of the writings of Saint Francis that I just hadn’t been able to appreciate. He disregarded the needs of his body and advised others to do the same. He was happy to live in extreme poverty, which meant he was indifferent to cold, pain, and hunger. I couldn’t see myself heading in that direction! But as the nitrous assisted me in going into a more relaxed frame of mind, I realized that I had been thinking too much about the suffering and not enough about the incandescent flame of his immense love.
I imagined great love as well as I could. I could hear the dental drill working in my mouth, but it meant nothing to me. I stretched a little and worked on relaxing my body while I thought about love. I felt so much love for my husband, our dogs and cat, family, and friends. Then the love spread out further, to places I’ve lived, to places on the earth that were in drought.
Without conscious intention, I began thinking about the numerous acts of terrorism that have occurred in recent months and years. Immediately my body began tensing up, so I took some relaxing breaths which helped a bit, and the love circled around the scenes of suffering that kept popping into my awareness. I found myself saying silently, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”
As I was caught up in all that, I felt a twinge in my tooth, the one the dentist was working on. Then another twinge, a bit stronger. That was odd, I thought. This was the first work I’d had done by this dentist, but he had come very highly recommended on a local Facebook group. Surely he knew what he was doing.
Ouch! That was no twinge. A bit annoyed that I was being distracted from my lofty thoughts, I shifted my attention to my feet. I wiggled my toes and tried to ignore the intermittent pains in my mouth. The dentist asked if it hurt, and I said yes but it was okay. Years ago, I had used self-hypnosis for dental pain and so now I practiced some of what I had done then. I tried counting the toes on my left foot, but kept getting seven. At least there were only five on my right foot. That showed me how we can change our perceptions.
Yikes! I jumped a little in the chair as the drill hit something. I thought that the dentist had maybe gotten down to where the infection was below the tooth. Oddly, with that quick moment of intense pain, I was suddenly back into my sense of connection with the suffering that terrorism has brought. It was as though my pain had opened a doorway to what others have endured. This open door could have brought me intolerable anguish, but for no apparent reason, I was also feeling much more love than I do in my everyday life.
I felt sorry for the dentist, who obviously knew that he was inflicting pain. I had too much stuff in my mouth to be able to tell him that I was okay with it since it would be over pretty soon. It wasn’t as though I had a lingering, painful disease or as though I was being bombed in a war zone. I accepted more deeply that pain is part of life… this is not something I’ve normally been okay with. I wanted to say to him, “It’s just pain. It will pass.”
Then I found myself thinking that right in that moment, there had to be people in various parts of the world who were being tortured by other people. I somehow knew that because of the pain I had just endured, I was connected with them, the way the aspen trees in a grove share the same roots. And as the love ramped up again in intensity, I knew that it was passing through me and into them. No, that wasn’t quite right. We were one. Another moment of sharp dental pain came and went, and truly I didn’t care. As the dentist was cleaning out the infection, so too my ability to love was being carved deeper.
Soon the dental work was over. The dentist explained why it had been painful, and I told him about my seven toes. Best of all, I know at a deeper level now that my prayers do help others who are suffering. And I felt so strongly that everyone’s thoughts of love make a difference. It doesn’t matter if they are religious or not. Like the aspen trees, we are all connected. I went home and finished coloring one of the pages in my book: