Wednesday, February 17, 2010: A new experience re. an old interaction
Yesterday the work group meditation session was focused on a practice called “compassionate abiding”. (For more information about the group, check out the January 12 post.) The practice of compassionate abiding involves the meditator becoming aware of some element in him/herself that is distressing or disturbing, then giving full attention to that disturbance and experiencing how it is, and how it changes and transforms (and frequently dissipates). [Here’s a more detailed article on compassionate abiding if you are interested in it.]
“Coincidentally”, I had a dentist appointment this afternoon, just one day after my initial practice with compassionate abiding. The dental visit was a routine appointment (just a cleaning) – but I am very phobic of the dentist (thanks to a decade of painful orthodontia as a kid), to the point where yes, I have actually cried in the dentist chair. Like, last year.
When I arrived at my dental appointment, I certainly was experiencing a variety of distresses and disturbances; and as I was sitting in the waiting room, a thought came to me, “Hey, Stef, why not try that compassionate abiding method you did yesterday?” I then had an immediate counter-reaction of, “Oh, come ON! Why would I want to be MORE present, MORE aware of the trauma I am about to experience? I think a better plan would be to block everything out, ignore as much of this as I can, and hopefully minimize my exposure to the stress of the situation – not intensify it!”
But then I got to thinking… I have been using the method of avoidance as it relates to the dentist for over 15 years now; and I still get freaked out as I approach each visit. Even though I am an adult, and even though I rationally know that most dental visits are going to be 100% painless and completely issue-free, I still have pretty intense anxiety whenever I enter the dental office. So clearly, trying to block out, ignore, and avoid the emotions and pain and stress I have around the dentist hasn’t been very helpful so far – so why not try this different approach? What do I have to lose?
When I sat in the dentist’s chair, draped with the paper bib, mouth wide open and overhead task light beating down on me, I decided to try and be fully present to the situation for one full minute. And immediately I felt the rapid beating of my heart, the tension in my open jaw, the flush in my cheeks, and the damp sweat in my armpits. I felt the anxiety tightening my chest, and I felt how my breathing felt constricted. It was awful. It was all really, really unpleasant.
But then I started to explore each sensation. With the next in-breath, I started to get really precise about the tightening in my chest. Where specifically in my chest cavity did the tight feeling start? Did it consume my entire ribcage area? And was my back involved at all, or just my front? With the next out-breath, I breathed some space around the chest tension. At the next in-breath, I resumed the inquiry; and at the next out-breath, I breathed a little bit more space.
Within about 4 in-and-out breaths, my chest anxiety was noticeably improved. It was still present, but dialed down from a rating of “7” when I first sat in the chair, to around a “3” after the brief meditation experience. It really surprised me. This practice really “worked”!
And now I get to chuckle at myself. Um, of course it “worked”. People have been doing this practice for literally 2500 years; would it still be in existence if it didn’t work? Just goes to show how ego-centric I really am. And how open my soul is to trying new experiences, so that I can become a bit more free.