Refraining from Avoidance

When I go to the dentist for a filling I asked to be numbed, no hesitation and no doubt about it, ‘Novocaine, please‘. The pain of dental work or more accurately the fear of the pain has dogged me since childhood. Somebody from the congregation has booked himself and his wife in for dental work tomorrow; that’s Valentines Day. “Have you any advice on dealing with the fear and the pain”. My fleeting thought was to suggest they go out for a meal instead! And then we talked, all I had to offer was empathy.

Our conversation stimulated memories of dentists past. A Buddhist dentist whose assistant, also a Buddhist, tried to convince me not to have Novocaine. “It’s only pain, it will pass”! Teaching I was not ready to hear right then. And the Irish dentist, with a jewel set into his front tooth. In his care, while deep in the horror of a wisdom tooth extraction I heard, “everybody’s got to hurt, some times” coming from the sound system. It was such corny good timing, I had to restrain from laughing out loud. One can’t plan for those moments.

It’s natural enough to want to avoid pain, to be put out of ones misery. After that extraction I suffered the worst pain of my life. I remember thinking a deliberate blow to the head could not come too soon. It was that bad and pain killers had already failed me. Years latter I was told that “strong men” faint from having a ‘dry socket’ which is what I, unknowingly, was suffering from.

Physical extremity can be a great teacher simply because there is no getting away from it. Dental pain, so close to ones brain, seems to crush all reasoning power too. I eventually took stock, canceled a trip to the monastery and spent a week at our Hermitage in Wales. I had decided I’d just have to ‘sit it out’ and soon after that decision the pain started to subside; or was it the fear that subsided?

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6 thoughts on “Refraining from Avoidance”

  1. The school dentist was a fear for me. Slow drills, whirring pulleys, pressure, pain, fear and total lack of empathy. Local anaesthetic was not on the menu. I remember to this day the first dentist who treated me like a human being, but it took years to overcome the fear. I think of anaethesia as pain management rather than pain avoidance. Many pain killers have their origins in natural products, from aspirin in willow bark through opiates and coca products.
    The brain itself is thought the make its own opiates under stress.
    In gassho

  2. Surely its sensible, to avoid unnecessary pain – if its an option that causes no harm?
    I’m thinking something along the lines of ‘compassion to all beings – including oneself!!’ although I can see how pain can be a great teaching to go through.

    Isn’t there a danger of creating a somewhat herioc notion or ideal of training? Of equating being able to cope, with some kind of notion of depth of practice etc.
    I’m only asking this because i can see that they’re ideals that i might well create somewhere along the line.

    I also wanted to ask you about the meaning of the sleeping cat from the previous blog, i hope its not too late!
    Questions, questions…
    In Gassho,

  3. I can’t remember the meaning of the sleeping cat however I have a feeling somebody will leave a comment about it in the not too distant future.

    As for the use of pain management, I see that as being in the area of compassionate action. AND, nothing is simple where human beings are concerned, each of us respond to life in unique ways, including pain.

    I’m not sure I’m up for writing on this subject of pain management right now. I’ll put it on the back burner and let it cook slowly for a bit.

    Thank you for your input, both Walter and Miles. As I believe you know I am not an advocate for ‘heriocs’ in training. Far from it.

  4. Thanks Rev Master Mugo,
    I think i often make the mistake of being a bit unwittingly idealistic about things, including training.
    Somewhere between reading your blog, leaving a comment and then feeling a little awkward because it didn’t quite come out right, it all becomes a bit clearer!
    In gassho,

  5. Isn’t it interesting how one shows oneself, oneself and that so often happens when the head is lifted above the parapet.

    Parapet: Fortification consisting of a low wall.

    Interesting that it is only a _low_ wall!

    I hope you continue to ask your questions Miles

  6. I am interested in the pain issue.Please keep on discussing it!
    The song “Everybody Hurts (sometimes)” is by R.E.M. a world famous band. I have seen whole audiences singing along word for word – the feeling resonates so clearly with people.

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