Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Illusion of Time

I am very afraid of dentists. I would rather give birth again than to sit in a dentist's chair. One of my earliest childhood memories is of being tortured by a dentist. I can honestly say that was my first experience with real pain, and it was delivered by a total stranger. Obviously I've never been able to completely let that go. I'm not that six year old anymore, but I share her memories to this day.

A couple of weeks ago I decided a tooth that had been nagging me probably needed a filling or something. I made an appointment, gathered what courage I could, and sat in that chair. Everything would be alright soon, right? Wrong! Turns out that the tooth in question must be removed! Pulled!! Extracted!!! Enter the pounding heart, racing mind, sudden inability to draw a full breath. Panic began to squeeze me. I assumed that "Dr. Doom" (poor guy) would do the deed right then and there. Trapped like a rat! How quickly we can be transported straight to the gates of hell, if only in our mind. At any rate, I was given a temporary reprieve when they scheduled the dreaded next appointment for two weeks from then. That gift of time expires TOMORROW MORNING! But that's too soon - I'm not ready!

It's interesting how our perception of time is so closely related to and altered by our attraction or aversion to whatever happens to be approaching. When it's something we want or like time seems to stand still. If, on the other hand, it is something we don't want then time shifts to warp speed. We know this isn't true, but it sure feels that way.

This has been one of those situations when a particular teaching suddenly strikes a very real cord. I have read the Pabbatopama Sutta, The Simile of the Mountain, many times before. Good story, no doubt, but it remained just that. I got it but didn't get it. Not really. Out of ignorance and delusion - clinging to the memory of a memory - I have neglected to properly care for my teeth. It's just that simple. Time marches on whether or not we choose to acknowledge it. Procrastination proves to only create even more difficulty, as the clock continues to tick. Of course all of this dentist business pales when compared to what is steadily closing in on all of us. The tooth will come out, I will survive and feel foolish for having created so much unnecessary suffering for myself. And all the while the clock will continue to tick off the minutes.


Gary said...

Hi Kris - have you been to the dentist yet?

Facing deep-set fears is something that we all must do on the Buddhist Path, and it's very interesting to read of how you're coping with this one. It was great to read of your relating of the Pabbapotama Sutta to a real life situation, bringing the words to life, so to speak.

I guess the deteriorating condition of this tooth is a living example of dukkha...and a painful one at that!

Be well in the Dhamma,
Gary, at Forest Wisdom.

puthujjana said...

Hi Gary - yes and the tooth was gone in no time, and with relatively little pain. A skilled oral surgeon and plenty of novacaine took care of that part. The rest was up to me. I did reflect on that sutta while I was waiting to be called. And once in "the chair" just being with the breath was my only focus. To be honest I wasn't sure I would be able to stay with that, but instead of it being a struggle it was quite spontaneous and comfortable.

I'm beginning to understand that there are so many living examples of dukkha in this life that are ignored, neglected, denied. And so when they finally demand recognition we are often not equipped or prepared. I'm still trying to see the connections more clearly.


Gary said...

Recognizing the subtleties of dukkha isn't easy, or sure, Kris. Yet, you seem to be making steady progress on this path of discovery, and seeing some of the connections that link from one moment to the next. This is great to read!

Your friend in the Dhamma,

Dhamma81 said...


This is an inspiring piece you have here. The fact that you stayed with your breath during the whole thing is awesome. I'm not a huge dentist fan either, I actually have to go in sometime soon to possibly get some crowns and it's actually my fear of the whole thing that is holding me back from dealing with it. You're right, time seems distorted at times doesn't it? How was the waiting room experience? There is something about that muzak and the outdated magazines that can be a place where one could create more suffering. Restlessly flipping through an old Time or People looking to distract oneself is something I remember well from the last oral surgery visit I had. Glad to see it worked out and that you made it into a practice situation. May you be well.

PeterAtLarge said...

This sounds like a story For Accidental Dharma: The Gift Wrapped in Shit! I have just stumbled on your site, and would love to have you stumble on mine: The Buddha Diaries. Now that I've found you, I'll keep checking in.

puthujjana said...

Gary - You’re so right, very difficult to recognize. It seems that when I’ve just about given up trying is when a tiny piece of the puzzle falls in my lap. Thanks so much for your input. As always it’s very helpful.

Justin - To be honest, staying with the breath seemed to be my only option at the time. It was all I had to work with. It wasn’t a planned strategy or anything, if you know what I mean.
Strangely enough I don’t have much of a problem with waiting rooms. I kind of don’t do anything really except check out the room. Perhaps that’s subconsciously getting the ‘lay of the land’ in case the need arises for a hasty retreat.:-) This particular time was a bit different though because the Pabbapotama Sutta was really in the front of my mind. That and I remembered reading about Ajahn Chah’s experience with his fears when staying alone in a charnel ground. I’m not sure why but this combination had a calming effect. It’s difficult to explain.

Peter - Well, it seems that I have been stepping in it quite a bit lately! And there has indeed been a hidden gift every time. Thank you for visiting. I’ll be sure to check out your site soon.

Thanks again to everyone