Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Sometime last week, before the Labor Day weekend, my tongue noticed that the back of my upper right molar felt unusual in a jagged kind of way. A bit of tooth must have fallen away from the filling, requiring dental attention.

Great, more expense. It will probably need a cap, generally close to a $1,000 procedure. Meanwhile, I have yet another tree that needs to be removed before its roots break the retaining wall behind the house and I still haven't repaired the shed after a limb fell on it, having "squandered" all of the insurance money on taking down other dangerous trees and deadwood.

So I decided to ignore the chipped tooth, at least until after the Labor Day weekend. I was busy at work and couldn't afford time off for dentistry and beside, except for intriguing my tongue, which couldn't stop exploring the strange new texture, it wasn't causing me any problems or pain.

The pain started Monday, Labor Day, but nothing that a little ibuprofen couldn't manage. But it increased in intensity overnight, and started to really hurt while I was at work today, a strange new kind of pain, not a throbbing like a headache but an electric sort of raw nerve pain.

By noon I gave in and called the dentist - the misery wasn't worth the miserly - but couldn't get an appointment until tomorrow morning. By 3 pm, the pain was so intense I had to leave work so I could just lay down at home and ride out the waves of pain, waiting for the relief the dentist will ultimately provide. By this time, the pain was beyond the comfort provided by Tylenol or Advil, and while I thought that I might have found a temporary solution by filling my mouth with Listerine and letting the alcohol numb the nerve, it didn't work after the first attempt.

I rallied and went to an evening meeting of the neighborhood Alliance, but was miserable the whole time and barely participated. Now back home, all I can do is just be with the pain until the time comes when the pain is no longer manifested.

Zen practice gives us a firm grasp on the impermanence of all phenomena. During a long sesshin, I find some consolation for the pain in my legs in the realization that as soon as the bell rings and I arise, the pain will stop. Nothing last forever, so one might as well accept whatever temporary conditions arise in the moment and just observe those conditions rise and fall. Everything's impermanent.

However, my aching tooth is teaching me how much I'm still clinging to the desire for the permanence of health and the absence of pain, and I'm going to have to be with this teacher all night.

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