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Metta’s Checkup

Welcome, dear readers, to another month of taking metta off the meditation cushion and out into the world.

Last month’s article, “Metta’s Tent Revival,” found me generating metta for those who grow our food, particularly on the regenerative farm where I’m still volunteering. Surprisingly, the theme continued much closer to home this month, generating metta for those who care for our mouths.

My toothache started innocuously enough, with a slight tenderness in a back molar with a filling some 20 years old. Considering that I’d never had problems before or since that cavity, I assumed that perhaps it had fallen out and booked a dental checkup.

Despite all my relocations in the last two decades, I’ve stayed loyal to my dentist for the sake of simplicity: they’re located in London—easy to reach from wherever I’ve landed—are always happy to provide administrative references for passports and the like, and I normally only have to see them for routine checks. 

But this month I was about to discover the real reason for my loyalty.

As I slid into the examination chair and my dentist switched on the overhead lamp to have a closer look, she marveled that I wasn’t in more pain as that back molar had cracked in half and exposed the nerve! She recommended fitting a crown before it cracked any further, and booked me in for a hygienist cleaning and a mold-taking appointment in two weeks’ time.

I walked away, uncharacteristically feeling like a total failure. . . . Why had I not noticed sooner? Had I somehow brought this on? Memories of years of childhood dentist visits flooded into focus. They’d never been particularly traumatic, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that, somehow, I had let them and myself down.

Over the next few weeks, I sat with my increasing nerves for reasons that I couldn’t pinpoint. The pain was bearable, and the memories now resurfacing didn’t really feel like my own anymore. For example, my mother’s description how much playing jump rope in the schoolyard could hurt because of toothache as dental care was nearly non-existent in wartime Germany. And how fastidious it later made her with my childhood appointments.

When I asked a healer friend for advice, she shared that teeth issues usually represent getting to the root of an energetic problem, and gently reminded me nothing ever need be perfect—not even our teeth—and that I hadn’t failed anything.

At my next appointment, I was greeted with soothing solfeggio-frequency music as I entered the dental hygienist’s office. I commented on how comforting it was to listen to and, as she settled me into the examination chair, I noticed all her beautiful crystal bracelets as she adjusted the overhead light. She confided she was a reiki practitioner and combined her healing interests with her cleaning treatments.

Well, that got this metta meditator’s attention right away, and I asked to hear more.

As she flossed and scaled and polished my teeth, she described her most satisfying result was working on her own mother, who had been deeply traumatized by dental visits as a child, and for many years as an adult couldn’t bring herself to return until her daughter helped her release those memories. She mused that our teeth, more than any other part of our body, hold on to our ancestors’ fears.

Between rinses, I told her about how much I admired Nadine Artemis, a champion of holistic dental care and the oral—rather than digestive—microbiome, and Dawn Crystal, a sound-frequency healer to whom I had been listening to heal any possible ancestral trauma associated with this mystery crack that had appeared in my molar.

She listened with interest and asked me to write both down for her mother to explore further.

Buoyed by this unexpectedly lovely experience, I moved across to my dentist’s office to take a mold for my upcoming crown. Again, a totally pleasant visit at odds with the dread and memories surfacing within. Interestingly, I discovered she had trained to become a dentist in the small German town where my mother was born and raised.

Afterward, I returned to the regenerative farm where I’m still volunteering, not too far from Highgrove, the recently crowned King Charles’s organic farm, glad for the distraction of the height of the growing season in the market garden until my next appointment.

And then the real pain set in a couple of days before my dental coronation: the left side of my face swelled up, my head felt like it might explode, and my poor jaw felt like it had caught fire.

The dentist took one look and exclaimed that the exposed half-tooth had turned into a volcano of pus. And no matter how much numbing agent she injected, the pain remained excruciating—second only to having two fibroids embolized, as described in “Metta’s Spotlight.”

I sobbed and sobbed tears for the physical pain, as well as the pain I had yet to pinpoint.

My dentist said soothing things in my mother tongue, reassuring me that this was her last appointment of the day so we could take our time, and twice sent me to the park outside to hug a tree for pain relief.

When she first suggested this, I thought I had misheard. And when I realized she was serious, I took her up on the offer.

As I sat shaking on a bench surrounded by nature’s dental assistants offering both oxygen and pain relief, I continued to sob for myself, for the pain I was feeling, for the person I’d been when I first had the filling that had ultimately caused this crack, for all the painful ancestral memories surfacing, and for something too primal to articulate even now with the clarity of hindsight. But I also somehow found the courage to go back in so that my dentist could continue her excavation. 

With each scrape and drill of dead and diseased matter, she cooed comforting nothings and apologized for what was happening to me, while I held one hand over my heart to generate metta for myself, with the other in readiness to indicate when the pain got too unbearable. At one point she even teased that she’d make me a cake to celebrate getting through today.

Satisfied that she’d finally exhausted the volcano in my mouth, she explained that she was going to leave the tooth exposed as, without lab tests, she couldn’t be sure whether aerobic or anaerobic bacteria were causing the pain. If it was anaerobic bacteria, covering the crack now would starve them of oxygen and cause them to multiply and create an even bigger volcano. 

She kindly gave me her private number to ring anytime over the coming days if anything felt off or if I just needed a chat, a prescription for a course of antibiotics, and asked to see me again first thing after the long holiday weekend.

I spent much of the next three days catching up on lost sleep with an ice pack for a pillow as the antibiotics and painkillers slowly worked their magic. While I generally avoid all forms of pharmaceuticals, in this case I was grateful for their swift action. A garden co-worker very sweetly brought me a botanical mouthwash and a jar of homemade sauerkraut to reseed my gut with good bacteria. And our boss very kindly offered a lift if I became stranded en route due to rail strikes.

On my return to the clinic, there was only a baby volcano left to drain and my dentist again apologized for hurting me. Rather than begrudging her the pain she’d had to inflict to get the job done, I surprised her by asking how she retained her compassion after all these years of dental practice. I teased that every co-worker or friend I had described her kindness to had asked for her private number too, particularly the one who compared their own dentist to Sweeny Todd!

She chuckled, became quiet, and after a thoughtful pause replied: “I always imagine myself in that chair, and treat patients as I would wish to be treated.”

Never before had the golden rule of treating others as we would want to be treated hit home at that level . . . to the very root of the mystery pain where perhaps my generation of metta still couldn’t reach until now?

When all that needed to be removed was finally gone, I hugged both my dentist and her assistant, and went to sit outside with the trees to regenerate metta for myself, for my ancestors, for everyone who had helped me this past month, and for everyone who’s ever had toothache bubble up within to refill the drained volcano inside.

My eventual coronation a fortnight later went so smoothly, I didn’t even need anesthetic. As my dentist tipped the examination chair up to release me once and for all, she chuckled, “This has been more than a restoration, more like a life journey, eh?” In turn, I surprised her and the clinic with an actual celebration cake we’d joked about tongue-in-cheek throughout my visits made from organic produce from the market garden.

And so, dear readers, in these eruptive times, please remember to fill any cavities with kindness and to crown your imperfections. To quote Leonard Cohen, who was born into a Jewish household and became a Buddhist monk later in life, about writing his 1992 album The Future:

The future is no excuse for an abdication of your own personal responsibilities toward yourself and your job and your love. 

Or, to metta-morphose the lyrics to its best-known track named “Anthem” that he wrote as the Berlin Wall fell:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how even more metta gets in.

See more

Highgrove, discover its sustainable secrets (YouTube)
The Good Dirt Podcast: Renegade Beauty With Nadine Artemis (YouTube)
The Story of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem (Quartz)
Transform Your Smile: discover the natural secret to pain-free dental health (YouTube)

Related features from BDG

My Admirable Friend: Reiki Healer and Compassionate Advocate
My Journey Toward Sowa Rigpa – The Science of Healing
Maintaining Joy and Inspiration as Parents
Book Review: Tatiana Elle’s Yoga for Women: 45 Poses for Physical, Emotional & Spiritual Wellbeing
Acknowledging Anger and Developing Compassion
Ritual Readying – Dancing, Healing, and Spiritual Realization, Part Two

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