One of my problems as a writer is that I can't confine myself to one genre. Ideas occur to me and I write them down, with no concept of what to do with them. One of my resolutions for the new year is to experiment with posting short pieces here, starting today. Mindful Flossing is a silly little story that came to me after an encounter with a new dental hygienist. For some reason, it fits my holiday mood. Happy New Year!
After my divorce, the only woman in my life who withheld her approval was my dental hygienist. At a tender age, she had already perfected the slight head tilt and sad eyes that asked the question, “Is this the best you can do?”
For years, I wanted to scream, “Yes! I have a life! A life I don’t want to waste flossing!” My wife and I never agreed about my career goals and I despaired of reaching an accord with this freckle-faced hygienist either. There were days when I didn’t floss at all, refusing to cede authority to someone named Tulip.
Then I discovered Mindful Flossing™. The concept is simple: teeth are sentient beings. Everyone recognizes that teeth feel pain. It only stands to reason that they can also feel clean. Not all teeth are equally attractive; they are as variable as people are. But like us, they want to display their best selves to the world.
The Mindful Flossing™ technique helps me to focus on the needs of my teeth. I start by holding a generous length of floss at eye level in front of me and give thanks for all the events in my life that have led to this moment, for the opportunity to floss another day. I take ten deep breaths, in and out, to calm my monkey mind. Then slowly and deliberately, I pull the floss down one tooth to the gum on the inbreath and up the adjacent tooth on the outbreath. I visualize a continuous “u” between the teeth, down, across and up.
I know that it sounds like it would take forever to floss all my teeth. And it does take somewhat longer in real time. But here’s the magic of the technique: the time feels shorter. My relationship is directly with my teeth, not with a wife/dental hygienist figure. By flossing, I release the life force in my mouth. In other words, it is all about the teeth, here and now, rather than the threat of periodontal disease in the future. It is a way to center myself, a dental meditation. After flossing, I rinse with pure, cool tap water and rest in total acceptance of my mouth.
I used to floss in the car to save time, swallowing the food stuck between my teeth. How vile. It pains me now, to think how disconnected I was from my teeth, dividing my attention between them and the road. No wonder my gums bled. Teeth know when we’re distracted, just as children do.
Since I began to practice Mindful Flossing ™ five months ago, I have not missed a day. Typically, I floss morning and evening and sometimes indulge at noon as well. I find myself longing to floss when my stress level rises. My teeth offer me unconditional love, despite hard use. I can hear a chorus of little voices, “Thank you, thank you” after I rinse.
Mindful Flossing ™ encourages experimentation with different kinds of floss and other dental stimulants to keep the flossing experience new and vital. Changing from waxed to extra slippery or mint may revitalize your practice. Dental tape, toothpicks, tiny wire brushes, rubber tips, all have their place in a rich dental life. The frank display of edgy products in the dental aisle reflects the new image of flossing, which transcends hygiene: on Breaking Bad, Anna Gunn flossed through a conversation with her psychopath husband.
As my flossing practice deepened, I gradually understood that it is the process itself, my relationship with my teeth and gums,that is the goal, not the approval of the dental hygienist. Yet as so often happens, once I was fully present for my teeth and let go of the outcome of my flossing, my gums rebounded to health.
At my next dental visit, when Tulip probed, my deepest gum pocket measured two millimeters, instead of the threes and fours she expected. I could see her smile at the corners of her eyes, before she pulled down the paper mask and her perfect teeth greeted mine. At that moment, I knew that I had found my soul mate. She immediately embraced the precepts of Mindful Flossing™ in her life and work and encouraged me to share my discovery with the world.
Reader, I married her.