As I sat having difficult surgery on my mouth, teeth and gums to remove a cyst and receive a bone graft, I am pretty sure my blood pressure was sky high. I was determined to go into this emergency surgery with some guts and a ton of patience. Not wanting to hear the words ‘bone graft’ or ‘biopsy’ in the same conversation with my endodontist made this exceptionally hard to swallow.
I’m a survivor. I can tough it out. I’ve had nine root canals due to an uneven jaw, so I know pain. But this surgery was out of my realm of understanding or expectation. I was doing my best imitation of Patty Buddha. Calm down, breath, let thoughts go by like clouds, be totally present. Push worries and what if’s to the side.
The surgery was deep in the gums between two teeth near a canine. I was given three shots of novocaine and a topical to help with pain. As they were scraping below the gumline it became a bit intense. The doctor noticed me twitching and said “Let me know if it hurts.” In true fashion I didn’t say a thing, as it was tolerable for the moment. Another ‘zing’ in my mouth and the doctor said, “Patty, don’t tough it out. Does that hurt? Okay, I’m giving you a topical and there should be no more pain.”
It was that easy.
Being tough is how you live through a childhood with a volatile parent. That’s how you survive a terrible, emotionally abusive marriage. Never has anyone told me not to tough it out.The toughness that saw me through much of my past may not serve me in every moment. Shouldn’t our lives be more than just survival? More than just being tough? I may have to think about letting go of that old, worn around the ears watchdog part of myself, ever vigilant to toughen up. Habits die hard, but I have a feeling this one will go easily.
Those words from my doctor were compassionate and a great doorway to a new path for me. What a wonderful way of thinking for me to adopt. Now I can think to myself, “Am I just toughing it out?” That will be a good time to become more flexible, soft, and open. The polar opposite of tough is soft, yielding and open. Some may think that’s way to vulnerable a way to be. But in truth it’s not. That’s how you get at the heart of things, by opening up, not by toughening your outer shell.
Take the word from my favorite prophet Kahlil Gibran from his writing on pain.
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.
Much of your pain is self-chosen.
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquillity:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.