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A Dental Tourist in Mexico – Part Two – The Procedure

This is what my teeth looked like, pre-surgery. Not pretty.

The morning after I arrived in Vallarta, the dental office sent an Uber to my apartment (on their dime) to pick me up and take me to the clinic for my first appointment. When I got there, things were running a little behind schedule, but because there were several dentists on staff, I was still able to be x-rayed and have impressions made of my teeth and any delay was almost unnoticeable.

The office itself was really nice. As nice as any American practice I had been to. The furniture was modern, comfortable, and in good repair, the bathroom was spotless, and there were little Buddhas placed everywhere I looked, which I thought was odd for such a Catholic country, but it made me feel peaceful and relaxed, nonetheless…which is definitely what you want in a dental office, right?

After a short wait, I had my first consultation with Doctor Melisa and her assistant Erika. The doctor informed me that the procedure I had originally come for was overkill and she felt strongly that she could help me keep some of my teeth and still give me a bright white, straight, and stunning smile without being so extreme, procedure-wise. This was my first clue that I had absolutely made the right choice in dentist. She could have easily gone ahead and performed the procedure we talked about and I would have been none the wiser. Instead, she gave me honest information about how to achieve the same results in a healthier way AND…she saved me about eight-thousand dollars in the process.

Eight. Thousand. Dollars.

Once the consultation was over, I returned to the waiting room and then, about ten minutes later, I was told that everything was ready to go and I was shown into the surgery where I met the dental assistants as well as my anesthesiologist (who came from the hospital) and his nurse. The nurse took my blood pressure and measured my blood sugar while she grilled me about any allergies and whether I was taking any recreational drugs. I told her I was allergic to mangos and not to feed me any while I was unconscious, but other than that, I was allergy free. This joke did no go over as well as I had hoped but, hey, a goofy sense of humor probably shouldn’t be my first requirement for someone who is going to keep me from dying for the next five hours, right? Right.

After my vitals checked out, the doctor asked if I was ready while the nurse found a vein and started the IV. I started to feel groggy and had just enough time to ask “Que es esto?” (What is this?) before I went sleepy bye bye.

Five and a half hours later, I woke up with a comfy blanket on me (apparently I had started to shiver from the A/C while I was under) and felt pretty good considering all the work that had been done and the amount of high grade drugs that had been coursing through my system. All-in-all, they had extracted five teeth, including two wisdom teeth, installed eight bases for implants, performed two bone grafts and a sinus lift, filled four cavities, and done one root canal. They considered grinding my teeth down and fitting temporaries in the same visit, but made the decision that I had been under long enough and wanted to wait a day to let me recover.

When I could stand, I was led to the waiting room couch and given a small cup of water and some post-op care instructions to read until I felt well enough to walk. After a short while, Erika (who is possibly the nicest person in the world) told me that she was going to drive me home and that she would help me get my prescriptions and anything else I needed on the way. This was a great comfort because I was still a little out of it and my Spanish is, putting it very generously…sub par.

We stopped at the farmacia and Erika handled the whole transaction in minutes flat. I just had to hand her pesos and be a spacey gringo which was, honestly, about all I was qualified to do at that moment. Afterward, we went to the supermarket and bought some protein drinks and soft foods (oatmeal, beans, soft tortillas, etc) for me to take home in case I didn’t feel up to leaving the apartment the next day. Ten minutes later, I was back at my apartment. I took my drugs (ibuprofen, antibiotics, a sublingual pain reliever, and a post-surgery gel), climbed in bed with double ice packs for my face, turned on Netflix and literally “chilled” until I fell asleep.

Read Part 3 – Post Op

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A Dental Tourist in Mexico – Part Three – Post Op

My fine selection of Mexican post-op drugs.

I woke up early the next morning. The combination of the time change and the doctor’s instruction to sleep sitting up weren’t so conducive to a restful night, but I felt okay and because I had iced the hell out of my face before going to sleep, the swelling and soreness were totally manageable.

At this point, I was really glad I had opted for an apartment with a full kitchen for my accommodation because it was obvious that I was going to need to keep icing my face (thank goodness for plentiful ice trays) and that I’d need to stay in and rest if I was going to be ready for my next procedure the following day.

I spent most of the day in bed, binge watching a Netflix series and downing protein drinks to avoid chewing. Everything felt pretty good, but around four o’clock in the afternoon, my face began to feel pretty flushed and my cheeks went rosy. This, in combination with the fact that I was still bleeding gave me a little concern so I emailed Erika and told her the situation. She consulted with doctor Melisa and told me that if I was worried, I should come in. I went back and forth with myself for a few hours before erring on the side of caution and catching a cab to the clinic to get examined.

When I got there, Doctor Melisa was waiting. As it turns out, she had already gone home for the day and had returned just to see me (another sign that I was in the right place). She examined me for about five minutes and assured me that both the heat in my face and the amount of blood I was seeing were totally in line with the amount of work she had done. She also told me the lack of swelling was encouraging and that I had done a good job with icing myself. After that pat on the head, Erika called me an Uber (again, on their dime) and sent me packing until the next morning at nine a.m. when I was scheduled for my next procedure.

 

Read Part 4 – Temporary Teeth Day

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In the chair, getting my temporaries.

The next morning, Erika came by to scoop me up herself and take me to the clinic for my next appointment. When I got there, everything was already prepared and Doctor Melisa told me everything she was planning to do. I was to have more impressions made of my existing teeth, and while my temporaries were being made, she would grind down what teeth I had so the new ones would fit perfectly. As the anesthesiologist was unavailable that day, we’d be doing this under local anesthetic and it was going to take about two and a half hours. Needless to say, I was not terribly stoked about either but, hey, no pain, no gain, right? Right. So, I popped a valium, put on a Harry Potter book in my headphones and tried to relax.

Turns out, there was actually very little pain involved. Doctor Melisa’s skills were not oversold by her reviewers and, while it did take the full two and a half hours, the procedure was as smooth as any I’ve ever had done in the states. The only drawback was that, as a patient, I tend to need a lot of novocaine so I was a drooling mess afterward and when they sent me home, I couldn’t manage to eat or drink  for a couple of hours without holding my mouth closed with my hand…but my new teeth looked fabulous…and no amount of drooling could keep me from trying to smile as big as I could. It was a strange combination of looking like the Toxic Avenger from the novocaine and feeling like George Clooney with my pearly whites, simultaneously.

Now I had six days to rest, recover, and enjoy Vallarta before I went back for my final appointment to get my permanent, cubic zirconia choppers fitted and then fly home.

Read Part 5 – D Day and Dental Denoument

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So Pearly! So Straight!

Because I was on antibiotics, it was recommended that I stay out of the sun if possible so I spent the week chasing the shade and trying to have a little vacation time before I got my permanent crowns and flew back home. Eating was a bit of a challenge, but other than that I felt pretty great and ended up having a very pleasant and restful week.

When Friday finally came, the clinic sent an Uber around to collect me in the morning and when I got to the office, everything was ready and waiting. Doctor Melisa was excited to show me my new teeth and I was super excited when I saw them. We had talked a long time about color and how I wanted white, but the white of a fifty-year old set of teeth, not Hollywood fakery. The last thing I wanted was to get anything that looked even remotely false and, I gotta say, she nailed it. The color was perfect and I was more than ready to see what they looked like in place.

So, after copious novocaine injections (she’s really talented with the needle, by the way. I barely felt anything), my temporaries were removed, my teeth were cleaned and my crowns were glued into place. The whole procedure took about two hours because she was being very meticulous about the bite and the evenness of the teeth, which was exactly what I wanted.

When I finally got up to look at her work, I could feel tears welling in my eyes. I realized then how much this had meant to me. How much embarrassment and shame I had carried around and what a release it was to be able to beam a huge smile and not be self-conscious about it. This was life changing…and I knew that, despite all my initial concerns, I had definitely made the right choice.

 

Dental Denoument

I learned a lot about myself on this adventure, and I also learned a lot about dental tourism that I wanted to pass on to you so you can avoid the pitfalls and have as spectacular an experience as I had. If I was to do this again, I wouldn’t change much, but here’s a cheat sheet of recommendations for you if you are thinking about having work done in Mexico.

  • Know the town you are going to, or have a contact that can help you with things like safe places to stay, local shopping, pharmacy location, etc.
  • Research your dentist and read reviews. Here is Doctor Melisa’s site. If you use her, make sure you tell her Paul Overton sent ya!
  • Be aware that all Mexican dentists are not created equal. In talking to doctor Melisa, she let me know that of the hundreds of dentists in Puerto Vallarta, there was only one other practice that she really trusted. Here’s why: There are many websites set up to sell gringos on Mexican dentistry. These websites get a percentage of the cost of every procedure performed, so it is in their financial best interest to pressure the dentists into performing the most expensive procedures that they can, regardless of if they are necessary or not. Doctor Melisa said that most dentists cave to the pressure because they want the constant stream of business that these websites provide. She does not deal with any of these websites and prides herself on being completely honest with her patients, even if it costs her money.
  • Turn on your cell phone’s international calling plan or buy a Mexican burner phone when you arrive (They are sold at every OXXO convenience store in Mexico and you can get one for around $20 U.S. I made the mistake of thinking I could make do with communicating through email with a wi-fi connection, but I would have liked the more immediate response of a phone call most of the time. Especially when I was nervous about my flushed face and bloody gums.
  • If you’re going alone and speak no Spanish, you’ll probably be fine, but I was very happy to have my friend Paula there if I needed her. She knows Vallarta inside and out and was able to direct me to the cheapest farmacia (they all have different prices) and to be my emergency contact in case anything went wrong.
  • If you think you’ll need anything stronger than ibuprofen, bring it with you. It’s extremely difficult to get opiod pain relievers in Mexico. Some farmacias will pull out unmarked bags of what they claim is vicodin, but do not buy these. Not only will you pay about $150 U.S. for ten pills, you really have no idea if they are genuine or not. I was fine with 600mg of Ibuprofen twice a day and the sublingual pain reliever I took in conjunction with it. If you aren’t sure you will be, pack your own pain relievers.
  • Having said that, it’s totally legal to buy Xanax without a prescription in Mexico, so if you’re nervous about getting work done, you might want to run down to the farmacia and get something to calm your nerves beforehand if you’ll think you’ll need it.
  • As far as accommodations go, I recommend getting an apartment through Air BnB that has a kitchen and is within walking distance of anything you might need. Being able to cook and having a freezer for my ice packs was absolutely essential. Also, since I had laundry facilities, I was able to pack much lighter for my 12 day journey. In the high season (December-April) you can expect to pay about $80 U.S. per night for a nice studio that is centrally located. In the low season (May-November) you’ll pay half that. The sweet spots are November and May. It’s hot, but the rents are cheap and you aren’t right in the middle of the rainy season when the humidity can be oppressive.

 

All in all, I had a great experience in Mexico getting my dental work done. I saved thousands and thousands of dollars and, most importantly, I got my smile back…which you really can’t put a price on. I already feel ten times more confident and couldn’t be happier with the natural look of my new teeth. If you are in the same boat I was in and American dentistry is just too expensive, I say “Go for it” south of the border. Just be careful and do your due diligence beforehand. Also, I’m happy to answer any questions that I can.

Lastly, if this is something you’d like to do but you are nervous because you don’t speak the language, or have never been to Vallarta, or don’t know anyone in town, I can help. I had such a good experience that I asked my friend Paula if she would be willing to be a contact and translator for any of my friends who would like to come down and have work done, and she heartily agreed. She loves helping people and is an invaluable resource when it comes to the ins and outs of Vallarta. Here’s what she can offer if you are interested:

For $250 U.S.

 

 

  • Advice on accommodation. She knows several good and responsive Air BnB hosts with nice units in good parts of town.
  • A Mexican cell phone pre-programmed with her number, your dentist’s number, and all emergency services numbers.
  • Translation services if needed.
  • 24 hour emergency contact during your stay.

 

She can also add on other services for a small fee, such as shopping or delivering food to you from restaurants while you recover, or airport pick up/drop off if you prefer not to take cabs or Uber. And pretty much anything else you may need during your stay. Just ask. If you think you might be interested in her services or have questions, email me at dudecraft@gmail.com and I’ll answer anything I can and put you in touch with Paula if you’d like to make use of her talents.

I hope you found this article helpful and good luck on your own dental adventure!

Best,

Paul

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If Our Choices are Our Legacy…Why do We Choose Fear?

In each interaction I have with somebody, I leave a part of me with them. Whether I’m relating to my partner, the cashier at the coffee shop, or you reading this right now…I leave a part of me behind everywhere I go. And when I’m in my flow and not in my egoic, grasping place, I know that these interactions are really my only legacy, and that even the most seemingly insignificant transactions are important and can be life changing for me and for the other person if I am 100% present in the moment.

We all leave this kind of legacy. We don’t need to die to be remembered for the way that we were. We are being remembered all the time. Our legacies are being built right now…and the cool thing is that we can change and add to our legacies anytime we want because that’s the perk of being alive. Once our physical manifestation ceases, that’s the period at the end of the sentence…but while we’re still here, we get to edit and revise and choose different words and sculpt the language to be as beautiful as we can make it…and sometimes, we even get to see the impact that our “writing” has had on others.

But we can’t get there if we are operating out of fear. Fear yanks us out of the present and puts us in the future. Because what is fear besides a concern about something that hasn’t happened yet? We cannot be in our state of flow in the here and now if we spend our time projecting ourselves forward and worrying about events that, literally, do not exist. Yet, we do it all the time.

Worst of all, our legacy then becomes our fear because that’s what we’re projecting into the world. That’s not what we want, is it? I don’t want anyone to feel that I made them more fearful through my own concerns about the future, and I don’t want anyone projecting their fears on me.

When I was in Mexico last April, I got really sick. Like, couldn’t leave my hotel room and had to extend my stay by three days kind of sick. It was a gnarly case of food poisoning. I left a message on facebook to let everyone know that I was not going to be back when they expected and what I got back was a wave of people projecting their fears on my already difficult situation. One person said that they hoped I didn’t have hepatitis, another offered that I should get checked for parasites, and yet another told me that she had been to Puerto Vallarta in the 90s and hadn’t been the same, intestinally, since. Now, I know they didn’t mean to dump their fears on me. They were probably coming from a place of genuine concern that was based on their personal experiences, but do you think I slept better that night thinking about all the things my sickness could be?

I did not.

So, in order to avoid doing the same to others, I have to be really clear about my intentions during my interactions. If I am in a place of fear, I have to be careful not to let that spill over into my relationships if I can…because if you believe everything you do produces a result, which I do, you have to think about what results you want to see in the world and take responsibility for creating them.

Instead of fear, I want people to remember how good they felt when I was around, or how I chose my words carefully and said the right thing to them at the right time, or even just that they enjoyed serving me coffee because I told a good joke and left a good tip…and the beautiful thing is, I’m in control of all that…or, at least, I’m in control of my side of it. I don’t get to control people’s reactions to me and they won’t all be positive, but I can do my part and hope for the best. My only job is showing up with the gift of fearless relationship, they can accept it or not.

Of course, in order to give that gift, I have to remember that I am not my fears (or even my thoughts). I am not my stories from the past and I am not my concerns about the future. Rather, I am a space that contains all possibilities. That space can be filled with love, and generosity, and empathy and it can, just as easily, be filled with ego, and fear, and greed, and resentment. Most of us, rather than raising our awareness and making a choice as to what we fill our spaces with, allow them be filled with whatever fictions are fed to us by our thoughts and by outside influences like our parents, our friends, and the media instead.

But this can stop with me and with you. We simply have to know when we have dropped down into our fearful place and then pivot to a different choice. We need to identify and disconnect from the things that needlessly perpetuate our fears so we can stand in our power and pay attention to what really matters, which is the legacy we are building with every interaction we have. We can build that legacy on the small and fearful part of ego selves, or on the infinite, loving beings that we actually are.

This, I think, is the only choice that matters.

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I don’t know a single person who likes click bait. We all know, logically, that click baitey headlines are just appeals to our continual emotional state of incompleteness and we get mad at them because they play on our feelings, which are often much stronger than the more logical part of ourselves that we would rather associate ourselves with.

We click because we want to fill the curiosity gap that says we’ll be a more complete person if we just read this list of the “ten puppy fails that were so adorable they made us cry”. The problem is, we never are more complete because we are searching for external answers to an internal question…but this shit works so well that, even though I just made up that title for a totally fictional article, now I want to read it. Do you?

Which brings me to my main point…we can clickbait ourselves. We can use the emotional pull that works so well when people use it on us, turn it around on ourselves, and get a much more positive result.

I came to this realization one day when I was driving to a thing that I was not excited about and that I was not looking forward to. I was in my car in traffic, resenting the fact that I had agreed to something that wasn’t in line with what I wanted and, all of a sudden, the voice in my head said: “I went to a meeting that I thought was going to suck. You’ll never guess what happened next!”

And it was like the world shifted.

Now I couldn’t wait to get to my meeting to see what was going to happen. I know that sounds ludicrous, but that’s how dumb our brains are. I could tell it had really worked because my body and mind felt the change instantly. I was lighter and happier, traffic wasn’t bothering me anymore, my shoulders relaxed, and I felt genuinely curious as to what my experience was going to be. It took me out of dreading the appointment and into a state where I was open to whatever was going to happen.

And, sure enough, what happened next WAS unbelievable. I had a great meeting and afterwards, because I had gone to that place, at that time, I happened to run into my friend Lamar who has also been doing some coaching and we decided to trade some ideas over coffee and see how we could help each other succeed. It was awesome and I’m not sure any of it would have gone down the way it did if I hadn’t hacked my brain into a state of openness and genuine curiosity.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it on and see how it feels for yourself. And if you thought this post was total bullshit…do me a favor. At least say to yourself: “I thought I wasted my time reading a post that was total bullshit. You’ll never guess what happened next.”

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Duck Dive or Get Pummeled

If you aren’t a surfer and you aren’t familiar with the challenges of paddling out through a set of waves to get to the line-up, let me hip you to something…

When you’re pointed in the direction of the breaking surf and you come face to face with a wave that is about to pummel you, you have two options. One, keep paddling and get trashed or go under and let the wave do the work of popping you out the other side. This maneuver is called “duck diving” and all seasoned surfers become expert at it because it saves you pain and energy, ultimately allowing you to do more surfing and less drowning.

I think about duck diving a lot because it’s a really good analogy for how I’ve learned to deal with pain or discomfort on dry land. I really became proficient at it when I had an incredible toothache and wasn’t going to be able to see a dentist for a few days. It was two a.m. on a Friday night and I had an appointment the following Tuesday. I was sitting on my couch in terrible pain, wishing I was somewhere else and trying to figure out what I could do just to feel even incrementally better. If we return to the surfing analogy for a second, I was letting the wave (tooth pain) pummel me at this point.

I had two options: Go to an emergency dentist and spend an exorbitant amount of money, or figure out how to be with the pain in a way that was useful until my appointment. I know that sounds weird, but if we return again to our wave, maybe I can clear it up.

A wave is just a wave. It’s not good or bad. It’s just water+wind+geography. If you are being held under water and thrashed by it, you might have the view that it’s bad, but that’s just a judgement you are making based on the temporary experience you are having. On the other hand, if you duck dive and let the energy of the wave pop you out the other side, you might change your belief about the wave’s role in your experience.

So, back to the pain again. In this dry land version of duck diving, the key for me was to stop wishing for escape and to deal with the reality of the wave. To realize that I was making a choice about how I was relating to the pain. I was, in effect, sitting on my board with my arms spread wide and saying: “Do as you will” instead of realizing that I could use the power of the wave (the very power I was being pummeled by) to push through and come out the other side.

In a practical sense that meant fully accepting the pain and letting myself feel it without wanting to push it away. I was, in a way, showing the pain some love. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but if you think about the old adage “whatever you resist, persists”…this falls right in line with that. As soon as I faced the pain and invited it in instead of resisting, I felt immediately better…emotionally and physically. And within thirty minutes, the pain had gone down to a totally manageable level and stayed that way until my appointment on Tuesday. By really being inside of the pain and inhabiting it, I had done what no amount of drugs could.

Since then, I’ve tried to duck dive everything that is, on its surface, unpleasant or unsatisfactory. There are lots of waves. I have two options with each one that comes my way…and even when I momentarily forget to duck dive and end up getting trashed, I still learn something. But on the whole, I’ve found it to be much better to go under than to end up sucking whitewater. Maybe you will too.

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There are a lot of ups and downs when you’re trying to remake yourself…and much of what you end up working with are emotions and patterns surrounding the areas where you want to see a change. This work can seem unsatisfying at times because it is frustratingly hard to hold onto in any real way. Sometimes, what you think is a clear path is actually a moving target and, unfortunately, there aren’t “ten easy steps” you can take to change your life when you’re dealing with very personal, and sometimes, very large issues.

What I found for myself is that, while all that mental/emotional work is going on, it’s very helpful to find some concrete things to put in place that support all of the other work I am doing. Things that “clear the deck”, simplify, and minimize distractions so I can stay focused on the task at hand…which is transformation. Here are five things that absolutely have done that for me and, while none of them have proven to be a panacea, they have all played a life-changing supportive role to the mental/emotional/ego work that lies at the center of my path.

 

Reclaiming My Time

I started this phase by practicing saying “no” a lot.  I minimized my commitments and cut my responsibilities as close to the bone as I was able. I took stock of what was absolutely necessary, and was totally ruthless with what wasn’t. This took some work because, even though my “fear of missing out” reflex was never that strong, I still had to work on really committing to not committing. If doing something felt even slightly wrong or meant that I was going to have to run, rush, or squeeze in the time between other responsibilities, I gave it a pass. And since I’ve started adhering to this principle, lo and behold, I have a lot more time.

Through this experience, I came to realize that my unnecessary busyness, at its heart, was an exercise in pointless bullshit motivated by my fear of having to face my own pain if I slowed down enough to actually take stock of my life. Busyness isn’t living. It’s just exhausting. I went ahead and killed it. It deserved to die. Leaning into my pain isn’t pleasant, but change usually isn’t, and it beats the hell out of continuing to run on the hamster wheel of denial.

 

Going Minimal

Speaking of jettisoning unnecessary bullshit, the very first thing I did, post-awakening, was to get rid of most of my belongings. Now, as I’ve already mentioned, none of these steps is a cure all. I mention it again here because minimalism is the hot new thing and it is being pedaled by some folks as the answer to everything from depression to psoriasis. It’s not. Also, it’s not for everybody. But what it did for me was to open my eyes to how deeply I had adopted consumer culture, how much time I spent thinking about the acquisition of things, how many times I had bought something unnecessary out of pure boredom…and the depth of the affliction that I wasn’t even aware that I had.

Once my stuff and I had parted ways, I began to question what else might be unnecessary in my life, which is where I found the real value in this exercise. Yes, I had more space and more peace, but more importantly, it opened the door to a deeper questioning about what was actually valuable and what was just my ego fighting against the idea of its own impermanence by surrounding itself with useless garbage. Spoiler alert: Most everything falls into the latter category.

 

Watching the Input

Obviously, we live on screens now. This means we are bombarded by things we didn’t ask to see and that are designed to keep our eyeballs glued to whatever is coming up next on our newsfeeds. Our attention is currency and we spend it like a drunk on payday because human nature is dumb and predictable and our digital overlords know exactly what buttons to push to keep us spending.

And while it is impractical and perhaps impossible to eliminate all of this kind of input from our lives, I have been able to cut it back to a manageable size. As far as social media goes, I post on facebook, but stay away from the newsfeed (where the fear lives). This has made the biggest impact out of anything I have done, media-wise. Wading endlessly through the polluted stream of outrage was bumming me out, and cutting off that flow was like waking up from a nightmare. After spending some time away, I realized that allowing all that fear and anger in through the doors of my senses was like letting the enemy live, rent free, in my head. So I evicted that bastard…and then I started to clean up the rest of the building.

In addition to curtailing my addiction to scrolling, I also cut out all violence from my media diet which, as you can imagine, eliminates 90% of media produced in this country. The effect of this new rule was twofold. First, left with the other 10%, I dove deep into meditation/personal development/educational videos…and comedy. Instead of watching people punch, shoot, or threaten each other, I was either learning or laughing…and that felt a lot better than watching another momentarily satisfying, but ultimately empty show or movie. Secondly, it resensitized me to violence. When I was watching violent content regularly, I got scarily used to the idea of violence as a routine way to solve conflicts. Then I stopped, and the next time I saw a movie trailer for some superhero thing, I was genuinely shocked…and the content wasn’t even that violent! This was a big wake up call in terms of just how easy it was for me to accept something through repeated exposure. Violence was only part of it. When you think about how many things we just accept as true due to the simple repetition of a message, things get pretty scary. Again, this practice gave me more peace, but the real value in it was the deeper questions it inspired about exactly how free my freedom of thought was.

 

Treating Everyone as My Teacher

People are annoying. Beautiful, yes…but also difficult if I view them as the rude, short tempered, entitled brats that their behavior seems to confirm that they are. But, if I choose to view each person I come into contact with as my teacher, the game changes. No longer is the guy on his phone in a restaurant just a careless lout. He is now my instructor in Letting Go of My Need for Everyone to Conform to My Standards 101…and that’s a big shift. As I’ve said when I mentioned this before, the teachers and the lessons aren’t always pleasant, but neither is viewing everyone who doesn’t act according to my worldview as a clueless moron. In the former scenario, at least I’m learning something that will serve me well in the future. In the latter, I just end up angry and with a dim view of my fellow planet dwellers.

 

Self-Inspiration

I love reading inspirational stuff. In particular, I love poems and quotes because their truth is so naked and direct; little jewels of wisdom I can put in my pocket and carry around with me like the marbles I used to have when I was a kid.

A few months ago, I started doing just that. I made a deck of inspirational trading cards, each one containing a picture and a quote that I could pull out of my backpack whenever I needed a little boost during the day. Right now, I have Malala Yousafzai, Nelson Mandela, Fred Hampton, Jane Goodall, and Mister Rogers in my bag, and whenever I see a new poem or quote that I really want to hang onto, I make a new card.

I adopted this practice from one of my teachers who uses it to keep up her Bodhicitta (compassionate energy) when it starts flagging, and it really works. It’s like having little cheerleaders with you at all times. I also wear some pieces of jewelry that give me the same feeling and touch them when I need to recharge. I have found this kind of creative self-inspiration to be invaluable, especially when I feel like just throwing in the towel. There’s something about the making of the cards and the time spent that makes it that much more meaningful as well. So, if you’re going to adopt this practice, I would highly recommend making it a fun art project to ramp up the meaning and importance of your inspirational materials.

 

In Conclusion

I have a lot more practices I’ve adopted or made up since I began on this path, but these five are the ones that gave me the space to work on all the others and, in practice, they are the easiest to implement. You can do any or all of these practices today and see an almost immediate difference in yourself. Of course, there’s no rush here. Don’t be afraid to take it slow. I tend to dive into things and when I make changes, I do it rapidly and without hesitation. It works for me, but is not a great method for everyone to adopt. You’re probably better off going slow, being kind to yourself when you fail (you will fail), and gradually making adjustments in these areas until they become habits. Fast or slow, change will happen. Run at your own pace.

Good Luck and, as usual, feel free to leave questions or comments below.

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The Smiling Dude

 

“I am convinced of this: Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they’re stones that don’t matter.”

-Maya Angelou

On my morning walk to work, I pass dozens of people on their way to a major public transit station. For the most part, what I see is a grim parade of pre-dawn resignation and expressionless shuffling toward, what I can only imagine are, unsatisfactory jobs. Let’s just say there’s not a lot of skipping going on.

I know the feeling.

I’ve spent many mornings in the past with the same look on my face, the same resignation, the same gallows walk…wishing for escape, for bed, for meaning…not willing to acknowledge that I was responsible for how I felt… and instead, slipping into the cool but polluted seas of victimhood, where I could blame someone else for drowning me while I held my own head underwater.

Thankfully, I don’t feel like that anymore. I have, for now, started the process of liberating myself from my stories and life has become much lighter than it has ever been. But you can’t go around telling people that. There is nothing so tiresome as a newly minted evangelist, and so I keep my mouth shut…because this stuff is personal and, well, who asked me anyway? Nobody.

But in thinking about what it means to be a Bodhisattva and to actively try to alleviate suffering in the world, doing nothing often feels unsatisfactory as well. So, I started a new campaign. It’s pretty simple.

I smile at people.

Actually, I didn’t start by smiling “at” them, because I thought it might be taken as creepy or too forward. I started just by smiling to myself from the time I began my walk until the time I got to work…which was surprisingly difficult in itself. Having grown up in an urban setting, I learned to have a “street face” at a very young age and I have worn it ever since. It keeps the crazy away…but the flip side is: it keeps everybody else away too.

So, I decided that for my two mile walk, I would be the smiling guy. Just a dude, walking to work, looking happy about it. I did this for about a month. I made no eye contact with anyone and I kept a comfortable distance from my fellow commuters. I figured that, if anyone had been glancing in my direction, thirty days was a good amount of time to build up the mystique of the “dude who is always smiling” and maybe I had piqued the interest of at least one of my fellow humans with my relentless appearance of non-threatening happiness.

Turns out, I had.

One day, I decided it was time to heighten the stakes and start to make eye contact with people. By now, I knew who the regulars were who passed me on my two mile journey and I had pre-selected four of them to try my little experiment on…two men and two women. I usually passed all of them within two blocks of each other, so I could get it over with quickly and not give myself time to get nervous about it.

The first person I ran across was “Burly Dude with Red Beats Headphones” who is the most imposing of the four and, unsurprisingly, I got totally blanked by him. Not even a glance. Next, I saw “Super Girl Fast Walker” who is either perpetually late for work or just enjoys burning up the pavement. We made eye contact, but that was it. I was starting to feel like this might have been a stupid idea and that I was just freaking people out, but I decided to keep on with it, if only for that day. So, next in line was “Bobby Business” who looks like he’s always on his way to close a huge real estate deal. Bobby didn’t even look up from his phone and continued his purposeful and driven walk right on past me. And then, finally, I ran across “Introverted Sally” who looks like she might work in a bookstore or small gift shop that sells magnets made out of seashells. Sally was honestly the last person out of the four I expected to return a smile…but…lo and behold, she did. It was small, but it was there.

Maybe this wasn’t so stupid.

Over the next month, Introverted Sally and I kept smiling at each other. She even waved at me once when we found ourselves on opposite sides of the street. During this time I also managed to crack “Super Girl Fast Walker” and “Bobby Business”. Super Girl’s smile is a bit more cursory/cautious and Bobby prefers a quick half-smile and a head nod rather than anything warmer. But that’s cool. A connection is a connection and, honestly, I didn’t think he or Super Girl would ever come around anyway.

So, now I have a tribe of three. We’ve been silently relating to each other for four months now. I have no idea what this does for them or what they think of the “Smiling Dude”, but they seem to like it and I certainly look forward to it every morning. So much so that I really miss one of them if they are “absent” from our little ritual for one reason or another. And although “Burly Dude with Red Beats Headphones” has yet to fully join the club (he has acknowledged me on a couple of occasions), I have high hopes for his conversion.

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An Even Dozen from Uncle Walt

It’s always been hard for me to describe Walt Whitman to someone who’s never read him. I think he’s different things to different people, and he most certainly contains (as per his own description) multitudes. So, instead of hamfistedly trying to explain what he’s meant to me, perhaps it’s safest to go by the man’s own description and let you get on with it:

“Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos, disorderly, fleshly, and sensual, no sentimentalist, no stander above men or women or apart from them, no more modest than immodest”

Happy Thursday.

1. “The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first; Be not discouraged – keep on – there are divine things, well envelop’d; I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.”

 

2. “Have you learned the lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you? Have you not learned great lessons from those who braced themselves against you, and disputed passage with you?”

 

3. “Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you. You must travel it by yourself. It is not far. It is within reach. Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.”

 

4. “I cannot be awake for nothing looks to me as it did before, Or else I am awake for the first time, and all before has been a mean sleep.”

 

 

5. “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.”

 

 

6. “Do anything, but let it produce joy.”

 

 

7. “Some people are so much sunshine to the square inch.”

 

 

8. “Either define the moment or the moment will define you.”

 

9. “Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road.

Healthy, free, the world before me.

The long brown path before me leading me wherever I choose.

Henceforth, I ask not good fortune, I myself am good fortune.

Henceforth, I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing.”

 

 

11. “The question, O me! so sad, recurring –

What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here – that life

exists and identity,

that the powerful play goes on,

and you may contribute a verse.”

 

 

12. “As for me, I know nothing else but miracles,

Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,

Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,

Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,

Or stand under the trees in the woods,

Or talk by day with anyone I love,

Or sleep in bed at night with anyone I love,

Or watch honey bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon…

Or the wonderfulness of the sundown,

Or of stars shining so quiet and bright,

Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring…

What stranger miracles are there?”

 

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