When I went to the dentist last week, it was time for X-rays. I braced myself; I've gotten pretty good at controlling my gag reflex mentally. Luckily I wasn't suffering any congestion that day and I could breathe through my nose. For the first two films I breathed steadily and didn't gag too badly. On the third one, I started gagging, and the hygienist came and took out the film. I took a few deep breaths, got my mind right, and said I was ready to try again. But instead of putting it back, she said something about salt, told me she'd be right back, and left the room. I sat there, embarrassed. She came back with one of those little packets of salt, and told me to stick out my tongue. She sprinkled a few grains of salt on my tongue, and then put the film back in. It was like it wasn't there. No gagging. My uvula was completely unperturbed at the presence of this scratchy plastic contraption jammed behind my back teeth. We finished the X-rays without a hitch.
My mind reeled. There's a trick to not gagging on dental X-rays, and this is the first I've heard of it? I've been working for nearly three decades to learn the mental trick, to develop that mind-over-matter talent that will make my dental experience comfortable and pleasant for both me and my dentist. Early on, it was awful. In my childhood, I spat out bite wings, I wore out the patience of hygienists, I even once barfed on an orthodontist. I was ashamed. So I learned about breathing through my nose. I learned to relax. I learned to concentrate on something else. And after all my searching for this elusive Zen enlightenment thing, it turns out the trick is salt.
I can't help but wonder...
All my life I've been struggling to get by. I can't seem to get my act together. It takes tremendous effort to force myself to do all the little things the world demands of me. I get exhausted just pushing past my procrastination and work-avoidance habits to get even the most menial tasks done. It's embarrassing. It's discouraging. My life is good, but I'm frustrated with the way I'm living it.
I've tried to find some way to trigger some mental state where I get my work done without having to struggle against myself. I've tried to come up with a new life paradigm which leverages my talents such that I don't have to struggle. I've searched for the magic bullet that will obviate the need to work at a day job at all. I often have this feeling that getting my act together will be the psychological equivalent of wiggling my ears; all I have to do is learn to flex the right mental muscle, and it'll all come together. So I constantly seek to improve the workings of my mind.
Part of me wonders if there's a Salt Trick that no one has told me about.
And yet, I mustn't ignore the far bigger question. Is life just a trip to the dentist? If there is some easy and painless way to get through it, do I gain anything by going that way?
Even if I find the Salt Trick... do I use it?