Everyone Brushes their Teeth

A couple of decades ago, I started using an electric toothbrush. It took me a few weeks to get used to the pressure of the electric powered brush against my teeth and gums, very different from what I was used to with my manual toothbrush. But the biggest challenge for me was adjusting to the pre-set two-minute timer programmed into the toothbrush. 

The first time I stood captive with the whir of the vibrating brush pressed against my teeth for an entire two minutes, I found it interminable. I still sometimes do, but I brush my teeth twice a day, every day.

A mere hundred years ago, most Americans weren’t brushing their teeth. According to Wikipedia, the practice of daily toothbrushing didn’t really catch on in the United States until after World War II.  The GIs returned home with tooth brushes and a habit cultivated by the requirement from the military that they brush their teeth daily. 

The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth for two minutes, once in the morning and once at night. Personally, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t follow that advice most of the time.

A meditation practice is about as difficult as brushing your teeth and requires the same amount of commitment. It requires no technical expertise or education or even a high level of discernment. All it requires is a willingness to sit (or stand or lie down) and quietly observe your breath and notice as distractions arise, then begin again. 

Twice a year, my dentist compliments me on my teeth brushing, tells me to keep it up and to floss a bit more. Other than my dentist, no one has ever admired me for brushing my teeth every day. Yet whenever I tell someone I have a daily meditation habit, it usually impresses the hell out of them. 

So many people tell me they’ve tried to meditate daily, but they just can’t stick with it. They tell me it’s something they should do, but there’s always something more important that takes precedence. They’re looking at a meditation practice as another element of self-improvement that must be accomplished and not as a path to liberation from the relentless thoughts in your head. Those very thoughts do not have your best interest at heart.

I do like the minty fresh feeling I get after brushing my teeth. I also enjoy observing the way my thoughts evaporate while I’m sitting in stillness, allowing rare glimpses of clarity even if it’s only for just one moment.

The truth is if you don’t find time for a meditation practice, your dentist is not going to chastise you and your teeth are not going to fall out. Yet without a contemplative practice, you are always subject to the whim of every next thought that arises without the ability to separate the real person you are from the thoughts that arise in your head. 


“The trouble with being in the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”

― Lily Tomlin

Do Try This at Home

Before or after any daily routine, find a place to sit. This may be in your car, home, office, a waiting room, really anywhere. No need to set a timer, but if you like, check the time. Sit with your eyes open or closed and for two minutes focus on the way your body breathes. If you’d like, check the time. 

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