year of living copyThe curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.
— Carl Rogers


While in the thick of finishing a project, Laura was ignoring severe pain in a tooth. She writes: I’ve had lots of serious dental work (twelve root canals to date) because of a car accident ten years ago. Although I’ve had some great dentists, I dread going for dental work because it’s painful and it seems to always require extensive work (and money). I rarely need a simple filling. When I couldn’t ignore this tooth anymore, I went to a new dentist, and, not surprisingly, I needed a root canal. When the dentist began the procedure, I let myself sink down into relaxation, breathing and not resisting the pain. This wasn’t something I’d tried before; I’d always tensed up and experienced root canals as awful, sometimes excruciating. Each time I began to feel pain this time, I relaxed, allowing the pain to wash over me instead of resisting it. After about ten minutes, I no longer tensed up; I was in a different zone and the pain ceased entirely. The dentist was having a tough time finding the infected nerve, but I was so relaxed that at some point I knew, intuitively, that he was at the nerve, although I felt no pain. I urged him to continue; if he returned to where he’d been, I said, he’d find the nerve. He watched me carefully and when I again had the sensation—not pain, just knowing—I raised my eyebrows. A short pull and, sure enough, he had the nerve.

He was amazed. He’d never had the experience of a patient being able to tell him by intuition when the nerve was contacted—except through pain. Neither had I. He had trusted me enough, though, to take what I said and act on it. I can’t say I’m looking forward to the next root canal (I’m conscious, but not crazy!), but I’m not afraid of it, either. I know what to do now. Stop resisting the pain. Flow with it instead of fighting or fleeing from it. Just breathe. Just flow.


The next time you hurt yourself, notice how you respond. You probably tense up and have a surge of adrenalin. Try the following things and notice how differently you experience the pain:

Breathe slowly and deeply, focusing your thoughts on counting each breath.
Relax your muscles entirely, letting your arms hang limp by your side.
Visualize the pain as waves washing over you, neither good nor bad, simply there, something that you cannot fight, something that will recede.

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