12:22:11 Spiritual TMJ

Recently, I read novelist Tim Parks' memoir, Teach Us To Sit Still. A candid account of how one British ex-pat living in Italy tackled the annoyance, embarrassment, and suffering that comes from many an older man's inevitability: an enlarged prostate gland.

Mr. Parks goes through a predictable gamut of medical tests and gets trusted advice from a doctor friend: Have the apple cored and say good-bye to your problems. All for naught.

[book cover]A sidetrip to a literary conference in India, however, also takes him to an Ayurvedic doctor and a clue about the psychic origins of his suffering. The doctor looked him in the eye and said his problem was a contradiction in his character. That blocked his vata. He would always suffer until he fixed that.

When Parks returned to Italy, some intense Googling led to a website hawking a book and personal consultations to deal with "The Headache in the Pelvis." Parks had little to lose. He ordered the book and began a personal program of the "paradoxical relaxation" exercises from the book. (He passed on the personal consultations in California.) Surprisingly, he began to glimpse relief.

The balance of Teach Us To Sit Still follows the rest of Parks' healing odyssey. A long course of Shiatsu massage. Then onto Buddhist meditation in the Vipassana tradition.

A larger conclusion I draw from this unflinching memoir is stress-induced symptoms can mislead even doctors.

So, we must also consider a metaphoric search inside our bodies for blocked vata, if a war within is raging.

As a personal example, earlier this year, I had symptoms of TMJ: jaw soreness, achiness in my right ear, back molars that flared with sensitivity. I dreaded going to my dentist and confessing this. The more I thought of that, the more the TMJ seemed to act up.

A few years ago, this same dentist numbed me up, then left to work at his other two patient chairs. Ninety minutes later, he was ready to start. The anesthetic had worn off. I removed the paper bib--surely his equivalent of handcuffs--and said I would get a "second opinion."

Alas, I didn't make a clean break then.

A month ago, however, I changed my insurance coverage, which irrevocably means a new dentist. I've noticed the TMJ symptoms are utterly gone.

Am I healed?

I think so. I look forward to a new dentist.

So, a form of spiritual TMJ must exist. Something like stress-induced symptoms that roll through our jaws and elsewhere or--as in the case of Mr. Parks--our nether regions for a headache in the pelvis!

Teach Us To Sit Still by Tim Parks, 2011, Rodale Press, 322 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60961-158-3.

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The Cat at Light's End

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