By Dr. Ken Larsen
Helping a person get free of the sometimes paralyzing phantom of fear conjured up by their own imagination is a wonderful thing to experience. Mental health and happiness requires us to come to grips with the reality of the difficult things in life. Recently I heard a phrase that seemed to be very wise. The phrase was “urge surfing.” This phrase describes how a feeling that we don’t want, like a craving or an unwarranted fear, comes at us like a wave. What can you do to stop a wave? You can’t. You can watch it rise up and then ebb away, like the receding tide. This requires us to have the courage to feel what we are feeling so that we can learn how to deal with it.
When I was still practicing dentistry I would often invite a patient to “feel what you’re feeling.” I was looking to bring them to an awareness of what is actually happening in the here and now. I wanted to help the person to not think about what they were afraid they might experience and focus on what was actually happening in the present reality. Sometimes I would simply touch the person and ask them what they felt. They would then report what they felt from my touch. I would then invite them to stay in that place of awareness, total focused on what is happening here and now.
This often preceded the dreaded “shot” of local anesthetic. It is so satisfying to be with a person who is able to shift from their fearful thoughts to being here now, experiencing what is actually happening and not what they are afraid might happen. I would then ask them to focus on what they are feeling so completely so they can describe it to me afterwards. I encouraged them to be as detailed and precise as they were able. The clincher came when I asked them after the experience what they felt. The usual responses were “I didn’t feel a thing,” to a “I felt a little stick and some pressure.” We then talk about the experience. I usually say something like, “Was that a manageable experience?” And most often they answer with something like, “It wasn’t at all what I was expecting,” or “it wasn’t anything like I was afraid I’d feel.”
More and more we are learning that our thinking patterns are what are disturbing to us. This bit of wisdom: Pain x resistance=suffering speaks to how ineffective it is to resist what we feel. We can’t make it go away, and we make it worse by trying to fight it. What we resist persists.