I find it interesting watching people clean their teeth. This is not a regular pastime of mine I hasten to add, but from time to time I find myself visiting friends and we happen to pass in the evening as we get ready for bed, toothbrushes in hand. I believe that observing how people clean their teeth can give a glimpse into how their mind is working…at least in that moment.
Some people have a long routine worked out. They use an ordinary toothbrush and spend many minutes using up and down, and circular motions to scrub their teeth. As the toothpaste becomes stirred up they froth at the mouth while front teeth grin brightly beneath the fast moving brush. Any attempt at communication with these teeth brushers is normally met with an incomprehensible “mmmmmmm mmmmm” noise, varying in tone as meaning is attempted to be conveyed.
Other people can’t get their toothbrush back into the cup or holder in which it sits during the day, quick enough. Pick up the toothbrush, on goes the toothpaste, a quick dab of water under the tap - up, down, roundabout, spit out the toothpaste, rinse the toothbrush and back in the cup…onto the next thing.
The electric toothbrush users offer similar patterns. Some sit or stand there, moving the brush around their mouths seemingly completely preoccupied with their toothbrushing. Others quickly buzz the brush through their mouths before replacing it in the recharger.
Through all of these, you sometimes see people attempting to multitask. Toothbrush busy in one hand while a draw is being opened, a cell phone tapped, a stove turned down with another, all the while trying to prevent foaming toothpaste from dripping onto the floor!
I have been guilty of all ways of brushing that I have mentioned above and probably many more in between.
For myself, I currently use a Philips Sonicare toothbrush. This post is not a product endorsement but a suggestion for an aid to help with your meditation that came to me while I was brushing my teeth one evening. For those of you who have a meditation practice, this can be a way to build on it while off your cushion. For those who are trying to get started with meditation it can give you an extra tool to help build your focus. Or on those days when it can be difficult to squeeze in a formal meditation session, cleaning our teeth is a daily ritual for all of us and so opens up a chance to not miss out on our regular practice.
Use it or adapt it in a way that works for you.
For those who do not use a Sonicare, the models that I have had (I am onto my second) have a built in 2 minute routine. You can brush say the top front of your teeth and then there is a slight change in the motor sound. That is a signal that 30 seconds have past and at that point you change to the back of your front teeth. This process repeats itself over two minutes, taking you through the back and front of your upper and lower teeth. For those two minutes you know that you can focus thoroughly on cleaning your teeth.
Meditation asks us to focus our mind. To not engage in any other activity. To let thoughts arise, note them, not get caught up in them, and then let them go on their way. For the 2 minutes of a Sonicare program the stage can be set for a meditation practice - a micro retreat perhaps?
You obviously don’t need an electric toothbrush to do this, the electric brush just aids in the timing. If you are brushing your teeth with a manual brush, I would suggest being disciplined with a longer brushing routine. Perhaps have a clock at hand to help time how long you are brushing for?
One of the knock on effects of meditating while you are brushing is that you’ll end your toothbrushing feeling lighter and clearer than if you tried to do other things at the same time, or than if you simply rushed your brushing to get onto the next thing. When you rush your mind is never focused on what you are doing, rather it is already moving onto the next thing that has to be done. With time the habit of rushing makes the discipline of focusing much more difficult - we are trying to build a habit of focus, instead we are building a habit of movement.
What other daily ritual in your life might offer itself up as an opportunity for a regular meditation practice?