There are moments in life when it’s best to have a handy backup plan for the mind. You don’t want to be thinking about the size of the needle when the lab technician drawing the blood is having trouble finding the vein, nor how long you have to lie still in that tight tube of the magnetic resonance machine while they scan your innards. Those are the times when the mystics of the Far East and their mind-focus techniques are right on the money. Take your thoughts to some peaceful place and think of something far away from the present.
There, of course, is the rub. The mind is like a skittish horse at the starting gate; ready to rear up, kick at the sky, and bolt off in uncontrolled directions. Nowhere is this so true as when you’re sitting in the dentist’s chair as he reaches for the drill.
In such mattters I am, as my favorite pilgrim charges, an absolute baby, ready to wince and shy away and eager to find any excuse to escape the moment. Women who have given birth rarely sympathize with a man cringing at the thought of the dentist’s chair. Especially those who have brought five kids into the world and undergone a double mastectomy. “It’s all in your mind,” she tells me. “Just man up and get past it.”
So far, the best place I’ve found to park my mind when I’m in that dentist’s chair is the golf course. I make no claim to being a good golfer, but now and then over the years even I get lucky with a shot. My favorite is one I made on the fifth hole at a local course when I took a 3-iron and sent the ball straight and true almost 250 yards down the middle of the fairway. There’s a saying us hackers use to describe shots like that: “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.”Re-living that glorious and never-repeated moment in slow motion is good for five minutes every time.
Then there’s the almost-a-hole-in-one I got while golfing my way down to New Orleans, all alone on a brand-new golf course in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia not far from the Tennessee border. I’d been driving along Interstate 81 for hours when I saw a sign about the grand opening of that course. There was plenty of daylight left, so I treated myself. The grand opening had been several days earlier on the weekend. It was now Wednesday, which meant the course was as clear as a baby’s conscience.
After three or four holes in magnificent mountain terrain I stood at a tee high up overlooking a short par three with the pin on a green nestled far below me. Could see for miles, and not another soul in sight. My shot sailed high in a perfect arc, bounced off a granite wall behind the pin and began trickling toward the hole. I froze, suddenly aware that I was about to get a hole-in-one and wouldn’t have a single witness to back my story! You can’t get a hole-in-one and keep it secret, and absolutely nobody will believe you if you have no witness. My guardian angel answered my prayer by stopping the ball on the lip of the cup, but it was a close-run thing. Never thought I’d be praying that I didn’t get a hole-in-one! Just thinking about that shot uses up long minutes in the dental chair every time.
Of course, your brain doesn’t always cooperate in such evasions. You think about golf shots and your head fills with memories of water hazards and sand traps and leaf-filled woods into which too many balls disappeared. Vivid images of missing the ball entirely on the first tee surrounded by other golfers pop up when you least want them.
When that happens I rely on Puccini’s music and try hard to summon up the sounds of Pavoratti, Domingo and Carreras soaring through Nessun Dorma on a Roman evening.
Try it next time you’re caught between the dentist’s drill and the dentist’s chair. And good luck!
Copyright 2016 Joseph T. Wilkins
Joe Wilkins, N.J. Press Association award-winning columnist, is a semi-retired lawyer and former municipal judge who lives in Smithville, N.J. His most recent book is “Kennedy’s Recruit”. He is also author of “The Speaker Who Locked up the House,” an acclaimed historical novel about Congress set in the Washington of 1890, and “The Skin Game”, a richly comic account of the stick-up of an illegal card game as Atlantic City’s casino era began. All 3 are available on Amazon’s Kindle. To send Joe your comments or invite him to address your group, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.josephtwilkins.com