This Sunday, after dance, I returned home to my kids, my sister, and her friend, Danielle. It was the early afternoon and the gals had just finished up with a swim. We sat together at the big table under the patio where we ate watermelon and talked. We had a lovely breeze and soft light all around. Emily and Danielle sat back in their chairs with the bright sun behind them and it was such a nice summer feeling. We chatted about the morning, and after a little while, Danielle said something like, “Amanda, your teeth look so white.” And Emily said, “I was just thinking the same thing. They do look white.” And because I take a bit of pride in having nice teeth and enjoy receiving complements, it felt good to hear this. But I could admit that it probably had more to do with the angle of the sun and the face-tan that has been slowly developing in the last few months. I was about to say that when Danielle asked, “What do you do to keep your teeth so white?”
In that instant, everything shifted and instead of feeling just a little puffed up about how nice my teeth appeared in that light, the question allowed me to believe that somehow it was my doing that made them so white. I started to feel so proud and accomplished. The whiteness of my teeth was the topic of conversation and here was an audience of two people that I really wanted to impress and they were asking me about how I did it. So I came up with a few other things that I’m proud of lately and that might impress them more and would anecdotally relate to the question. I said, “Well, I quit drinking coffee and I don’t drink red wine…” Because I hear from other people that their dentists say those stain teeth, I thought it was a good response. “…And I floss every day and I’ve cut down on sugar.” Which is all true, but other than the flossing, I haven’t done any of that to have whiter teeth and I don’t think those things have much to do with the way my teeth appeared in that setting where the angle of the light and the perspiration on the skin and the juicy watermelon on the lips was just so. But I didn’t admit that. Instead I reveled in the feeling of being admired and of feeling accomplished.
That feeling didn’t last long because as soon as I said that stuff, my sister said, “No coffee and no wine? Ugh.” She looked a little deflated and I imagined she said that because coffee and wine are things she enjoys and may not be interested in giving up even though she’d like whiter teeth. My comment made this giving up sound so easy and casual and didn’t speak to the yeeeears of attempting to quit and then going back, giving it up again and starting again. I’m still in the midst of ongoing efforts to change my relationship with these particular substances in a more permanent way. And in all honesty, I know that under the right conditions, I could slip back into those patterns of coffee, booze and shug very easily…because that exact thing has happened before… as in 20-or-so times before.
You may have heard the Sanskrit word, namaḥ (nah-mah-ha) in a chant somewhere along the way. I love the word. I understand it to mean “not me”. As in, I take care of my teeth, but I really think it’s the light that is making my teeth look so white right now. Sure, I make efforts and yes, after many attempts and with the help of a dedicated yoga practice and a great teacher I have been able to loosen the grip that red wine, coffee and sugar have on me just a little, but even that has plenty to do with conditions outside of myself. Ther are so many wonderful blessings in my life that have helped to make vairagyam, letting go, possible. Or maybe the whiteness of my teeth has very little to do with the relinquishing of booze and coffee at all. I could have really good teeth genes. My parents did spring for braces when I was 13. We have fluoride in our water. Oh, and my husband bought a sonicare a few years ago. These things came from something other than my own will and agenda. Namaḥ… not me. I make efforts. I do my best to let go of things that get in the way, but it’s not really ‘me’ that did this.
The fleeting feeling of pride and the little bit of embarrassment that still lingers reminded me to be honest about things this week, even the things I was tempted to embellish. And namaḥ is a beautiful notion that helps me to remember the many blessings and conditions that are out of my control and yet help to make good things possible in my life.