Teeth Brushing & the Art of High Performance Living
A funny thing happened on the way to writing you this article about how to use the most banal of daily activities, brushing your teeth, as a supreme exercise in tuning your whole day for mental and physical fitness.
I sat down in front of a blank screen page, placed my fingers on the keyboard, and with no idea where to begin, watched these words type themselves:
Why Not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy?
I was as surprised and puzzled as you might be. For one, this is a piece about brushing teeth – a voluntary activity you engage in with regularity – not about sneezing, an involuntary action the body does once in a while. And for two, well, what in the Hoo Ha does Marcel Duchamp’s Readymade conceptual art piece have to do with you and your quest for high performance living?
Hoo Ha indeed, I figured it out! The art of the Readymade, that’s what its about.
Duchamp revolutionized art and culture as we know it with his Readymades, pre-existing objects that simply by virtue of choice and a repositioning of perspective, became art (remember the urinal known as “Fountain”?).
Brushing teeth, my friends, is a Readymade for those of us cultivating the art of living out our highest potential.
If you’re not an art lover, you can leave all that behind and simply consider the practical implications of repositioning your perspective on the daily activity of brushing your teeth for the sake of greater physical and mental fitness.
Unlike a lot of conceptual art, I’m going to give you some clues as to how and why this is so. But before I do that, let me clear the air by getting two assumptions out in the open:
- I’m assuming that you brush your teeth at least once a day?
- And I’m assuming that whether or not you confessed to yourself or your world that you had any “New Years Resolutions”, the recent celebration of ending one cycle and beginning the next awakened in you, if only momentarily, that deep seated desire to be better: to yourself, in your work, to others, etc…
Don’t worry, no need to give yourself away. But no need to fear, either! Just because statistics show that you’re almost as unlikely to keep your New Years Resolutions as you are likely to experience tooth decay, doesn’t make either exercise futile.
Here’s how brushing your teeth and resolving to be better can come together to make this year the one in which you achieve the greatest mental and physical health and fitness with the greatest amount of ease. (And maybe even pleasure – I have a client who’s seriously thrilled by the ritual of brushing her teeth, may that juju rub on us all for the sake of our oral health.)
Now this is no small task – in fact, it’s the whole if it.
Let’s face it, brushing your teeth day after day, year after year, is boring. Unfortunately, so are articles about New Years Resolutions, even if they are about something you know you need and want, like cultivating mindfulness.
Which is why this is actually an article about Readymades and the craft of transforming your life with a little conscious choice and shift of perspective into an artful escapade.
So here we go, Come With Me (for those of you who’ve seen the new Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, please insert his beautiful baritone and beckoning hand gesture here)…
Part One: How To Get Incurably Interested in Brushing Your Teeth
If you’re not with a toothbrush in hand at the moment, use your imagination or your incredible memory until you are and ask yourself any of these questions, conveniently broken for you up into conceptual categories:
- How much force are you using?
- Can you make it easier and still be as efficient?
- What would it take? Going slower? Faster? Less pressure? More Pressure? How much effort do you really need to do the job right?
- Where is the movement coming from? Your wrist? Your elbow? Your shoulder? Your center? Your feet?
- Where the hell are your feet, anyways?
- Are they on the ground? Evenly?
- Are you standing still? Are you dancing? Are you choosing to stand still or dance?
- Are you shuffling at the same rhythm as you’re brushing? And does this rhythm suit you today or is it recycled from yesterday?
- Are you always coming at your teeth from the same angle?
- How often are you changing angles? Are you aware of when and why?
- Is your brushing rhythm drone-like, staccato, dubstep?
- Did you choose this rhythm or are you spinning broken-record-like?
- Are you really brushing your teeth or are you actually reading your emails, straightening up your apartment and composing dialogue for later in the day?
- Are your teeth even there? If so, how do they feel?
- Can you feel the shape and volume of the individual teeth?
- Can you feel the spaces between? The gums above and below? The deep crevices behind?
- And most importantly, ARE YOU BREATHING?!
Now you may be exhausted just reading all these questions, but I assure you that this list is nowhere near exhaustive. Pick just one of these lines of inquiry and watch the questions invent themselves.
Whatever you do, make sure it’s fun. If you’re not interested, notice what you’re really interested in while mechanically performing this requisite task – that may be the most illuminating inquiry of all, especially if you’re feeling the boredom of mechanical, requisite tasks taking over your life for more than just the three minutes you brush your teeth.
You can also make it more interesting by adding a challenge or limitation: brush and inquire while standing on one leg or on your tip toes, use your non-dominant hand, or simply stand still for a full three minutes.
Part Two: How To Transform Interest into Strength and Vitality
If you’re wondering what you’ve gained from this exercise other than a new perspective on just how involved (and interesting) brushing your teeth can be, I’ll tell you:
You’ve just gained invaluable perspective on the state of your being today and on the nature of your habitual patterns and how they may be affecting you in the bigger picture of your life.
Take any of the questions above and replace “brushing your teeth” with “working on such and such project” or “dealing with such and such relationship”: are you using too much force? Are you coming at it from diverse angles? Are you grounded and in sync with your body’s rhythm or are you maybe a little more wobbly and likely to step on toes than you realized?
Your teeth brushing ritual can be the best oracle and personal advisor you never knew you had: did you find your sweet spot this morning, the perfect balance between force, ease and efficiency? If so, this might indicate it’s a good day to take on that extra challenging task you’ve been putting off. Were you tired just picking up the toothbrush? Chances are this means it’s a good day to take it easy, move a little more slowly and leisurely.
Did your mind squeak with stiffness as you tried brushing and noticing at the same time? It’s a good day for a yoga class. Did you have so much energy that you nearly brushed the enamel off your teeth? Put your sneakers on and go out for a run or get yourself to the gym or a dance class.
You can even take it one step further than observing and deducing what you need to do be at your best – you can use these three minutes as a high-performance calibration exercise.
Is this a day you need to be particularly grounded? Pay attention to your feet. Do you need to warm up the methodical, detail oriented part of your being for today’s tasks? Brush until you’ve felt yourself attending to each and every individual tooth. And so on.
Just like that.
You don’t have to add any extra activities to your already packed morning, you just need to show up when you step up to the sink to brush those teeth and voila, your capacity for observing and integrating your physical presence and approach to what you do throughout the day is exponentially improved.
Of course, learning how to observe your body’s habitual patterns, how to deduce what you need in order to be at your best based on those observations, and how to do the work of calibrating your body so that it serves your highest purpose from day to day and year to year is truly an art. And like all forms of art, it takes a combination of focus, dedication, guidance and inspiration to develop.
That’s what I’m here to offer you, so you can show up at your highest potential and share your gifts with the world.
This year, I’m opening up a very few spots for those of you who are ready to bust out of mechanical functioning and invest in the art of high performance living to work with me privately, in a deeply supportive and transformative format.
If you’re interested and inspired, I invite you to sign up for a complimentary consultation, so we can discuss your needs in detail and see if working together is the right choice for you.