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  • Karen Sussan, LMHC

Wisdom From A Tooth

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

Once, I gained wisdom from my teeth.

I was 18 years old and had 4 impacted wisdom teeth extracted. After the surgery, I counted the days until I was supposed to feel better. But, alas, instead of feeling better over time, I began to feel worse. Excruciating pain mounted. I was demoralized and the situation morphed into an existential crisis.

A 5 day vigil ensued as I waited for the next oral surgeon’s appointment. There was no comfort. No healing. I could not concentrate.There I sat.

Now, around this time, I had begun a personal exploration of contemplative Hindu literature and was up to the Upanishads, having just completed the Bhagavad Gita. I was no yogi, no practiced meditator. Yet, within my limited capacity to focus as I could not escape suffering, I began to reflect, piecemeal, upon the concepts of Brahman and Atman.

Taking that larger Universal perspective brought some relief and distraction. The mindfulness led to transformative discoveries. I opined I had a connection to the entire universe, beyond my comprehension.

Deep associations tied to having such a Universal connection were:

  1. The Universe was a constant.

  2.  No personal attack or insult was visited upon me by the Universe given a possible ultimate disregard for my suffering.

I found myself stepping outside myself–I believe akin to what we find with the bracketing of experience labelled by Eckert Tolle as a “the pain body”. I then considered the value of my suffering experience and existence from that removed vantage point.

I thought – ​At the very least,​ ​we mortals are but stardust, the stuff the Universe is made of, part and parcel.

I queried, “Was being stardust of value or worth?” No clear answer was apparent. So, I mused some more and ended up with reverie, marveling at how I could even be mindful of my state, that state of suffering. In other words, ​I realized that even being capable of contemplating that I was suffering while mindful of a larger Universal context was an awe-inspiring achievement.

And, amid my suffering, I concluded:

We are stardust AWARE that we are stardust.

I thought being stardust was really something. And still do. When you gaze out at night and see the brilliance of those dying lights, it is phenomenal.

“Those stars were something of beauty”, I thought back then, “And, at the very least, we humans were equally beautiful, and such beauty, I deemed, was of worth.”

The proof text for this later-to-be-rabbi was found in Bereshet (Genesis):​“And the Lord said, “It was good,”​ noting various stages of creation. And then, with that final nod, ​“It was very good.”

This series of realizations encouraged me for the remainder of my vigil until the oral surgeon was able to lance the infection that had developed at the surgical site.

I often still hold onto this thought, that at the very least, we are but stardust, beautiful stardust, and that such existence in the Universe alone is all the more wonderful because we humans are cognisant of our state of being stardust.

Small wonder I have made a career accompanying fellows experiencing pain and suffering. I know I am not unique in having such desire to alleviate a fellow’s pain. Like many other healers, I have come to realize the import of being present to another in the face of pain and suffering. And, sometimes, like with my wisdom teeth, I witness others finding opportunities for meaningful transformation and growth.

You can reach out and address existential or spiritual crises or issues through spiritually integrated psychotherapy with a practitioner like me. Very often, appreciation of our life experience and its significance can grow.

We can heal, grow and transform through psychotherapy.

Soon I will be launching training opportunities to integrate spirituality into psychotherapy for colleagues through the American Clinical Pastoral Education. Contact me to learn more.

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