Got Floss? Use It!
“Got floss? Use it!” read the dental appointment card. Obviously my new dentist knew me well, despite our not having yet met. For just as the card implied, a box of floss stood ready on my bathroom shelf, alert for the moment it would be called upon – which was (almost) never. Intervals of flossing did occur, usually in the week before and the one after a visit to the dentist. Otherwise, it was all just good intentions and nothing in the way of action.
Always I would tell myself I was definitely going to floss tomorrow. Today there just wasn’t time to do it properly, and what difference would one day’s delay make? In the meantime, the mere presence of the floss signified my intention to do the responsible, sensible thing for my teeth, and this provided the necessary reassurance (even a little smugness) that I was on the right track. There was no way that my gums were going to recede and my teeth fall out. I knew that I was one of the enlightened when it came to flossing. I had understood the message and committed to taking the necessary action. I just hadn’t actually done anything yet.
That this action had not yet been taken seemed the least important fact, and yet in truth it was the only important fact. This is what the message on the dental appointment card had succinctly pointed out. It was glaringly obvious, once I thought about it. Equally obvious was the spiritual parallel: don’t we sometimes kid ourselves that having understood the importance of meditation and obtained the means to practise it, we feel we have done most of what is necessary? In reality, we have done nothing if we just stop there.
Well, we may kid ourselves, but we can’t kid the Master. He knows what is in our hearts. Similarly, it was no puzzle that the dentist I had not yet met had guessed this apparently private fact about the contents of my bathroom cabinet. The difference, though, is that the dentist knew this not by knowing me but by acquaintance with wider human nature. Clearly, my approach to dental hygiene was shared. Almost everybody buys floss, but they don’t necessarily use it.
Glimpsing a box of floss in a friend’s bathroom, we might reasonably conclude that he or she flosses. Why would we not think so? Only the friend’s dentist (and the friend) could know the falsity of this assumption. We see the floss on the shelf of so many bathrooms and assume that we ourselves are the only ones who aren’t really using it. We wallow in guilt and fear of peritonitis; we think we are the only ones. But the perfect white smile we see on the face of another could be a set of dentures, which only their dentist really knows. Equally, we should never assume we know anything about the inner spiritual state of any other person from what we see on the outside. We cannot judge anyone, least of all ourselves.
Periodically, we visit the dentist and sincerely swear that everything will change from this day forth, that flossing is now to begin in earnest. Then we go home and later that day, at bedtime, we’re rather tired and just want to get into bed – after all, we have to get up early – so we decide that one more day won’t make a difference. We can floss tomorrow! And we will floss tomorrow; or at least, our intention to do so is genuine.
As indeed it will be the next day, when we make ourselves the same promise – and the next day, and the next. And sometimes we may make a similar promise about our meditation: that we will do it tomorrow if not today, or perhaps that we will do it today but in a cursory way; tomorrow, when we are less tired, we will do it with real attention and focus.
Having made ourselves this promise, we feel instantly better; committed to a right way forward and cleansed of past error. But intention is not the same as action. Floss perched inertly on the shelf is an entirely different matter from floss sliding between your teeth. One cleanses and the other does not. Equally, the words of simran that we have obtained from the Master, which are ready and waiting for us to use to clean our souls, will not perform this essential role if we fail to apply them.
And tomorrow will not do, because tomorrow never comes. The only day that counts is today. Tomorrow, when it comes, will look after itself – so long as we look after today. We have been given the knowledge of what we need to do, and the conviction that we want to do it; we have been given the tools to do it, too. So let’s just do it – today.
The quieter the mind, the more powerful, the worthier, the deeper, the more telling and more perfect the prayer is. To the quiet mind all things are possible. What is a quiet mind? A quiet mind is one which nothing weighs on, nothing worries, which, free from ties and from all self-seeking, is wholly merged into the will of God and dead to its own. Such a one can do no deed, however small, that is not clothed with something of God’s power and authority.
David O’ Neal, Meister Eckhart, From Whom God Hid Nothing