‘Zanshin’ is a Japanese martial arts concept referring to a relaxed mindful state of alertness. It literally means “the mind with no remainder”, and refers to those moments when we are completely focused on the task at hand, while remaining relaxed and fully present.
Zanshin is analogous to what author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi referred to as “flow”, and on a neuroscience level it represents a state of optimal harmony between right and left brain functioning…when we have simultaneously tapped into our objective functioning and our full creative capacities.
The concept of zanshin has high applicability to the practice of fine dentistry, as fine dentistry is largely a creative act based upon training , judgment, and esthetic sense. In fact, dentistry’s finest practitioners are really artists who have mastered how to use all of their resources to create outcomes that their minds have envisioned.
And we all flock to see these masters show and explain how they do it, while simultaneously thinking, “Some day, I want to practice like Frank, Bob, Gary, John, L.D, Pete” , or one of many others who have mastered the art of fine dentistry.
But often when we try to do this, there is a massive barrier in our way – the people to whom the teeth are attached. And many of them seem to have little interest in our abilities to help them and create more beauty in their life.
And so we get stuck, we get frustrated, and we get depressed because it feels like we are not valued.
So how do we get around this? How to we find more people who will value what we do and therefore allow us to practice the art form from which we gain so much joy?
Through zanshin. Through flow. Through being fully present. Through better understanding of how each patient truly sees things, and then slowly, and patiently facilitating their re-framing of dentistry and dental health, and what all of that could mean to them, as well as “allowing them time to summon their will”, as Wilson Southam used to say.
You see, fine dentistry isn’t so much about fine dentistry from the patient’s perspective. It’s about how they feel about themselves now, and about how they think they will feel about themselves later.
And when you begin to sit down with patients and consider things on that level, the magic starts happen. And that requires being fully present and truly caring – zanshin.
Paul A Henny, DDS
Thought Experiments LLC, ©2017
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