The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
November 10, 2013

Thinking About Toothpaste at a Meditation Retreat

It’s been a busy two weeks, and I haven’t had a spare minute to write a blog post. I shouldn’t actually be writing one now because I’m at a silent meditation retreat, and it’s not really allowed.


But being here at the retreat center, a place I’ve come twice a year for the past 14 years or so, I remembered something that happened here 9 or 10 years ago, and thought I’d share.

On one particular retreat, I forgot to bring toothpaste. And I remember walking down the hill to the local drugstore, then Elephant Pharmacy, and contemplating my choices.  Natural toothpaste like Tom’s of Maine or toothpaste full of synthetic ingredients like Crest or Colgate.  Plastic packaging wasn’t even a consideration back then.

[Note: I realize there are problems with Tom’s of Maine toothpaste too.  Keep reading.  This post isn’t really about toothpaste.]

I remember turning my nose up at the Tom’s and saying to my friend Mark who was with me, “Ooh.  Icky.”  I chose the sweet, minty fresh Crest and felt kind of smug about NOT choosing the “hippy dippy” option.

As you know, things have really changed since then. A couple of years ago, it happened again… I forgot toothpaste.  And deodorant. This time, I went to the local convenience store and bought a cheap box of baking soda to satisfy both needs.  And I was super careful to only use one little bar of soap. And I remember one year wandering around the retreat center at night and turning off all the non-necessary lights that had been left on.

Anyway, my question to you is… how does this happen? How does someone go from choosing the yummy tingly toothpaste to the one that maybe doesn’t taste as great but leaves you with a clean conscience in addition to clean teeth?

This is the million dollar question. Because seriously, judging people for choosing what feels or tastes or smells good is not going to get them to change.  So what do you think will?

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28 Comments on "Thinking About Toothpaste at a Meditation Retreat"

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idumppaintin theocean
1 year 7 months ago

You go to a meditation retreat, only to wander around late at night turning off lights, when you could be sleeping? Funniest thing i have ever heard.

Rose Seneviratne
1 year 9 months ago

I really enjoyed this post, Amy! It is really great that spirituality and meditation is being experienced by people all around the world. There is so much beauty that arises in silence. I meditate with Nirodha Retreats. They conduct retreats all around the world, including in Thailand, which is one of the most beautiful experiences, ever. Definitely one for the bucket list!

1 year 10 months ago

First of all, thank you for your inspiring work. I’m currently in the process of ‘becoming’ plastic free and found your wonderful blog. Your question addresses a genuine question I had been asking myself for the last couple of years. I myself also grew up with simple environmental principles (don’t litter, love animals), but the 80’s progressive attitude of ‘freeing’ yourself from household chores (cooking…) prevailed and I conveniently joined in to discrediting the ‘hippy dippy’ lifestyle as over-romantisizing nature, new-age and naive. 
This all came to an abrupt halt and a life-defining epiphany when I found out I had ulcerative… Read more »

1 year 10 months ago

JenelHazlett Beautiful.

1 year 11 months ago

We do it slowly. 
We do it by waking up to the fact that without realizing it we are indoctrinated into the “use and dispose” culture. I remember the 1st time I heard “planned obsolescence”.  I thought it ridiculous then but most people around me nodded in recognition that this was how things “today” worked.  I miss craftsmanship; the process of creating that which is useful and beautiful and long lived.
We do it by waking up to the fact that without realizing it we have been indoctrinated to eat “processed” (non)food instead of real food.  Process food is/was considered “progress”, an innovation,… Read more »

2 years 5 days ago

This is a long post, but I think these kinds of transformations are never simple and short.  They have to do with the way we think about everything.
I had an awareness of environmental issues (and love for nature) as a kid, coming from a kind of alternative upbringing, but trying to reconcile that  with a distaste for the gross “hippy dippy” stuff, I internalized the passion for environment into a sense of”I care”, while in a lot of ways just trying to be normal or exceptional.  
I thought the only way to change things was with money, and I was… Read more »

Leuth Novotny
2 years 13 days ago

baking soda — works great & comes in cardboard boxes! :)

2 years 13 days ago

Beth, you have asked a million dollar question! And there are so many great answers in here. Can I start by first saying its so lovely and refreshing to read comments on a blog that are helpful, constructive and thoughtful? Not necessarily the typical blog comment string! I would add to the list below that one super important thing is educating kids from early – thinking about materials life cycles and where their purchases come from and go to, from an early age, is so important. I think there is a small subset of us that have a “come to… Read more »

2 years 13 days ago

Everyone performs bad plastic habits for different motivations. For that reason, I don’t know if there’s one method that would work for everyone, or even for most people. For me, I became more aware of plastic use in food because I have a sensitivity to red 40. Reducing my plastic exposure in food has lead to better health for me. However, I still struggle with eliminating plastic from my life in other ways, even when I know it would give me better health.
But hey, while you’re at a silent meditation retreat, you could contemplate the eight worldly concerns (samsaric dharmas).… Read more »

2 years 16 days ago

@Beth I agree!  I use Toothy Tabs every day and mentioned them in my book!  (But this post isn’t really about toothpaste.)  :-)

2 years 16 days ago

What changed for me was when I tried some Toothy Tabs from LUSH. You just need to get used to crumbling a tablet between your front teeth then brushing it round the rest of them (it foams up). Natural ingredients & packaged in a tiny cardboard box. Lots of flavours to chose from too. Sounds like a promotion but I don’t work for them!

2 years 16 days ago

EcoCatLady I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.  Appealing to enlightened self-interest covers most bases, including those few people who act from true altruism.  I was going to comment separately (for the first time on this blog) but you’ve covered all of what I was going to say and more.  I have been a supporter of sustainable and organic (way back when “organic” actually meant something) for over 30 years, and I have never observed any true change in people’s behaviour, including my own, without a component of enlightened self-interest.  Further, the solutions we propose, to people who… Read more »

2 years 16 days ago

Tracey TieF 
We were poor growing up.  My Mom sewed my “jam” shorts.  I wasn’t really into them, they were homemade and I was self conscious.  I went to church camp and another girl had short made out of the same fabric.  I asked her about them and she was sooo proud that her Mom cared enough to sew for her.  It changed my perspective from embarrassed to grateful.  Sometimes it’s an attitude you exhibit that helps others.
I caught my city cousin checking out my pumps last weekend.  They are a high end brand.  I paid $8 for them at goodwill.  She didn’t ask… Read more »

2 years 16 days ago

EcoCatLady yeah, we usually act from enlightened self-interest. I’ve said the same thing for years! It’s (sadly) easy these days to make that argument as the effects of our toxic behaviors are increasingly right in front of our eyes. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, it’s just human nature. We all need to be clear as to the consequences of our actions. As one matures, one hopefully learns to be more abstract in our understanding of cause and effect.
Many years ago, however, in my home state, billboards were put up equating drunk driving with accidents and death with no… Read more »

2 years 16 days ago

I know it’s not about toothpaste..but we need to send you some of our plastic free toothpaste (;  On the “note”  I feel you!

2 years 17 days ago

Reenie what a unique way to think about the challenge–to help people feel like creators in the process. I completely think you have hit upon something–and helping people “own” their own journey of discovery is really important. A great parallel example is kids and veggies.  Most kids here in the States are not huge fans of raw veggies–even my kids, who have grown up in a mostly vegetarian house!  But it is proven that if you give kids the responsibility for making the salad (as age appropriate), they start to realize all the options before them, and they get such a… Read more »

2 years 18 days ago

For me, it began after we’ve had a car accident. Have you ever experienced what was depression and the feeling you were bearing all the misery of the world? That what happened. It was the feeling of guilt. The guilt of knowing I was deresponzabilizing myself my putting my garbages in a black  opaque bag to hide the shame. One thing bringing another, when tou start, you cannot stop! 
I personnaly think you have to touch people right into their own personal existence but without making judgement; otherwise, they close up like an oyster and even do the opposite. Also,  money… Read more »

2 years 18 days ago

I’m with you! I use organic or non-toxic baking soda and sometimes hydrogen peroxide and other times organic apple cider vinegar with the baking soda.  My gums are healthier than ever and my breath is just as fresh as anyone else. Plus my dental floss is not catching between my teeth due to lack of plaque; I think the vinegar dissolved it.  I got to this point after I read Gorgeously Green and every toothpaste label in three different health food stores.   I was shocked and realized there is nothing safe on the market shelves.  Back to the basics… Read more »

2 years 19 days ago

Its a great question. I wonder the same thing as I changed my habits just like you. I think people have to get the impacts of the chemicals, plastic, etc to them or to something that they love doing. I also think that people assume that they will have to give things up or not be able to do it if they start to take care of the environment. I dont think there is an answer for every one that is going to be the same. I think food is a place to start since it makes them think about… Read more »

2 years 19 days ago

Yes, this is the hardest thing for me. It’s very similar to ‘go vegan’ or even just ‘eat healthy’. When I suggest Japanese wives to cook ‘brown rice’ instead of ‘white rice’, most of them say, “I know that it’s much healthier. But my husband (or kids) don’t like brown rice, so I can’t change it.’ Even if they get a colon cancer or high cholesterol, they prefer to serve what their family want to eat!
As you know, most of Japanese food products are packaged nicely in plastics, because the recycling rates in Japan is much higher than US (70… Read more »

2 years 19 days ago

I took a soap making class and that sent me down the rabbit hole of a more natural way to live. Then I had a baby and that was all she wrote. I am always on a quest to do better for my children. Do I want to fill them up with chemicals and leave behind a legacy of trash or try and tread lightly so there is something to leave behind.

2 years 19 days ago

I teach people how to make better choices and better body care products. In my experience, people “get it” different ways:
Some changed when they connect with a problem, like environmental degradation or a human rights abuse.
Some change only when that problem has a face, an individual person harmed such as a family member getting cancer.
Some change when it becomes easy, or fun to change.
Some change when people they care about change.
Some change for the sake of their personal health, or that of their children or family.
I try to tell people the reasons to change, and show people how easy and… Read more »

2 years 20 days ago

@Sarah Plus Tom’s is actually owned now by Colgate-Palmolive.  But I didn’t know that at the time.  So the real point to this post is not that Tom’s of Maine is a healthy alternative but that when given the choice between what I thought was a healthy alternative and what I knew was not, I chose the one I knew was not because it tasted better.  I hope no one thinks that I am advocating Tom’s of Maine in this post.  Should I clarify???

2 years 20 days ago

EcoCatLady I found the same issue as you.  When I built an nontoxic house, I could no longer stand the smell from ordinary fabric, building materials, or furniture.  When I walk into a furniture store, I have to walk out from the headaches.

If we give our body’s a burden rest, we would easily realize how harmful all those chemicals are to us.  Our bodies are pretty smart.

2 years 20 days ago

@Sarah Agreed! I thought we were using a natural toothpaste that was good for you. However, my daughter kept getting weird little blisters in her mouth under her tongue. Finally, her pediatrician said it might be the SLS in toothpaste! Yup, a week or so after using a non-SLS (JASON) toothpaste her blisters were gone.

2 years 20 days ago

One thing I’ve suspected is that people like to be creators. To have a hand in the creation of the idea, the trend, the action, the product.  Remembering back as kids, say ages 7 to 11, how empowering it was to organize a game, or to draw something, or write a poem, or bring in a certain item in lunch that no one else had.  When others imitated, you felt good, and perhaps wanted to bring it back to you, do more creating.
When I have workshops on green cleaning, the participants make a couple of their own products to take home and try. Not… Read more »

2 years 20 days ago

I hate to break it to you, but Tom’s also has some chemical ingredients that, although they may be natural, they aren’t necessarily good for you. Plutonium is natural, but you wouldn’t want it in your toothpaste. Okay, not suggesting there’s plutonium in Tom’s but you get my point. Read the Tom’s label. I don’t buy Tom’s because it contains SLS’s; yes, derived from coconut but they are allergens and can cause serious problems for many.

2 years 21 days ago

I think the key to getting people to change their behavior is to stop trying to appeal to the do-gooder impulse and to focus more on the enlightened self-interest aspect of making better decisions. I was raised as your typical fast food eating, chemical product using, plastic wrapped American. The further I get from that lifestyle the more I’ve come to loathe it… but it’s not for lofty do-gooder reasons, it’s because I’ve come to feel that the highly marketed typical choices are inferior to the “real thing.” 
The catch-22 here is that I think it requires removing oneself from the… Read more »