I want to share with you a little about anxiety, as there is plenty of reason for it to be prevalent in people's lives these days. Recognizing what actually triggers anxiety might be as easy as knowing what series of events bring about a case of shingles or herpes. They all wreak havoc on the nervous system. Sometimes we can carry a lot of stress with no problem. Sometimes it can show up unexpectedly and you need Sherlock Holmes to figure out what is wrong, what went wrong and where the problem began.
Thanksgiving day was sunny and beautiful. I got to do a walking meditation to honour Thay’s 94th birthday, qigong in the garden as the sun was lowering into the trees, and cleaned and rearranged my little Zen Den that I wanted to do since returning to Canada. I enjoyed an incredible dinner with the von Fond’s. I ate too much of the happy farm turkey, almond orange cake with the moist consistency of a cheese cake, and even had a couple glasses of wine.
The three of us slouched in the living room after clean up, grinning and forgiving ourselves fo eating too much.
Then I started to not feel well. Not just the food trying to settle but an anxiety wave came over me. It’s been a very long time since I felt a sense of panic in my body. I excused myself and returned to the Zen Den to try and sense what this was about. Something was very wrong and I was not wanting to see it. Anxiety has a way of making you feel mighty sick. My stomach flipped, my body started to shake uncontrollably and my mind was going everywhere try to focus and come back to the present moment.
I crawled into bed with some reading material and tried to focus my attention.. anywhere. I did breathing practices that used to serve me well in the past. It was going to be a long night of shaking, sweating and multiple trips to the washroom. I would continuously return to bed and focus on embracing what was happening rather than give in to the instinct to fight it. My memory of fighting anxiety in the past reminded me that I never won that fight and it would get more ugly.
I was reminded that everything shows up as a messenger so its a good idea to be ready to listen. I had the most succes doing tonglen meditation practice with Ujjayi breathing. I drank my anxiety in and exhaled a calming acceptance for what was present. As well as incredible compassion and healing for anyone who suffers from this disorder regularly. It was a long night but there was in deed eventual sleep. The morning brought a bit of an anxiety hangover, but I was calm and grateful.
It’s been many many years since I’ve had a panic attack. It was a long journey out of the first ones. I resisted drugs as I couldn't see them more than a coping mechanism with side effects. I really wanted to heal and embrace the verve for life that I knew so well. Many psychiatrists or psychologists would give me tips to push it away or keep it at bay, but these didn't help me.
Finally my friend Kate who dealt with a life of anxiety was the first to share with me that the way out is in. She would tell me to embrace it and not push it away. Over the years that followed, I learned to lean close in and not pull back. I discovered Buddhism teaches a lot on the nature of suffering, how to be with it and with the root causes for its cessation to occur. I immersed deeply into Pema Chodron, the Dalai Lama and also discovered my teacher Thich Nhat Hahn. Suffering was no longer the problem but avoiding them was a sure path to greater suffering.
Last night while being in my trembling body I heard Thay’s voice in my head telling me to greet it with “hello old friend.” It all eventually worked. Whatever I was going through enabled me to connect compassionately with a vast amount of people on the planet whose lives are run by these episodes. I was not alone and my mandate was to send light to everyone who knows this world and in the process that light led me to a restful sleep and a calm morning.
For all who have experienced anxiety, depression or burn out, hug yourself, breathe deep, smile and send compassion out into a suffering world. There are always gifts beneath the surface.
Love and gratitude to you from the mala making retreat at Cedar Healing Arts. Have a glorious rest of your day.