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I would walk through fire to help anyone suffering panic. I would because I know, beyond some clinical definition, what that hell feels like. If you have never experienced such hell, I’m grateful that you have not. Panic is heavy anxiety so rooted in the marrow of your being that you swear there is no escape. Just an eternity of torment. I am not exaggerating. It truly is that horrible, and that overwhelming.
When I was a girl in seventh grade, nutrients that later fed into future anxiety troubles seared into my young heart. I decidedly was not cool, not even a little. I was awkward and shy, and with bangs that defied normalcy by forming horns like a bull on either side of my head. Yes, it was pointed out to me. Yet those were not the richest nutrients to my future anxiety struggles. No, the richest soil came from my best friend since second grade. A friend who was cool, whose blonde hair and social prowess elevated her from an unknown to an accepted cream-of-the-crop fancy-pants popular girl as soon as we graduated 6th grade from our small Montessori School (only three in our class) and entered public school after my last blissfully innocent summer of childhood.
I was not welcomed to sit at her lunch table. I had no friends… for two years. I learned to cope. I learned to keep my eyes downcast. When we had a class together, we did not speak. It was humiliating.
Scars created at any age change a person, especially scars from other people. And it has taken until recently for me to finally raise my eyes and meet my place at the dining table of life, but not after years battling undercurrents of anxiety rooted in not seeing my worth, roots that became stronger in seventh grade.
What traumatizes us often keeps us in a lifetime pattern of coping and spiraling and hiding from others, from ourselves, from life.
But I learned two major lessons from those painfully lonely years. The first lesson is invaluable, so priceless I can’t regret the pain my younger self suffered. My empathy deepened. I was taught pain in junior high school, so ever since that time, I recognize pain in others and wish I could release them from their suffering. The second lesson took many decades fully to blossom into understanding: I learned that when you are in pain, let the undercurrent of anxiety pull you out into the depths of the foreboding sea: Don’t fight it. Fighting only drowns us. Fighting, as most of us know, grows the fear, or provokes the enemy. Fighting guarantees exhaustion and misery. But allowing whatever is to be as it is, in the end, frees us. And the metaphorical sea becomes a great realm of exciting possibilities to manifest our dreams and to grow wealthy in those things which matter most—wisdom and compassion for self and all others.
The idea of allowing is a hot topic in the mindfulness world, so much so I almost couldn’t bear to write this post. Yet, I concluded that the readers of The Creator’s Compass may appreciate my personal take on what is ‘allowing’. So I offer, from my experience, what it means to ‘allow’ in trust that my words, however imprecise they may be, helps at least one person.
The key to ‘allowing’ is to not resist whatever emotion or thought is present. While we find an equanimity to not resist, the second key is to not hold on to, or grasp, thoughts and feelings of the present. Being pulled out by the undercurrent, my metaphor for allowing, means staying relaxed with an awareness of what’s happening while not analysing the situation. This non-analysing is how to not grasp thoughts and emotions. If we grasp thoughts, following them down endless rabbit holes, we add more thoughts and feelings. This is compounding thoughts and feelings, for thoughts beget thoughts, which beget emotional reactions to thoughts.
Panic is thought and feeling-based. Allowing is awareness-based. Allowing is letting go of the reins of control, which is about the scariest thing to do in times of panic.
Sometimes, there is nothing I can do for a person who is in the grips of a mental undercurrent but impart that I am there, that I am not leaving, and that, despite the fact they can not believe me in the moment, they will cycle out of the mental torment. In fact, when I slip into old patterns of anxiety, there is nothing I can do for myself other than the same I do for another; remind myself I am here, I will cycle out of anxiety, that the undercurrent will subside because it only lasts so long. And with those reminders I practice allowing, practice releasing control.
And in those times, when I’m aware enough within anxiety, there are revelations. As soon as I allow myself to be pulled out to sea to swim the edges of my fear, courage and faith and trust develop that becomes so deeply integrated in awareness. Here, my fear relaxes, then my body gets the message and relaxes, followed by my brain releasing chemicals to further promote the relaxation, and my mind finds a peace and I’m able to swim parallel to shore and make my way back home to warm sands.
Not all peace is rediscovered with incense, a meditation cushion, and a hot mug of tea beside us. Some peace is revealed through fire.
If we pay closer attention to the phenomena of panic transforming into peace, we see our minds are greater than our fears, our brains, and our bodies. Which is why in Tibetan art certain deities have eyes painted on the soles of feet and on the palms of hands to symbolize that awareness rests EVERYWHERE, that awareness is not bounded inside our bodies, but is boundless. Our mind is awareness.
So, if some of your anxiety roots began in seventh grade like mine, or earlier, or last week, or you inherited anxiety from your family genetics and/or roots (yes, that’s a real thing) and your anxiety disrupts your days, I want you to know I see you. I understand. I know those undercurrents. They are strong; they grip us, cementing us to our darkest fears. But I also want to remind you and myself, for it takes reminding, that:
YOU ARE MORE THAN YOUR FEARS.
YOU ARE GREATER THAN YOUR ANXIETY.
YOU ARE MORE POWERFUL THAN YOUR PANIC.
YOU ARE AWARENESS SO BOUNDLESS THAT ONCE YOU TASTE IT, YOUR ANXIETY WILL BEGIN TO DISSOLVE.
Those undercurrents, if we allow them, will pull us out to the edges of our fears, and there we have an opportunity to discover our unimaginable strength, resting in wisdom and compassion. And in the end, maybe our anxieties will be the ultimate pathway to becoming fully awake…. if we don’t fight them.
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Allowing anxiety to pull us out so we can find our peace inside—easy words to write and one of the most difficult things in life to practice. Though I swim by your side, it is ultimately you who must discover how to allow, and that realization is the first step to finding freedom from, or dare I say, through, anxiety and/or panic.
I am not a counselor, or psychologist, or anything with fancy letters after my name. I write about anxiety from personal experience and witnessing my loved ones, friends, and students wrestle with this hell on earth experience. This article is not giving us the HOW in allowing, but simply focuses on the idea of allowing. The HOWs that work for me to allow will come in subsequent publications. I will share these personal HOWs because we are all the same in a million different ways, and if certain methods work for me, they are bound to work for at least one other. And helping just one will make these publications on anxiety worth every hour it takes to write and edit.
Sending light and love and strength and support, especially to those who find themselves in undercurrents. Your heart matters. Your life matters. Your gifts only you possess, even if you’ve yet to discover them, matter. (And yes, everyone carries gifts inside. Of that I am certain.)