Off and on through my life, I've experienced panic and anxiety. Before I began meditating, I usually dealt with it by believing the fears, shaming myself, and/or acting out in unwholesome ways.
Meditation and mindfulness practice helps me relate directly to the panic and anxiety in a way that can eliminate much of the optional suffering and distill it into spacious wisdom.
Recently I've had an upswing in panic and anxiety. But I had kind of a breakthrough the other day and it was partly thanks to swimming laps.
Driving to the gym the other morning, I felt a wave of panic come on. I almost turned the car around. But I'm determined to see through this panic. That is, to be in it, notice it is the body's overreaction to a momentary thought, keep going with my actual life instead of letting fear without reason stop me.
So I got to the gym, jumped in the pool and took one lap at a time. I stopped at almost every lap, asked myself if I could do just one more, then did one more, over and over and over. All the while, the panicky stories whirred through. Dipping into believing the stories, backing up to just noticing them arise, turning attention to the feel of the water on my skin, over and over and over.
Climbing out of the pool, I had some relief and clarity, happy that I practiced being upright in the panic storm.
But that isn't the best part.
The best part happened on the drive home.
Without willing it, on its own, my heart cracked open wider. I suddenly heard myself talking to myself the way I often talk to my children when they've had a hard moment: Yes, I know. That was so hard. You're ok now. I'm here. Tears down my cheeks, my whole body sighing, feeling simultaneously like a mother and a child, broken open on the other side of suffering whose vast and endless companion is - if only we stop and notice -- always compassion.
(image Christina Schlesinger)