- March 21st, 6:07
Recently I went through what may have been the most difficult situation of my life. I was the victim of sudden and severe panic attacks.
I had never really had panic attacks before. I had suffered from depression many times in my life, and I'd had moments of sobering panic in the past, when I deeply thought about my own death, but I'd never had panic attacks of this magnitude before. I went completely dizzy, my heart racing, and my awareness frighteningly sharp. I was petrified at what I was experiencing.
Somehow I got it into my head that this might be a spiritual experience of some kind, like I was going to lose myself and my mind would stretch out into space or nothingness. I didn't even want to look at my reflection, worried that it might "enlighten" me, or some nonsense. My fear was extremely heightened, and completely absurd. I suddenly became afraid to even have a shower, or use the toilet, as even the normal sensations of my body seemed frightening and bizarre. I even became afraid of my own awareness, that something bad might happen if I was mindful or meditated.
It was completely irrational, but convincing. I was overwhelmed by panic, and it was projecting onto everything, so all sorts of things become things to be afraid of. The worst of all being my own awareness, as how can you escape your own consciousness?
I felt sick to my stomach, and I could barely eat anything. This situation of intense panic lasted for days.
I called a Theravadin Ajahn monk, and he advised me to practice body contemplation / awareness of the body meditation, as he said the practice was very grounding. He also said to bring awareness to where fear is located in the heart center, and try to be allowing of it.
I was afraid of this practice itself, though I clung to the idea that the monk knew what he was talking about. I practiced the body contemplation, and it helped and took the edge off. The panic was still very strong, but this practice granted me a bit of relief. I also remembered what another senior monk had once told me, that "it is very difficult to be afraid when you are relaxed." So I practiced consciously relaxing my body, and trying to let go off the tension. That also helped a little, but the fear was still strong.
During my call to the Ajahn, I had told him I was afraid of Anatta, not-self. He told me that not-self is actually a relief. So during a strong wave of panic, when I had exhausted every other option, I remembered his words, that not-self is a relief, and in my desperation I looked at the fear and said to my self, "I am not this fear, this fear is not me. It is not-self." And in that moment, a weight dropped from my heart, and it felt light a cool, soothing white flame burned there brightly, and my body became light as a feather. My awareness was bright and vividly clear. My mind empty of thoughts. My back and standing posture went perfectly straight it seemed, and I seemed to stand upon the ground beneath me more firmly than I ever had before, as if rooted there. I laughed, and my grin was wide and great, and seemed like the way the Buddha would laugh.
This experience did not last, and the fear came again, but this time not as strong. I kept going back to my body contemplation practice, and reminding myself that the fear was not-self. The practice felt like a refuge in a brutal storm. It helped me greatly, though did not remove the panic completely.
In my desperation, it became vital to gain a foothold in reason. With the panic somewhat diminished, I had been left with a new life where everything was a potential trigger to another panic attack. So I had to look deeply into fear itself, I had to get to know it better, and I had to consider deeply the things I was now afraid of. I had to think it out carefully, to check if there was really any danger in these things.
I realized that throughout the many days of panic, no matter how afraid I got, nothing bad ever actually happened. Nothing had ever really changed. All my sense still functioned normally, as they had done before. I had not lost my mind, or become "enlightened", or floating off into space. Nothing had really happened. The only thing that had happened was fear.
The only bad experience was the experience of fear, and none of the things that fear had told me would happen had happened. I realized that fear was an absolute liar. When it arose, it would make me believe, it would feel very convincing, but I had to remind myself that no matter what fear said, it was all a load of shit.
Now, it has been about 2 months since the attacks first began. My anxiety has not gone completely, but since the start it has been gradually diminishing. Now, it still comes a few times a day, but in a fairly weak and manageable form, but as soon as it arises I remind myself that no matter what the fear says, it is a lie, and the fear doesn't have anywhere to dig in, and so it fades away. I also use the practice of acceptance/allowance/welcoming experiences, which is something I've focused on for many years, so fear has difficulty making me afraid of that practice, as I have done it for so long, so it's difficult for fear to convince me it is bad.
I asked myself yesterday why I still had this lingering anxiety, and somehow it dawned on me, and I realized it was the fear of my eventual death. So I turned my reasoning power, that I had been developing during the panic attacks, towards my own death. I saw that I wasn't afraid of death itself, but rather I was afraid of being reborn. Looking closer still, I realized I wasn't afraid of being reborn, I was actually afraid of losing my memories of this life, that somehow it would no longer be me in the next life.
Then I considered time, and realized I'd been thinking of time incorrectly. I realized that this moment now would not become lost to future moments, because this moment is the only moment. Time is simply a measurement of change. Consciousness is only one moment; this one right now. And within this eternal moment, things arise and cease. Right now, I have memories, but if those memories cease it does not mean that I will cease. This eternal moment will prevail. The memories are not that important. Sometimes in meditation, all my thoughts have stopped, and my mind doesn't wander to memories, and that is very pleasant. At that time, I don't miss the memories at all.
So there is nothing to fear in death. Of course! Fear is a liar, after all!
This is my story of my battle with fear. I was the winner! :D
Hope you enjoyed it!
Just remember, fear is a lieing scumbag! No matter what it says, don't believe it! Unless there's a pack of vicious dogs running towards you! ;D