How to Overcome Fear, Anxiety and Panic using Mindfulness Meditation.

 

File:Scared Girl.jpg

All of us will experience fear on occasions. It is a normal healthy biological reaction warning us of perceived threat or danger. However, some people experience fear more frequently, some even on a daily basis, perhaps manifesting as generalised anxiety or in the form of panic attacks.

Often people cope with fear by ignoring such feelings when they surface or by denying them. Many people try to push the feelings away, because they don’t like them and are not prepared to accept them, while others engage in wrestling and battling them as if they were the very threat itself, instead of the messenger.

What I am going to suggest, which might seem a little radical when all you want to do us get rid of these feelings, is to “make friends with your fear.” You see, the problem is, the more you try to battle, ignore or push these feelings away, the more they will surface. When you try to banish them to the deepest, darkest dungeon in your castle, no matter how hard you try, you will still hear them calling you. The harder you try to get rid of them, the more you will experience them. Why? Because you are focusing your energy on them and when you do this, rather like trying not to think about an annoying song or a tune that goes round and round in your head, it will simply magnify your experience.

The first thing I want you to know is that these symptoms cannot harm you. I will say it again, these symptoms cannot harm you. You will not have a heart attack, stop breathing, you will not faint and you will not lose control or lose your mind. Fear simply mobilises your body to be ready to fight off a real or imagined foe.

I will show you how, using a technique called mindfulness, you can achieve what you desire, that is, not to be overwhelmed by your fear and instead to bring about a new relationship with your fear. So, instead of viewing fear as something that should be suppressed or eliminated, we will be using mindfulness to bring about acceptance.

“The way of mindfulness,” says best selling author and mindfulness master Jon Kabat-Zinn,” is to accept ourselves right now, as we are, symptoms or no symptoms, pain or no pain, fear or no fear. Instead of rejecting our experience as undesirable, we ask, “What is the symptom saying, what is it telling me about my body and my mind right now?”

What he is suggesting is that we listen, take a closer look and get acquainted, instead of reaching for the diazepam, rescue remedy or whatever it is we grab in our  immediate desire to make it go away.

Using mindfulness and harnessing quiet gentle breathing we begin to make friends with our fear. As Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests, “We allow ourselves, for a moment at least, to go right into the full-blown feeling of the symptom. This takes a certain amount of courage…dip your toe in…and move a little closer for a clearer look.”

We begin to approach our symptoms “as we would a shy animal sunning itself  on a grassy bank.” Ever so gently, becoming aware of our feelings about the symptoms as they appear. Perhaps we feel anger, frustration, anxiety or despair. We may say to ourselves, “Why now, not again or oh no, I cannot bear this again.” The key is to look as dispassionately as possible, with a non-judging mind. We need to accept that whatever we are feeling, it is here now. It is already with us, already part of our experience in this moment. The key is to accept our feelings as they are, opening to the fear in a kindly way rather than continually trying to block it out and overcome it.

When you experience symptoms simply observe and watch as they unfold. Try not to react, responding as if the symptoms were a wild animal out to get you. Instead, calm, tame them by making friends. Observe your moment-by-moment experience and view it as a “process” instead of getting caught up in the “content.” As you do so, you will discover that there is a “flow” of changing sensations and responses. Allow yourself to be curious, interested in a dispassionate way in the quality of the sensations and your experience, rather than get caught up in the distorted imaginations you tell yourself. These fantasies about what may or may not happen simply fuel fear, anxiety and despair.

It won’t be easy, as resistance will re-emerge many times and your first response will be to block it out, but with practice you can learn to resist this habitual behaviour and you will learn to interrupt the cycle of tension, reaction and suffering and replace it with peace, awareness and kindness.

As you become intimately acquainted with the nuances of your experience you will gently tame that which you wish to banish. You will find that instead of visiting you regularly, stirring up terror and suffering, the occasions of fear will change, they will no longer be completely overwhelming; the intensity and duration will diminish, and you will be able to smile instead of tensing rigidly. You will begin to break free from that which bound you.

Here is a simple befriending mindfulness exercise:

Make yourself comfortable in your body. Spend a moment loosening or adjusting your posture. Whether you are standing, sitting or lying down.

Now place your attention on your breathing. Notice the in-breath, notice where the breath enters your body, the nostrils… Notice how at the end of the in-breath the breath naturally starts to subside; follow the breath. Try to find that momentary pause between the in and the out-breath, the out and the in-breath; a moment of stillness and space. Notice how without having to do anything, the breath rises and falls naturally.

Encourage a tender, gentle awareness to permeate the breath, so the breath softens any resistance and with full intention, breathe in kindness and compassion, breathe out tension and fear.

When we are aware that what we are feeling is fear, we make friends by saying:

“Breathing in – fear I know you are there.”

“Breathing out – I accept you, I will take care of you.”

Simply practise this over and over, remind yourself that  these feelings will soon pass. By developing a calm, mindful relationship with your body you will learn to let go of fear, anxiety and panic.

Until next time, Steve

We would be delighted if you visit our facebook sites:

www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters

www.facebook.com/bexhillmindfulnesscentre

Steve Clifford Senior Accredited Integrative Psychotherapist.                                           Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.
References:

Burch, V. (2008). “Living well with pain & illness: The mindful way to free yourself from suffering,” Piatkus.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2004). “Full catastrophe living: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation,” Piatkus.

Image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AScared_Girl.jpg

The transcending reality of the Jesus story.

File:Malala Yousafzai Role Models 1.jpg

It has been said that Jesus is to the West, as Buddha is to the East. Certainly for the past two thousand years he has occupied a central position in our culture. Yet today churches, clergy, and monastic communities are in rapid decline. One reason for this, is that over the last fifty years our obsession with historical accuracy of every part of the Jesus story  has taken away from the meaning of the story.

I believe that it is misguided to look literally, instead we need to look symbolically. In other words, stop reading the bible as a historical document and start reading it mythologically in the same way as we would, say, Greek myths and legends. Plus, to expect 1st century ideas to travel and translate word for word across time is ridiculous.

We need to look at the metaphors and symbolism of the story; that way the transformative power comes forth. With the best will in the world, churches have failed to capture the sacred dimension of life in the hearts and minds of their congregation.

When Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world”, he did not mean that it is floating around somewhere up in the sky. Jesus was very clear when he said, “the Kingdom of God is within you”. In other words he invites us into a larger dimension of living than we commonly inhabit.

Transcendant awakening is a bit like the path of enlightenment in Buddhist philosophy. By directing the light of our consciousness beyond the current frontier of our knowing, we begin to allow the great unknown dimensions of life to find us.

According to Revolutionary Mystic Adyashanti, the Kingdom Jesus speaks about is not of this world, but is very much present within this world. He considers it is ever present and everywhere upon the Earth, but people do not see and experience it because they have become attached to the things of this world; things like power, greed, hatred, envy, judgement, control and violence.

By stepping away from our own divinity and projecting it exclusively on to Jesus as the one and only son of God, we simply perpetuate the very suffering that Jesus came to dispel. Buddhism too is concerned with suffering (dukka).  To the Buddha the entire teaching is just the understanding of suffering, the unsatisfactory nature of all phenomenal existence, and the understanding of the way out of this unsatisfactoriness.

Just as with mindfulness and other meditation practices we are striving to cultivate true awareness, so too Jesus calls us to awaken and embody the living presence of eternity and enlightenment here on Earth. If we can find the courage to step away from the security of what we think we know, and look at this story with fresh eyes, it can speak to us in ways that can really resonate at a deep level. As adults in our western society many of us have almost entirely forgotten that story telling and myth are powerful ways of conveying spiritual and existential truths that cannot be conveyed in ordinary language.

Living in this moment is something taught in many (if not most) traditions, and it is a great antidote to suffering. The Buddha tells us, “Don’t chase after the past, don’t seek the future; the past is gone, the future hasn’t come. But see clearly on the spot, the object which is now, while finding and living in a still, unmoving state of mind.” Jesus said, ” Consider the lilies. They neither toil nor spin…let tomorrow take care of itself.”

Let us see the words of the story for what they are – mere pointers towards a reality that the limitations of words always distort and never capture. There is a transcending reality not only present in the story, but also in the very heart of life. This reality is within each of us, within the stillness of our internal space and stands for the limitless of Being itself.

If mindfulness has emerged as a powerful practice embracing business culture, schools, health and many other secular environments, it is because Religion as a system of belief is not seen as the doorway to the everlasting as it was. When mindfulness does not claim to hold the Truth or be the Way it resonates more easily with people in this secular society we live in. On the other hand because language can never do more than point to that which it seeks to describe, looking at the story as a symbolic message can offer the disenchanted a transcending reality which is present in the very heart of life as a limitless symbol of hope if we listen to that still and quiet place within.

Until next time, very best wishes, Steve.

 

You may wish to know that Steve is now offering therapy sessions via Skype                   Please contact us through our website @  www.stevecliffordcbt.com

Visit our facebook sites:

www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters

www.facebook.com/bexhillmindfulnesscentre

Steve Clifford                                                                                                                       Senior Accredited Integrative  Psychotherapist.                                                                 Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

Refs:

Adyashanti (2014) “Jesus: A Revolutionary Mystic,” Watkins Mind Body Spirit, Issue 38, Summer 2014, 30-31.

Spong, J. S (1999) Why Christianity must change or die, Harper, San Francisco.

Image ref:[[File:Malala Yousafzai Role Models 1.jpg|Malala Yousafzai Role Models 1]] 

 

Daily Mindfulness Practice

File:OccupyPresent.pdf

This blog goes out to all those interested in cultivating mindfulness in daily living and especially to those lovely students from Queens University who were at the mindfulness class at Herstmonceux Castle today. Also, a thank you to Christina Feldman for her excellent workshop yesterday at the Sussex Mindfulness Centre.

  • Begin at the start of the day before you get out of bed. Bring your attention to your breathing, take two slow mindful breaths and give thanks for the day ahead.
  • On rising from bed, have a big stretch, feel your body waking up and beginning to energise.
  • Take a moment or two to notice your posture. Become aware of the ground beneath your feet…and breathe.
  • As you dress and get ready for the day ahead, adopt an attitude of kindness and visualise yourself smiling and greeting all those you meet with an attitude of loving peacefulness.
  • As you eat breakfast and other meals, eat slowly with mindful awareness. Just for two mouthfuls, think about the food you are eating. Think about where it has come from, and that it was once in the earth or on the earth. In your minds eye, see the sunlight, the rain, the earth and the farmer and farm workers who toiled to bring you the food on your plate. Smell, taste and chew your food with awareness. Give thanks for the food you are eating.
  • Throughout the day take an opportunity to stop and listen to the sounds of nature. Feel the air, look up to the sky and the trees. Appreciate that you are intimately connected to mother earth, just as you are connected to all the stars in the night sky and planets in the universe.
  • When you meet people, take the opportunity to listen respectfully, without agreeing, disagreeing, liking or disliking, without offering your opinion (unless asked). Try to let people finish their sentence before responding. Choose your words thoughtfully and carefully.
  • Throughout the day periodically check-in with your body, perhaps on the hour. Become aware of tightness and tension in your body. See if you can breathe into the tension, letting go of tension as you exhale. See your body softening.
  • Carry out your daily activities slowly and mindfully, take time as you do so… don’t rush.
  • Have a periodic stretch throughout the day…and smile.
  • Throughout the day use any sound that appeals to you, as the bell of mindfulness, then take a few moments to become aware of your breathing and contemplate loving kindness.
  • Choose one activity each day to do with particular mindfulness; washing up, making a sandwich, baking a cake. Do it lovingly and mindfully.
  • At the end of the day before you retire to bed, sit on the edge of the bed and think about any particular moments of mindfulness. Give thanks for the day and put the day to rest.
  • As you lay in bed, allow yourself to breathe and let go, make friends with your breath. Do not try to sleep, do not concern yourself with sleep, for sleep is a passive process, just relax and breathe.
  • Smile and send soothing thoughts to your body. As you breathe you will let go.

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

www.stevecliffordcbt.com

image ref:  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AOccupyPresent.pdf