My friend Maggie and I met for lunch the other day. I hadn’t seen her for years, but she was visiting my city while on vacation, and we had a lot of catching up to do. She told me about her recent activities, as we munched on Caesar salad. And when she asked how I was doing, I told her my “fear story.”
“Fear lives inside me,” I began. “It’s been there ever since I can remember. When I was a small child, I’d look at the wallpaper in my room and see monsters, illuminated by the nightlight. I’d stare wide-eyed, then quickly retreat under the covers and cower. Sure, there were times when I was able to function normally—riding my bike, skating on frozen ponds, sledding down hills, riding a horse and taking a small sailboat out on the lake with no adult along. But the fear would always return.”
I told Maggie about how, in my late teens, my fear kept me from wanting to learn to drive. Although I was able to get my learner’s permit and eventually my license, I was terrified. A city bus strike finally forced me to buy a car and drive to work. I gripped the steering wheel so tightly that my fingers hurt. With time, I got used to it, but I avoided driving on the highway unless it was absolutely necessary.
The first panic attack
I also told her about my first panic attack. I was in my early twenties, and I felt panicky while standing in line at the bank. I remember the huge lobby and being terrified of fainting. I quickly left and managed to get some lunch, thinking I was lightheaded from a lack of food. I never told a soul about it, and I didn’t have another attack.
Because I’ve known Maggie since college, she knew that I graduated and landed a good job at a high-tech company, where I met my husband and all was well (until the panic attacks returned). But I never mentioned my struggles to Maggie until now, when I told her that I’d become nervous when crossing wide intersections, especially when I had to stop midway and wait for the light to change. Walking around in stores would sometimes make me woozy.
I told her that I eventually found help in a therapist who specialized in panic disorder. Although the panic attacks largely went away, I was still fearful in certain situations, like when I was driving in heavy traffic or in bad weather. My anxiety was also triggered by worst-case scenario thoughts.
Some help from mindfulness and meditation
After hearing my story, Maggie looked sad and shook her head. “Wow. I had no idea. I’m so sorry you’ve been struggling with this all these years.”
I nodded, and told her that I’d started reading self-help books that offered anxiety-reducing strategies. But it wasn’t until I discovered mindfulness and began a meditation practice that I was eventually able to let go of some of my fear.
I said to Maggie, “One night, after I sat down to meditate, I caught myself having a fear-fest. I was thinking about how my husband would be travelling out of town and I’d be home alone. I worried about whether I’d be able to sleep, as every little sound would convince me that someone was breaking in. I worried about an impending snowstorm, thinking that the power might go out or a tree could fall on the house.”
I told her that I was upset with myself for having these thoughts. After all, I was a meditator now, so why was I so worked up, when I’d been doing so well? But, rather than continue to beat myself up, I silently repeated the mantra I’d been using for months: The universe is protecting me and those I love. I focused on my breathing. As I began to relax, I kept focusing on the breath, coming back to it when other thoughts intruded.
“After a while,” I told my friend, “a really strange thing happened. I heard a voice in my head. It said, “You’ve been having a lot of fear lately.”
Maggie’s eyes widened, and she leaned forward.
“And then the voice said: ‘You’ve felt this fear before.’ And I thought; well, no kidding! But I continued to focus on my breath. Then, the voice again: ‘How can you overcome this fear?’ And I thought, good question. I wish I knew!”
Maggie chuckled at my sarcasm.
From the ego to the heart
“So, at this point, I wondered if the voice was my subconscious mind or soul, helping me solve my problem. The idea gave me goosebumps. And then I heard, ‘The fear is your ego.’ I frowned and thought, my ego? What does my ego have to do with this? Ego is a bad word. I don’t want to be egotistical, especially while meditating.”
“The voice answered, ‘When you fear, you’re in your head.’ And I thought, well, yeah! My fear is definitely in my head, since fearful thoughts reside in my brain. And then I heard, even more insistently, ‘Get out of your head and go into your heart.’ And I thought, my heart—the seat of emotion? But fear is an emotion, and that’s a problem!”
Maggie looked at me intently. “And then what happened?”
“Well, I heard a gentler voice say: ‘Your heart is love.’ And I asked out loud: ‘So, if I give myself more love, will it help me with my fear problem’?”
“The voice replied, ‘When you’re in your heart, you allow universal love to come through.’ I then thought about my mantra: The universe is protecting me, and those I love. And something clicked! When I’m in my heart, I’m connecting to universal love, and that’s my way out of this fear. I’m loved, I’m protected, so I don’t need to be fearful!”
Maggie smiled. “Yes! That makes sense.”
“So, the answer was inside of me all along. My ego was giving fear all this power. And by staying in my head instead of my heart, I’d shut out the universe, along with any insight it had to offer.” My eyes started to tear up.
Maggie got up and gave me a hug. “I’m so glad you shared your story with me, and that you were able to gain this insight.”
“Would you like a cup of tea?” I asked, smiling. “I have this very relaxing tea, with wonderful words of wisdom inscribed on the teabags.” She nodded, and I went to the stove to heat up some water.
After handing her a steaming mug, I sat down with mine. And I chuckled when I saw the message printed on the teabag: “You will always live happy if you live with heart.”
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image 1: Pixabay; image 2: Pixabay