As human beings, we are fragile and we know it. We are no match for the raw strength of a wild beast, we can’t outrun a hungry predator, we are not natural born swimmers, and we don’t do well in extreme cold or the heat.
Yet, we are the ruling class of this planet. We did that with human intelligence – our ability to process information in a more advantageous way than any other animal on this planet.
Our ancestors who survived the hostile plains of Africa had to be very calculative, defensive, and always on high alert for any threat. It was literally a daily life or death situation for them. Today, we don’t need to outrun a chasing lion or confront an angry grizzly bear, but our instincts have changed little.
We treat everyone with suspicion until we are assured of our safety. Our instincts regard everything as a threat until proven otherwise. These rules not only apply to the external world, but also to our own internal thoughts and feelings.
Anything that causes us unease is viewed as a threat that needs to be extinguished at once. It is in our nature to feel threatened and afraid when something feels overwhelming.
This might have saved us from danger during ancient times, but right now it is doing us more harm than help.
Our nervous system flares up at the slightest arousal. If you were in any kind of trauma before, you know how sensitive you might suddenly become to anything that reminds you of your injury. One panic attack is all it takes for you to be hyper-vigilant during every waking hour, waiting and watching out for the next attack.
What we don’t realize is that, in reality, these feelings are not a threat at all. That realization is the start of the healing process. If we could just view them as what they are, just raw feelings, without the danger our nervous system associates it with, then we can go towards these feelings.
Accepting such feelings and moving towards them is the remedy to getting through them.
When you start feeling anxious for no reason, or feel panicky in a given situation, notice how you start clenching and tightening.
This is very akin to a hunter who has come face to face with a dangerous wolf. He tightens up. His vision becomes narrow and anything non-essential becomes blurry. His heart starts beating louder and harder, pumping more blood to the big muscle groups like his legs; priming them ready for attack or escape. In that moment, all he thinks about is how to eliminate the threat or plan an escape route.
This works well when the threat is external, real, and immediate, but fails miserably when the perceived threat is internal. You cannot outrun or fight your own thoughts and feelings. You are definitely going to lose such a fight.
Instead, we must realize that these thoughts and feelings are not threats, they are just sensations that our nervous system is not used to.
The other day, I felt really anxious about taking the metro train. It is the place where I experienced my first panic attack. The thought of being trapped inside the subway tunnel with my own panicky feelings, while it’s really dark inside the tunnel without an escape, is a huge trigger for me.
Every time I take the train, my nervous system pleads with me to just give up and take the bus or an expensive taxi ride. Even after repeated train rides, I still feel uneasy when the train stops inside the tunnel. My heart starts pounding, my mouth becomes dry, and a feeling of doom glides over me.
I understand what is happening to me, and that understanding definitely helps me calm down. However, I can still see how much I am resisting these feelings. This resistance is instinctual. It’s just the way our nervous system reacts.
Most of the time when we are in such situations, we start buying into the story that our mind weaves. We get caught up in the terror thought cycle, which excites the nervous system more, which in turn produces more frightening thoughts.
Then we start using affirmation statements like “I am calm, I got this” or something similar. They sometimes work well, but other times they don’t seem to have any power over your nervous feelings. Attempts to rationalize or diffuse the situation with thinking don’t always work because our nervous system doesn’t understand language.
The best way to deal with these situations is to re-train the nervous system to not see the situation as threatening. But how do you do that?
When the anxiety and panic was starting to build, I visualized that my body was electrified with energy. This was an energy that felt very threatening to my nervous system. I then visualized this energy as not hostile, but instead just some powerful energy buzzing through me.
That day, I decided to get curious with this energy. My aim was to experience this nervous energy as just raw sensations and feelings, without getting caught up with the stories and thoughts my mind weaves around them. It takes a lot of being in the present moment to not get caught up in the terror story that our mind spins off when the nervous system alarm goes off.
Instead of trying to run away from these sensations, I wanted to embrace this energy and feel it out. I wanted to know how it felt and what its texture was like. Is there a color associated with it? Where in my body am I feeling these feelings? I was intent on manifesting this energy in my body instead of my mind.
Slowly its power over me drained away. These were just feelings and raw sensations that I had a problem accepting.
We have to realize that no internal sensation, feeling, or thought is hostile to our existence. With this knowledge, we can re-train our nervous system to stop responding with fear or panic when we experience nervous energy.
- Opening Image – https://www.flickr.com/photos/keep_bitcoin_real/5908168937/
- Dark Tunnel – https://www.flickr.com/photos/drainrat/16250161758/