A Meditation on Panic

Breathe in. This is panic. Breathe out. Panic feels like this.

I spent 40 minutes tonight meditating on the experience of panic. Something about my day set off the cascade of emotions and body sensations that I call panic – racing pulse, tightness in my chest, cascading thoughts, an edge of tears. I knew today was going to be hard. The rush to leave town is always hard, and I’d packed in an unreasonable amount of responsibilities into a 12 hour period. I’d spent the weekend partying with friends, so I was less prepared for Monday morning than I like to be. So when everything I’d planned took longer than anticipated, and I realized that I was going to be working much later into the evening than I would like, I freaked.

Even when I anticipate the hard, the bodily experience still overwhelms me. I can rationalize as much as I want, and I worked this strategy hard today. “This time tomorrow you’ll be on the boat. This time tomorrow all this will be put into perspective. In the broader scheme of things, will you even remember any of these things you are so frantic about today?” But rationalizations totally miss the irrational experience of panic.

I went to the dharma center tonight, mostly because I was too pissed to let my work interfere with my meditation practice. As I drove to the center, the tears welled up as I let myself feel the overwhelm that I’d been holding at bay all day. I arrived, sat down, and closed my eyes. Breathe in. Ah, panic. Breathe out. I see you, panic.

I sometimes expect meditation to “fix” my emotions for me. But breathing did not make panic subside. Panic increased when I actually let myself feel it. I let the tears flow as silently as I could, worried that I was interrupting other people’s time for silent meditation with my need to sob.

I covered my face. Oh oh oh, I’m so ashamed. Ashamed? I thought we were feeling panic? Why is shame showing up? I’ve learned to ask less questions, and just go with it. Breathe in. Ah, shame. Breathe out. Shame feels like this. I’m letting so many people down. So many depending on me, and I told them I would be there for them. And I’m not. They are expecting me to be there for them, and I’m dropping the ball. So many old feelings, old messages, old ways of being.

As I let the shame cascade, so little of it is about now. And that finally helps me feel a little better, knowing that I’m letting go of some old feelings, and I’m not really feeling that panicked and ashamed of my current situation. It’s hard when current situations trigger old feelings – my rational mind kept saying, “Really, I don’t think things are that bad. So why the hell are you freaking out so much?” And while my rational mind was completely correct, it was also true that my body & emotional self had some old freaking out to do.

Breathe in. Feel. Breathe out. Feel.

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2 responses to “A Meditation on Panic

  1. I often have this same panic in the midst of the “I’m letting so many people down” feelings. For me, I am so frightened of it when it comes on because it feels uncontrollable, then I phyche myself into further downward spiral by fighting with it instead of letting it in and out. I have learned to sit with panic much like you did yesterday (and I did yesterday too). Love your blog and love you.

  2. Yes, I know that spiral well! I can imagine that being a mother can make those “I can’t let people down” feelings really get overwhelming. And make it even more important to snap out of it.

    Love you too!

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