Sunday, December 12, 2010

MINDFULNESS IN THE PRESENCE OF ANXIETY OR PANIC

As I have mentioned more than once before in my blogs, most kinds of meditation are designed to take you away from the present moment. This is nothing more than temporary escapism, distraction and diversion, affording, at best, only temporary relief from the signs and symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks and the like.
Not so with Mindfulness, which is the most effective kind of meditation for dealing with the signs and symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks and the like. When we learn to remember to be, and stay, in the present moment, and to remember, purposefully and receptively, and non-judgmentally, what is present, thoughts and feelings from the past (eg bad memories) or fears, “predictions” and anxieties concerning the future have no power over us.
Mindfulness teaches us that states such as anxiety, panic and phobias do not really "happen" in the present moment. Yes, that’s right ... strange though it may seem. Those things happen only when we focus on bad memories from the past or on fears and concerns about the future. Yes, if we aren’t thinking about the present, we can only be worrying about either the past or the future.
Mindfulness teaches us to stay fully grounded and focused in the present, where everything is just as it is. It has been said that 40% of our mental states are about the past ... 50% about the future (imagined “events” the majority of which will never happen, as Sir Winston Churchill [pictured below] once pointed out) ... and only 10% relate to present-day matters!
Thoughts, feelings and sensations - positive or negative - only have the power we choose to give them. In and of themselves, they have no independent reality. They are simply “mental movies”. Watch them come and go. They are just passing entities ... all part of a seemingly endless stream of consciousness. Simply note them, with detachment. Don’t hold on to them. Don’t resist them ... and don't identify with them as if they were a vital part (such as a bodily organ) of the person you are.
The regular practice of Mindfulness Meditation teaches us to stay in our body and become aware of our body. With the mind “embodied”, note what the body is experiencing ... thinking thoughts, feeling fear. Note any tension or stress in the body in the present moment. Accept that ... deliberately keeping the mind at the level of bare attention. Remain calm, steady, stable, engaged, focused ... and yet at the same time detached.
Practise measured breathing (and, if possible, whilst walking around slowly). Inhale sharply through the nose – one sharp and short breath, immediately followed by a long breath. Hold the long breath for 5 seconds if possible. Then exhale through the mouth – again, one sharp and short breath, immediately followed by a long breath. Do this several times. (A deeply relaxed person breathes about 5-8 times a minute, at the very most.) Also, be mindful of, and relax, your jaw and face.
With regular Mindfulness practice, we can decide to let our thoughts and feelings be, to not react to anxiety or tension, and to focus on what is happening in the present moment. Is this possible? Yes, it is ... with acceptance and understanding, not reaction and fear.
Unlike most kinds of meditation, Mindfulness Meditation is not about stopping the mind or stopping thoughts. Mindfulness and Mindfulness Meditation is about allowing thoughts to be present but not letting them run you. The thoughts and feelings about ourselves or others are not us. We have a choice ... we can choose to identify with our thoughts and feelings (especially the negative and self-destructive ones) or we can simply observe them. We are not thoughts or feelings which are but a passing stream which we merely observe. We are entirely separate. 

This blog sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation.


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