“No matter how hard the past, you can always begin again.” ~Buddha
Growing up, I was one of those people much more concerned about what you thought of me than what I thought of me.
With my focus being on how I was being perceived by those around me, it left me feeling extremely unsettled.
I was desperate to be liked and accepted.
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind” was a nice idea for the fortunate, but certainly not for me.
I was convinced that Dr. Seuss was living in fantasyland!
This social anxiety spread to my work life, too. I wondered why I was never truly happy or successful. I wondered why I didn’t enjoy the rich relationships that so many around me seemed to enjoy.
Then I discovered Zen.
I read that Zen means awareness, and being with what is, as it is.
What I loved most about Zen is its utter simplicity in recognizing what is really true. Not what is partially or sometimes true, but what’s always true.
It didn’t compromise.
I liked that. I wanted that ability to recognize what was always true. That sounded like real emotional freedom to me.
Zen kept telling me truth was simple, so simple that it was often overlooked by the mind that loved to judge, condemn, compare, and resist.
Zen meant to be in alignment with reality as it actually unfolded, not as I wished it would unfold.
I saw how my mind loved to complicate things. I saw how my mind resisted so much of what was actually happening.
And I was miserable and stressed out.
I failed to see the inseparable connection between panic and peace—and how resisting one would never reveal the other.
However, as I began to incorporate what I was learning, I found that when I met the anxiety symptoms without running from or avoiding them, my experience began to change, too.
They no longer had control of me.
I had new life.
And I wanted more of it.
Here are the three things that dramatically reduced or eliminated the anxiety and panic I had been experiencing. Consider implementing the following and see if it brings you more peace.
1. Meet your panic and anxiety head on.
Zen is essentially about who we’re being in relation to something or someone, and this includes needless anxiety. It also includes this very moment. In fact, especially this very moment, as it shows up, and not as I wish it would show up.
Inherent in anxiety and panic attacks is the belief that it shouldn’t be happening. But this is never true.
No amount of wishing a particular moment to be different than it is can ever change that moment. Many actually think it’s a good strategy, but it rarely ever works out.
Upon closer examination, I saw that whenever I ran from anything, that thing chased me. This included thoughts and feelings.
I found that whenever I faced and embraced anything, it eventually dissolved and left my experience. I was encouraged because I knew I was onto something significant.
I walked around with a new mantra: “What I run from must chase me.”
It served as a great reminder and often snapped me back into being in alignment with what was actually occurring.
Whatever I met head on lost its power, every time. Resistance would often magically drop away. And it was palpable.
I learned that I can either live with the laws that govern me (and all of life) or I can resist them and suffer.
Seeing that I couldn’t escape the consequences of how I met anything, I began to face what was facing me. And that insight, I found, was the difference between living a life of peace versus a living a life of stress.
I began to consciously choose peace.
In fact, any challenging situation (or emotion) that arose wanted to be met by my loving attention.
Stress manifested only if I avoided the negative thoughts and feelings.
If I shined the light of gentle awareness on what wasn’t at peace within me, it had to come out of hiding and release me—because I met it.
2. Allow it to be as it is.
Notice how your mind in its infinite wisdom will tell you that any particular thought, feeling, or experience should or could be different than it presently is.
Is it ever true? Can it ever be true? As much as the mind will try to use logic and reason, it’s never true.
Things are often different than they were, but they are never different than they are!
This may seem counterintuitive, but the reality is we must first accept our present lot if we wish to experience something different in the next moment. We can’t expect to resist our current situation and simultaneously be at peace.
It won’t happen.
The essence of Zen is about being with whatever arises without offering any resistance whatsoever. It’s about being neutral emotionally so that we are in a position to respond appropriately.
Alternatively, resistance is the energy that gives life to what we don’t want.
If we simply allow our symptoms of anxiety to be as they are, we find that they don’t hang around long enough to torture us.
By taking the backward step (as they say in Zen) into this present moment, we discover that peace never left us in the first place.
It just seemed that way.
Allow your anxiety to be as it is, as you look to overcome it.
3. Be compassionate with yourself.
Sure, you’ve heard it before. Be nice to yourself! Get off your back! Stop blaming yourself! The key to effective transformation—turning panic into peace—is to stop beating yourself up and to make yourself the most important person in your life.
Wouldn’t you treat someone who really needed support with kindness and compassion?
Why are you any different?
Perhaps the greatest quality of spirit that the Buddha spoke most about was compassion, not only towards oneself, but to others as well. Compassion is the great neutralizer that has a way of dissolving old wounds, as well as new ones.
The truth is you’re not to blame for your anxiety, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for it.
You aren’t “crazy” or “weak”—and you’re no less worthy a human being for experiencing it, either. Your mind may tell you different, and even sound very convincing, but is it really true?
No, it isn’t. Not even a little bit.
Work with yourself, not against yourself, if you truly desire to transform your panic into peace. It’s all in how you relate to your current condition. Self-condemnation only gets you more of what you don’t want.
The truth is, you are much more than any thought or feeling that arises. Within you is the power to transform your panic into peace.
As the Buddha said, “Be a light unto yourself.”
Transcending anything never involves rejection, but it always involves acceptance.