Panic Attack or Lotus Moment?
The other night I had an anxiety attack, in public, during a reading amidst a group of fellow writers. It caught me by complete surprise. It wasn’t the first time I’ve experienced anxiety like that, but it was the first time in many long years.
I wasn’t able to finish reading the piece I had written. I choked up, lost my voice, couldn’t breathe.
Our gracious facilitator gallantly stepped in and offered to read the rest for me, while I tried to calm my pounding heart and breathe.
As the “attack” continued, I grabbed a pen and jotted down a few mantras. I’ve been a novice Buddhist for years, learning from various books and inspired by fellow bloggers Thomma Lyn Grindstaff, Ilona Fried & the Rouge Buddha, as well as sites like Audio Dharma. During my attack, I quickly jotted down whatever mantras came to mind. It began to work, to slow my hammering heart. I was able to center myself just enough to fight the urge to flee… or faint…
Still, as soon as the evening ended, I rushed out the door– gracelessly, I might add, as I could not get the door open (!) and more or less tripped over the threshold. I heard voices behind me, “Oops. Careful there. You okay?” Geez, I thought. Will the humiliation ever end?
WTF was wrong with me, I wondered on the drive home. I considered myself an experienced writer, believed in the piece I had written and, moreover, thought I was well beyond the days of “panic attacks.” Only after I got home and settled into a meditation did I realize the problem was not in the experience, but in the label: panic attack.
I don’t know who came up with this term (panic attack), and quite frankly I don’t care. Like so much of our language, it demonizes an uncomfortable experience, by implying that the body is the enemy, “attacking” us like some kind of terrorist. For the past 2 years, I’ve been doing regular workouts and daily meditations. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that my body is not a terrorist. If it had a message to give me in that very uncomfortable moment, perhaps I ought to listen, respect and welcome it.
As I considered the piece I’d been reading when the discomfort came, I realized it was about grief. I had written about someone I lost many years ago, someone I LOVED immensely. The grief washed over me as I read, and it was so powerful I lost my voice. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, to grieve so deeply is a gift, an honored remembrance of Love, which is awfully hard to come by in this world (in my opinion). To have experienced it at all… is a beautiful thing.
And if I broke down in public? So what! If I choked up, lost my voice, turned 800 shades of red, so be it. We are conditioned to be ashamed of our vulnerabilities, and maybe that’s why we demonize so-called “weak” emotional states. But if you want my opinion, I think it takes more courage to embrace them. They may be murky and muddy, but hey. No mud, no lotus!
In fact, that’s what I decided to rename the experience: A Lotus Moment. Not a panic attack. Not my body attacking me, but remembering LOVE. A Lotus Moment.
The Second Gift: The first gift was the opportunity to find compassion for myself. But a second gift came when a fellow writer and dear friend emailed me with such wonderful, compassionate words that I cried (again). Whatever embarrassment I was holding on to evaporated. And my heart opened even more… So not only was it a Lotus Moment, but it was an opportunity to experience loving kindness from another. Pretty Freaking Awesome, eh?
“Our sorrows and wounds are healed only when we touch them with compassion.” -Buddha