Making Friends With Panic
Through Covid-19 we have been launched into the great unknown. It no longer seems relevant or even practical to make long-term plans, as everything is subject to such indeterminable change. The truth that all things are impermanent and can change in a flash has never seemed so real. But for many, this truth is creating ever great panic and fear, which can escalate until such fear is negatively affecting our reactions, beliefs, and daily behavior, such as panic buying toilet paper.
“I had panic all through my childhood until I was 13. I grew up at the base of the Himalaya Mountains and I was afraid of snowstorms, earthquakes, fire, and sometimes for no reason – I was just fearful, I did not sleep well; I panicked very easily.”
We were talking with Mingyur Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, who was talking openly and honest;y about what he has been through. However, Mingyur did something with his panic that few of us do: where most of us feel either overcome by panic or try to suppress it, he made friends with it, he turned his enemy into his ally.
“There are two ways we actually make panic worse: we say Yes Sir to it, or Get Out. If we say Yes Sir then we do anything that the panic wants us to do, we let it rule us. But if we fear panic or try to get rid of it, and we say Get Out, then this just makes panic into the enemy. Either way, panic gets bigger and we become less able to cope.”
So how can you turn panic into your friend? The answer is surprisingly simple: by becoming aware of it. “Awareness means seeing it, feeling it, and then panic becomes many different pieces: physical sensations, emotions, frightened images, words, thoughts. So awareness is of all the pieces. If you are not aware of the panic then you are a victim of it; awareness is saying hello and inviting it in.”
Turning your panic into happiness:
- Become aware of the panic. Seeing it for what it is without judgment, that it is neither good nor bad.
- Shift your focus away from Yes Sir or Get Out. Normally, when we are panicked, our breathing is shallow and rapid. To help shift the focus bring your breathing down to your belly, away from the panic. Soft belly breathing: breathing deeply all the way in and out, then relaxing and breathing in again slowly, with a soft belly.
- Develop love and compassion by becoming a friend to yourself. Then you can understand that even though others panic, still every person in every moment, every breath, every thought, every movement, is looking for happiness – we are no different, we all want the same, we are all part of the big family.
Amazingly, Mingyur was just 13 years old when he discovered the transformative power of meditation. The more he practiced, the more he was able to be with the panic and not let it run his life. “Meditation enabled me to witness my panic. Normally my busy monkey mind ran the show by telling me to be panicked or to hide. Meditation gave me greater freedom of the mind, as it gave a job to the monkey mind and I become the boss.”
“Who makes problems? We humans. And who is the controller of the human? The mind. And how to control the human mind? Through meditation. If you can control the pilot, then the pilot can control the plane,” says Mingyur in our book, The Unexpected Power of Meditation & Mindfulness.
In this way, panic can become our friend and teacher. “Panic pushed me into understanding myself more deeply, it opened my heart so that I have greater understanding of others who are also suffering.”
Sitting quietly in meditation, you can silently repeat: May I have happiness and the causes of happiness. May I be well, may I be peaceful, may others be well, may others be peaceful.