Understanding The Paradox of Panic in Order to Overcome It
For some reason, I used to think paradoxes were hard to understand, and that they were somehow confusing and complex. Hearing the word would make my brain freeze up.
I used to confuse a paradox with an oxymoron, until I learned one day that “jumbo shrimp” was an oxymoron. That one stuck.
I eventually learned that paradoxes are so simple and easy to understand – and fun to play with, too.
So on one cold winter day I went outside without a jacket. After imagining my Mom yelling, “put your coat on or you’ll get sick, Alex”, I soon discovered that it wasn’t so cold when I offered no resistance to the cold.
I can still remember standing on my balcony in jeans and a tee shirt, completely relaxed and letting the cold in. When I allowed the cold in, it wasn’t so cold anymore.
I got excited so I started playing with paradoxes, like a scientist in a laboratory. For example, when I tried to enjoy myself at my sister’s 40th birthday party, I soon found that real enjoyment was just out of my reach.
It was as if I was trying to catch my own shadow on a warm summer day. As much as I tried, it just wasn’t going to happen.
By making my own enjoyment the priority, real enjoyment was always elusive.
Yet I noticed when I dropped the demand to enjoy myself, I began to have fun. I noticed that when I simply showed up without any need to enjoy myself, enjoyment naturally happened.
Then I applied it to my anxiety, the anxiety that crippled me for over five years.
Instead of wishing my anxiety wasn’t there, I let it be there. Instead of pushing my anxiety away through a variety of distraction strategies, I welcomed it as I would a long lost friend.
And wouldn’t you know it, anxiety didn’t control me anymore.
It wasn’t until I looked back on the way I met my anxiety, did I see that I was giving energy to the very thing I so desperately wanted to be free from.
There was something wonderfully consistent and true, and it was this: Only when I hoisted the white flag of surrender on my anxiety and acknowledged my situation without running away from it, did I arm myself with the power to once and for all overcome it.
Paradoxically, only when I recognized and accepted my present situation did I render myself both power-ful and response-able.
Anxiety sufferers are powerless over their condition in the sense that willpower alone isn’t enough. In fact, willpower often has a reinforcing effect.
Whenever I didn’t understand the liberating paradox of a particular situation I was faced with, I was bound to continue to approach (or relate to) that situation in a way that further ensured being in bondage to it.
It was simple and straightforward, and there was nothing mystical or confusing about it.
Surrendering to that which caused me pain and suffering was the paradoxical (and magical key) that ultimately unlocked the power to cure my anxiety and eliminate my panic attacks – permanently.
And so, you wield that power only when you stop fighting against your anxiety. You wield that power when you allow a panic attack to be in your experience.
The wise Sufi poet Rumi once said:
“Learn the alchemy true beings know. The moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given, the door will be opened. Welcome difficulty as a familiar comrade. Joke with torment brought by the friend. Sorrows are the rags of old clothes and jackets that serve to cover, and then are taken off. That undressing, and the naked body underneath, is the sweetness that comes after grief.”
We’ve actually been conditioned not to see the wonderful opportunity present within any struggle we experience. We’re told to fight against the thing we struggle with, and we wonder why we just can’t seem to rise above it.
All along, the healing and ‘the answer’ is right smack in the middle of the panic and anxiety we suffer from. We just don’t see it because we’re not looking for it there.
I was unaware that the opposites arise together – and that the peace I was seeking was entirely within the panic I was suffering from.
Only when I fully allowed the panic and anxiety to be as it is, did I actually experience the underlying peace that was always present.
I mistakenly assumed that the panic, anxiety and phobias was all that was present, and that it was something that I should resist if I wanted it gone from my experience.
And while it may certainly feel that it was all that was present, it’s simply not true. In fact, it was never true.
Right in the midst of all that unpleasant stuff is a peace so sublime your head would spin. Granted, it isn’t logical and it doesn’t seem rational, but who ever said this is about what the mind deems logical and rational?
We can only truly ‘know’ a thing when we know it in our gut. Not our head with all its concepts and opinions, but in our gut, experientially.
We can conceptually understand the saying, ‘what we resist persists,’ but only when we confirm its truth in our being, in our experience, do we really know it.
And that’s when real and lasting change begins to happen, when understanding travels from the head to the heart. Sometimes this can be a long and arduous journey, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
The Heart already knows the way. It’s already in harmony with what is true. You just need the courage to follow it – and the mind will follow. The heart knows the transcending power in paradoxes and waits for you to put the mind aside and follow its wisdom.
As William Wallace’s father lay dying in the movie Braveheart, he told young William, “Your heart is free, have the courage to follow it.”
Do you have the courage to follow your heart?
Whether we recognize them or not, liberating paradoxes are operating in our moment-to-moment experience. If we wish to overcome anything that ails us, we are wise to see and understand how they work. Work with them and free yourself, or work against them and suffer.
Curing anxiety and conquering panic attacks isn’t so daunting when we first allow them to be present in our experience. Welcome difficulty as a familiar comrade, joke with torment brought by the friend and uncover the sweetness that comes after grief, the sweetness that was present in the midst of the grief.
Photo by Will Foster