Panic affects us all at different times, but for some it dominates their day-to-day life. We were talking with Mingyur Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, about his new book, Joyful Wisdom. He was explaining his experiences with panic: “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.”
However, Mingyur did something with his panic that few of us are able to: where most of us feel 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,” according to Rinpoche. “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,” says Rinpoche, “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:
1. Become aware of the panic. Seeing it for what it is without judgment, that it is neither good or bad.
2. Shift your focus away from “Yes Sir or Get Out.” Normally, when we are panicked, our breathing is shallow and rapid. To help you shift the focus you can bring your breathing down to the 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 and relaxed belly.
3. Develop love and compassion by becoming a friend to yourself. Then you can understand that others panic, and also that 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,” he said. “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,” says Mingyur in our new book, BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You and The World. “If you can control the pilot, then the pilot can control the plane.”
In this way, panic can become our friend and teacher, something we can learn so much from about ourselves. “Panic pushed me into understanding myself more deeply,” he continues. “[I]t opened my heart so that I have greater understanding that others are suffering too.”
Sitting quietly in meditation, we can silently repeat: May I have happiness and causes of happiness. May I be well, may I be peaceful, may others be well, may others be peaceful.
Do you have stories of when you were able to transform panic? Do comment below.