Recently, on a flight from San Diego to Colorado, I was offered the opportunity to meditate not on the turbulence of thoughts but on the turbulence of an airplane flight. And, with this turbulence, came fear…all sorts of it! I suppose that you could say that with this fear came the turbulence of my mind.
Even before we’d taken off on our flight heading back to Colorado, the pilot had announced that there would be some “rough skies” ahead. Rough was an understatement; we found ourselves bucking and rocking over the Rocky Mountains with such force that it felt as though the plane was dropping 100 or more feet at a time. This was serious roller-coaster action!! Fear? Yah!!
Have you even encountered fear that took you over so much that you couldn’t think of anything else? Maybe your body was in such a state that you weren’t able to do or think about anything but the object of your fear?
What happens when fear takes over and even our best attempts at stopping it don’t work? How do we work with our mind in frightening or even terrifying moments?
For most of us, we need a PANIC BUTTON or something that we can access easily when we encounter feelings or emotions that are too hard to handle. To do that, in the context of meditation, we need tools or reminders to bring our mind back to the present.
What I did on my flight over the (rough and) Rocky Mountains was to bring my mind to a state of peace or stillness. While the plane was bucking and rocking, my mind was relatively peaceful. To do this, I relied on tools that I’ve learned over the years, tools that I’m going to share now in this post.
Here are five tools or tips that I’ve worked with. You can use these tools to strengthen your meditation to be able to work with your mind when it’s taken over by thoughts and emotions. While there’s no guarantee that they’ll work every time, what I’ve found is that if you practice them, and if you’ve spent some time working on your meditation practice, there’s a good chance that they’ll be able to help you in times of fear or stress.
- Become stable in your meditation practice. That way, when the occasion arises where you’re experiencing fear or fright, you’ll be able to find refuge within your meditative mind rather than in your fearful mind.
- Practice encountering your fears or things that frighten you on a regular basis. Make sure that these practice sessions don’t involve anything that’s too frightening, but do make sure that it’s something that you have fears around, for example…turbulence! Use your imagination, the same one that gets your mind going with frightening thoughts and create an imaginary scenario for yourself.
- Allow yourself to feel fear. Fear in itself is not a bad thing. What limits us or causes problems is when we take our fear as the only possibility in the moment. Knowing your fear allows you to engage with it so instead of ignoring it, check in with yourself when you’re afraid or scared. Where do you go to “hide?” What part(s) of your mind do you stop using.
- When you know that something scary or frightening is about to occur, immediately return your attention to your breathing. Regardless of how much your mind is patterned to return to whatever it is that’s scaring you, bring your mind repeatedly back to your breathing. Just watch your breathing. Don’t try to change it.
- If you unexpectedly find yourself in a situation that causes you fear, immediately bring your attention to the present moment. You may wish to do that by bringing your attention to your breath. You may even want to bring your attention to whatever it is that’s scaring you. For me, during this particular airplane ride, it was about bringing my attention to the rocking motion of the plane and experiencing what the motion and bumpiness felt like in my body without letting my mind drift into what would happen…IF.
- When all else fails, follow this advice. First, just breath. Second, know where you are. Third, know what you’re doing. This means that you’re bringing your awareness back to the present moment, anchoring it in your breathing, your surroundings and your actions.
Obviously, there’s no cure-all, no one-size-fits-all for the experience of fear. We’re going to find ourselves in situations that challenge us to the very core and that leave us wondering where our mind was. But, if we take the time NOW, when we’re not up against our bigger fears and terrors, then when we are confronted by them, we’ll be less likely to succumb to them and lose our mind(fulness) and presence. Most importantly, become familiar with practicing meditating now when you’re not terrified. Get stable in your meditation practice. Become familiar with your fears. Then, the next time that the pilot announces that there are rough skies ahead, you’ll be able to put your arms up in the air and…enjoy the roller-coaster ride!
Does this post help you in your meditation practice? Do these tips help you to work with your mind? Please let me know. What is the most terrifying situation that you can imagine encountering? Can you apply your meditation to that situation in your imagination? Try it.