It started without any warning. First it was just a mild anxiety before I went to sleep. But soon it progressed to a mind-numbing fear that began at dusk and went on for many hours.
Eventually I was diagnosed with Panic Disorder Syndrome, commonly called anxiety attacks. I started taking tranquilizers just to be able to sleep. But soon the pills lost their effectiveness. Sometimes I stayed up most of the night watching movies, just to distract myself from the fear. I tried to analyze the cause (I had been through a long period of overwork), but analysis yielded no relief.
My doctor suggested antidepressants as a long-term solution.
“How long?” I asked.
“For the rest of your life,” he said.
I was determined not to go that route. But after nearly five months of nightly attacks that were growing longer and more severe each day, I was running out of options.
Then one day I listened to a recorded talk by Swami Kriyananda called Spiritual Tests and Right Attitude. He told a story I’d heard before, but this time it made a deep impression on me.
A secretary of his resigned suddenly in the middle of a crushingly busy period of work. Swamiji had considered her a friend and was hurt that she would walk out on him at such a critical time. Later, during his meditation, he found his mind kept going back to his sense of betrayal. He tried reasoning his way through it, but the feeling was too strong. Reason couldn’t overcome it.
“Since I couldn’t affirm the negative feeling away,” Swamiji said, “I decided to accept it. I went into the core of the feeling and lifted the energy up the spine to the spiritual eye. Then I offered it to God. In that moment the feeling dissolved, and I went on to have a deep and refreshing meditation.”
That night, when the usual anxiety struck, I had the most interesting experience. I was terrified, but a part of me was also bored.
That was the mental wedge I needed. Instead of edging away from the fear as usual, through drugs or distractions, I decided to try Swamiji’s exercise: to accept what was happening and dive into the core of it. I had never tried anything like this before. But I was ready to do something— anything, no matter how terrifying—rather than run away from this feeling again.
As I turned inward to face it, the anxiety was so tangible it seemed to have a mass and shape of its own. I brought my awareness into the center of it. I was surprised to find that it didn’t overwhelm me, as I expected it would. I stayed with it as long as I could, until I felt I was really accepting it one hundred percent, without moving away from it even slightly.
With focused awareness I gently lifted that dark mass to the point between the eyebrows. It required extraordinary concentration and will. I was exhausted by the effort.
“I am finished with this,” I prayed sincerely. “I return it back to You.”
I visualized lifting it out. through my forehead, into the vast infinite.
In that moment the fear simply disappeared. I felt completely refreshed and back to my normal self, as if I had never had anxiety in my life.
I was incredulous.
The freedom, however, was short-lived. Within moments the fear returned, as strong as ever. It took every ounce of my energy to repeat the process again, and then a third time.
After that I sank into a long, peaceful sleep; the first in many months. Since then I have never experienced another anxiety attack.