by Erric Solomon

Panic is Energy

A sense of panic isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But how we deal with panic can make a huge difference. Panic is energy, a kind of bodily sensation that is a warning of possible danger, or an extreme situation we need to be on guard about.

Of course, we can overreact, perhaps doing harmful, selfish things under the guise of self-preservation. Or maybe we become so overwhelmed by fear, we freeze up, and can’t think straight or even move.

I have been watching the world around me, seeing all the different extremes: narcissistic acts of selfishness, hoarding vital supplies, or people so afraid they live in denial pretending nothing has changed and doing very unsafe things, but also incredible acts of kindness and compassion. I saw a video a friend sent me from outside her window in Sienna Italy, where neighbors, who were all forced to stay indoors, opened their windows so that they could all sing together.

Feeling the Panic

So, the feeling of panic is a wakeup call, we should take it seriously. But try feeling it, instead of thinking about it. This means notice your bodily sensations. Is your heart racing? Is there a place in your body where the feeling of panic resides? When we can feel the panic, instead of thinking about it, we begin to experience panic beyond our turbulent thoughts and emotions. The panic is energy, and energy is wisdom’s radiance. It is within the energy, rather than the story, that we will find the inner resilience to make it through: to find the appropriate action to take, to be mindful to wash our hands and not touch our face, to check on a sick or elderly neighbor. It is there that we will find the self-love, the compassion for others, and the most beneficial thoughts, feelings, and actions.

A Dog or a Lion?

One of my teachers, Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche, often used an ancient Dzogchen metaphor when teaching us about how we should treat our thoughts and emotions. He always said we should be like a lion, rather than a dog. When you throw a stone at a dog, the dog chases the stone. This is how we are with our thoughts and emotions. We chase every thought and emotion and play with it, think about it, get into it. On the other hand, if you throw a stone at a lion, he doesn’t care about the stone at all; he turns to look at where the stones come from.

We can spend our whole life preoccupied with our stones—our thoughts and emotions. We may never even look at the source of the thoughts and emotions, the mind itself. So, when we feel fearful or panicky, our habit is to think about the story, the reasons why we are panicked, rather than look at the mind which feels the panic.

Getting to Know Your Mind

Take a moment and investigate your mind. Do you know you are panicked? At first, this seems like a question so obvious that it isn’t worth asking. That knowing quality of mind, does it know the panic better or worse than when it knows that you feel relaxed and peaceful? The more we investigate, the more familiar we become with the aware quality of mind that defines being sentient. The quality of awareness that knows panic isn’t different from the knowing of peace. In other words, we can see that our awareness isn’t harmed or enhanced by what we are aware of. Isn’t that a comfort?

So let’s turn our attention away from the story and gradually towards the mind, the knower of the fear.

Sit quietly in meditative equipoise for a few minutes or Create Space.

Now, allow yourself to feel the panic, instead of just thinking about all the reasons to be panicked. Gently scan your body, starting from the top of your head down. Where in the body does the feeling of panic reside? When you locate it, you don’t need to push it away, just feel it. You can think of it as loving yourself so much that you allow for whatever is there, to be there. Instead of thinking of the reasons for feeling fearful, just feel the fear.  When you place your attention on the feeling, instead of a story, it becomes a mere sensation, or you could call it an energy. Inside the panic is energy, the expression of our wisdom, our love, our intelligence. Within our awareness, all these things are there, confusion and wisdom. By placing your attention in a very specific way, you can uncover the wisdom that is the basis of even panic. All you have to do is feel the energy of panic in our body, rather than thinking about the story in your mind.

Before you rise from your meditation, allow the natural love that spontaneously radiates from wisdom to flow. If it helps, you can think of this as the love of the Buddhas that we all already possess within our hearts. This love radiates out, healing your body and mind, and soothing your entire inner situation. Now allow it to flow out to your loved ones. Welcome them into this soothing, loving, healing environment. Extend further and further until it touches all beings.

If you’d like, you can make aspirations and dedications according to your tradition of practice.

To paraphrase the great saint Shantideva: “Why worry?  If there is something to do that can help, do it, but if there isn’t, worrying won’t make it better.” The good news is you can do something: you can listen to your body, and let the radiance of your wisdom nature guide you (and follow the advice of healthcare professionals).

You can click here to read Part 1: “Relying on the Love of the Buddhas,” and here to read part 2 in the series, “Creating Space with Phakchok Rinpoche.”