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Most of us know that our thoughts are negative. We may try and 'think' positive, we can try and use a variety of distraction methods to ward off our panic and anxiety, but nothing much changes. We can still have panic and anxiety. What we don't realise is we are looking for the key to recovery in the wrong place.
Mindfulness Essays by Bronwyn Fox

One of my meditation teachers told a story of a man who had been out for the night with friends. On arriving home, he paid the cab driver, and made his way to front door of his house. A few minutes later his neighbour, who was on his way for an early morning shift at work, saw the man in the glow of the street light. He was crawling around on his hands and knees on the footpath. "What are you doing" ?, said the neighbour.

"I've lost my keys and I can't get into the house", he replied. And so his neighbour helped him to search for the keys. Five fruitless minutes later, the neighbour said, "Are you sure you lost your keys here ?" The man relied, "No, I didn't lose them here", and he pointed to his darkened front door, "I lost them over there". "What are you doing looking for them over here", said his astonished neighbour. "Well I can see over here, because of the street light. It is too dark over there !"

In one way, this is what so many people do. We look for recovery from our anxiety disorder in the areas that are well 'lit', primarily via medication. Yet even with this we can still struggle with our panic and anxiety.

Most of us know that our thoughts are negative. We may try and 'think' positive, we can try and use a variety of distraction methods to ward off our panic and anxiety, but nothing much changes. We can still have panic and anxiety. What we don't realise is we are looking for the key to recovery in the wrong place.

While there is definitely a time and place for medication for some people, we can also do much to help ourselves in our recovery. And to do this we need to look more closely in the 'shaded' areas. That is to learn and understand our own minds' and our thought processes. The practice of mindfulness teaches us how to do this.

People say to me, "I know it is my thoughts. My thoughts are so negative, but there isn't anything I can do about it. I try to be positive, but it doesn't last." And that is true. It doesn't last. What we don't see is why it doesn't last, because we don't understand the 'workings' of our own mind.

I always talk about recovery being a change of perception. Not thought, but perception. In this instance, the way we perceive, the way we view our panic attacks and our anxiety.

As I discuss in 'Working through Panic',

"There would have been occasions when you saw something, and it turned out not to be what you first thought it was. For example, when out driving on a hot day, it can appear as if there is water on the road, but it turns out to be a mirage. It is just the heat shimmering on the hot surface. What about the three-dimensional pictures that everyone had a few years ago ? Some of us could look at the images and pick up on the hidden picture behind it almost straightaway. Other people had to take a closer look before the picture became obvious."

And so too with our panic attacks and our anxiety. We are perceiving our attacks and anxiety as something other than what they are. We perceive our symptoms as being life threatening or a threat to our sanity, or a sign that we are about to lose control in some way. While our symptoms can feel very violent, they are not signs of anything other than what they are, symptoms of our panic attacks and anxiety, It is our fear of our symptoms and our other various fears, that are the driving force of our disorder. Lose our fear and we lose the disorder with its many secondary fears and associated anxiety.

Recovery as I said is a change in perception. It is not just changing the way we think about our panic attacks and anxiety, it is changing the way we see them, the way we perceive them to be. When we can see them as they are, and for what they are, we lose our fear of them and our thinking changes accordingly.

To change our perception of our experience, we need to 'turn the light' to our own minds. We need to learn to understand our thought processes and how these in turn are creating so much of the distress that we feel. We may know that our thoughts are negative and we may realise that they are causing our distress, but we are too caught up in them and our disorder to be really aware, really mindful of exactly what is happening.

Meditation, and a mindfulness cognitive technique based upon the foundations of meditation, does this. A mindfulness cognitive technique is different from other cognitive techniques. Other cognitive techniques use thought to conquer thought. With these techniques, there is no separation between thinker and thought. Whereas mindfulness takes 'thinker' out of thought, and teaches us to step back and observe our minds and our thoughts. Mindfulness is learning to see exactly what is happening. It 'disengages' our 'automatic pilot' and gives us the necessary space to see cause and effect as it happens in 'real' time. Cause : thought. Effect: panic and/or anxiety.

An email from a client, who had been practising mindfulness shows this process very clearly when they wrote to me : "For the first time this morning I have been able to distinguish between me as a person and all the stuff that is going on in my head and realise that they are different and that there is a possibility I will work through it. I feel like I have taken a real step forward and have pulled myself out of some of the darkness."

When we can learn to separate ourselves out of our thoughts and out of our anxiety we then have the building blocks, not just for recovery, but in how we can live our life overall.

(1) From 'Working Through Panic' by Bronwyn Fox. Copyright Pearson Education Australia October 2001.

Continued