Meditating from Panic to Peace

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If I could share 500 words to inspire, this is the important wisdom I'd want to pass along to others...

  • “I think I had an unhappy childhood!” I announced to a therapist at the age of 58.

    It’s amazing what my brain had done to hide that fact from me.

    I’d developed a panic disorder at the age of 15. Terrified of the mental illness and sadness stalking my family, I’d self-medicated in high school, stashing a flask of vodka in my ever-present pocketbook. Over the next forty years, however, with the help of anti-anxiety medication, I managed to build a wonderful life for myself. I married a loving husband, had two beautiful sons, and enjoyed success in several different careers.

    In the skies above Oklahoma three years ago, in the middle of a book tour, I read about Tibetan monks who meditated so effectively that neuroscientists were studying their brains. “I want the brain of a monk,” I decided. I vowed to meditate my way from panic to peace.

    I attended a retreat with a monk who’d cured his own panic disorder through meditation. I studied with other wise Buddhist teachers, and spent a year learning how to sit still. With the help of Somatic Experiencing and EMDR, two powerful therapies, I learned how to self-regulate and discharge the frightening physical symptoms of anxiety that had plagued me for decades. I grew strong enough to understand that my panic had masked a lot of sadness. I explored the roots of that sadness, reprocessed disturbing memories, and became grounded, calm, and finally, astonishingly, happy.

    But then I got scared. Could I really leave my panic behind? Was it selfish to be happy? Who was I if I erased years of unhappiness? What did it say about me if I left the people I’d loved behind, and moved on?

    We live in a culture where people often seek happiness through nose jobs, lottery tickets and reality TV success. And yet sitting in a therapist’s office is sometimes considered self-indulgent.

    But after years of suffering silently, feeling broken, defective and just plain weird, the therapy, reflection and meditation I’ve done late in life has taught me something I never realized as a child growing up in a confusing household:

    It is not selfish to seek happiness.

    For years, my panic made me much more self-absorbed than the therapy that made me whole. I was unable to fully understand the suffering of others until I understood the roots of my own.

    My favorite meditation practice now is metta, or loving-kindness meditation. “May I be safe,” I whisper to myself. “May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I live with ease.” Then I wish those same things for loved ones, strangers, and all living beings.

    Suffering is, unfortunately, an inevitable part of life, I now realize.

    But happiness is contagious.

    And I’m trying to spread it wherever I can.

    Priscilla Warner

    Priscilla Warner grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, where her early education at a Hebrew Day School and Quaker High School prepared her for the intense interfaith dialogue she later experienced and chronicled in the New York Times bestselling memoir The Faith Club. For three years, Priscilla toured the country with her co-authors, popping Klonopin to ward off panic attacks, speaking in churches, synagogues, mosques and community centers. Finally, in the skies above Oklahoma, inspired by Tibetan monks who meditated so effectively that neuroscientists were studying their brains, Priscilla vowed to find her inner monk and set off on an adventure to heal from the panic that had plagued her for decades. She meditated her way from panic to peace, chronicling her journey with teachers, healers, therapists, monks and mystics in her bestselling memoir Learning to Breathe – My Yearlong Quest to Bring Calm to My Life. 

    For more information, please visit priscillawarnerbooks.com.

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