Monk in a Minivan
Monk in a Minivan: I Meditated My Way From Panic to Peace
In Search of a Truce Between My Exhausted Body and Anxious Mind
So I signed up for a five-day retreat with Rinpoche. I learned how to meditate, and he advised me to look at myself as a horse and rider. “Your body is the horse,” he said. “It needs exercise, yoga, sleep, and the proper nutrition. Your brain is the rider, and what it needs is meditation.”
I was looking for a way to heal my exhausted body and anxious mind. I wanted to reintroduce them to each other, peacefully. I vowed to meditate every day, and in a few weeks I began to see results. My husband noticed that my hair-trigger temper was gone, for the most part. Friends said my face looked more relaxed and that I seemed calmer. I didn’t react to upsetting experiences quite as quickly or as vocally.
After a few months of meditating, I found a therapist who used techniques called somatic experiencing and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) to help me reprocess disturbing memories of a childhood trauma I’d stored deep in my body. I managed to discharge the frightening physiological sensations that had been precursors to my panic attacks.
I studied Buddhism with renowned teachers. One of them taught me a technique called metta, or loving-kindness meditation. A neuroscientist scanned my brain just as I was beginning that practice, and then again eight weeks later. He confirmed what I knew: My scans showed increased blood flow to certain parts of my brain, which illustrated a powerful training effect. Meditation is like lifting weights for the brain, according to this neuroscientist, and I felt like a bulked-up muscle woman.
I began to feel a happiness I could never have imagined. My panic attacks became fewer and farther between. I cut back my dose of anti-anxiety medication slowly, until I was taking it only occasionally. My life did not turn into a perfect fairy tale; my suffering and the suffering of people I loved continued. Difficult life events unfolded. But I began to live with an awareness that every moment passes. The good and the bad times don’t sink me or determine my happiness.
What keeps me grounded now is the realization that I am not alone in my suffering, and that there are so many ways to heal, so many good people eager to help erase the stigma of mental illness. Thanks to their help, and my commitment to rewire my once shaky brain, I now feel a confidence in my body’s strength and ability to thrive. I hear from readers all over the world who used to feel that no one else could ever understand their suffering. They found hope in my writing, and I found a purpose in telling my story.
I’m a monk in a minivan, I joke to friends now. I tool around the suburbs with a smile. And I have finally, at the age of 60, learned how to breathe.
Priscilla Warnerchronicles her journey from panic to peace in her memoir . Follow Priscilla on Facebook and Twitter.
Video: MEDITATING WHILE DRIVING A CAR!? | the Buddha's Brain CHALLENGE day 28
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