Norman Cousins calls panic “the ultimate enemy”, explaining how intense psychological stress can damage the heart, undermine the immune system, even cause sudden death. He said, “Nothing is more essential to the treatment of serious disease than liberating the patient from panic and foreboding.”
I can see this in my life the last several years. So many losses and stressors, all working together to bring great psychological stress and suffering. I have known this “panic and foreboding”. Sometimes I wonder if my life has been shortened, I worry that I don’t have a long time left, that my future is bleak. This is foreboding! This is what I need liberation from!
Part of what I need to do to experience this liberation from panic and foreboding is to trust the process. I must remind myself daily that I can’t control life with my fear, that can only find peace by leaning into life, riding life with skill like a surfer instead of being battered by the waves of samsara.
Reading Rumi last night:
Don’t let your throat tighten
with fear. Take sips of breath
all day and all night, before death closes your mouth.
The first time I read this, it hit me like a punch in the gut. Oh!
Reading it again, sitting with it a bit longer, I began to love it for the remembrance of death and the decision to be awake, coupled with the admonition to notice fear in its manifestation in the body. The tight throat, the shallow breathing, the tenseness in my shoulders, the clenching gut. Noticing it with the intention to NOT be afraid, remembering how ridiculous 99% of all fears are when one remembers DEATH! As long as death has not closed my mouth – I can breathe in and breathe out. I have choices. I can choose life, choose while looking in death’s eyes and taking little sips of air, experiencing every little miraculous moment until death closes my mouth.