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Thread: The benefits of approaching dread

  1. #1

    The benefits of approaching dread

    I got forced into participating in our university’s open house this weekend. I really and seriously hate doing this. Ours is not a big university, so the event happens in a gym we have on campus, yet into this enclosed space come thousands of young people and their parents checking out all the programs we offer. I have no problem speaking in front of crowds of any size and am not seriously shy by nature at all, yet this event terrifies me. You see, I am in a wheelchair and in a crowd like that I feel like I am in a moving canyon of people because everyone towers over me. I feel no sense of space in that situation because there is no horizon in a closed in crowd, nowhere to go, no escape. Unfortunately, my job is to sit there in this terrifying canyon and market our program to these concerned moms and dads and confused high school kids. Needless to say, I suck at it.

    I had to do this open house once before and was so terrified of doing it again – honestly, I am just short of a full blown panic attack in this situation – that I was physically sick today beforehand. My strategy was two-fold: I did zazen last night while freaking out about today and again while freaking out again this morning, but I also very deliberately decided to have a glass of wine before the event and then bring a flask with another glass to sip during the it just to calm me down. I want to emphasize that his was moderation and not in any being drunk at all. Anyway, during this artificially induced calm, I told myself to just try and observe the event rather than just freak out over it, as I had been the whole day before, so trying to approach it as an “off the cushion” opportunity seemed prime.

    The short story is that I survived it, which seems dramatic to say, but my fear is/was very real, so I don’t say survive all that lightly. Moving on from basic survival, reflecting on it now I see some good lessons beyond living through the terror. I think the first lesson I learned from this dreadful situation is that I need a clearer purpose, more of a direction and goal than just to sit there in the fright of a moving canyon, and the second lesson is that I need to gain some control by creating a direction and purpose for myself in this situation. A big part of the problem was that I felt so adrift, so empty (in the worst way), and so I’ve decided to formalize my participation in that event should I ever have to do it again, which I still dread. But now I see there are options to move beyond the dukkha that is open house. My plan is to create scripts, structures, for participating in that event, and in this way I will be able to DO and BE something in that time and space as opposed to feeling like some helpless piece of dukkha driftwood.

    Finally, and most importantly, I am sure there are sangha members that feel much greater panic attacks in much less stressful situations than I have described here, so I invite them to share that, and maybe, just maybe, what I did today might reveal a path to them so that they might lessen that horrible anxiety for them. For me, what I found out was that if I have a clear reason and plan I can have a clearer path away from that anxiety and that path was revealed to me via zazen.

  2. #2

    Re: The benefits of approaching dread

    Hey Alan,

    I think the biggest thing about that experience was that you DID IT, prepared or not. Someone around here tries to remind me that just putting yourself in these situations is the first step into a larger world. Congrats on that and good luck to your mastery of the event in the future. You are much farther down the road than I on such things and it's nice to know that I can survive that which I have not yet seen.


  3. #3

    Re: The benefits of approaching dread

    Hi Alan,
    I have always been amazed at the "good" results personal determination and effort produce. You have displayed both. Good luck with your plans for the next open house. Thanks for the post. Gassho, Zak

  4. #4

    Re: The benefits of approaching dread

    Haha, while I do appreciate the idea, Chugai, because the ego in me LOVES a platform, I think I will pass on it. I might feel just as trapped up there, if not more so, than on the floor. In the end, it's more about mind construction than real construction.

  5. #5

    Re: The benefits of approaching dread

    I can certainly relate to situations where that kind of dread is involved. I can't say I panic more or less than you or anyone, or how well I "handle" it, but I know that that kind of dread makes me struggle and resist in the worst way. I'm trying to handle things as they come up in a more constructive way -- your sharing of this situation is helpful in this, so many thanks to you for your post, Alan.

    My 'coping strategy' is avoidance until I can no longer avoid; not very helpful. I have been in terribly nerve-wracking situations before where I feel 'closed in on' even though I am not in a wheelchair (I am short, though, so I can understand the human canyon description). Facing court proceedings for my divorce a while back, even just meeting with my attorney -- it was horrific for me, though I was the one initiating the divorce.

    Having to write a very long research paper on a subject I felt completely incompetent in treating, for a difficult to understand and intimidating professor I felt I could never please throughout the semester. I took an incomplete in the course, and had to finish the paper over winter holiday, which destroyed my holiday because I stressed out the whole time, right up until the January 18th extended due date.

    Avoiding seems to be much more dukkha than facing the situation, provided you have a strategy to face it.


  6. #6

    Re: The benefits of approaching dread

    Alan, being in a crowded space and having anxiety is pretty normal for me. I'm usually looking for exits and planning my escape if necessary. That usually takes care of it for me but being in a wheelchair would make it more problematic and I understand your feelings. Maybe in the future just say no with explanation.

  7. #7

    Re: The benefits of approaching dread

    I don't really have any suggestions, but I can offer my sympathies for how you felt and appreciation for your sharing. I have struggled with generalized anxiety and panic attacks. Sounds like you have a decent plan in place for coping with future events!

  8. #8

    Re: The benefits of approaching dread

    I knew where the exits were, and I used them. As to just say no, they do these things 2-3 times a year and I have been saying no. My more extroverted colleague has been doing them in my stead because he knows they freak me out so bad, but he couldn't do this one so I had to.

    I feel like zazen being helpful here was one of the pointless points of our practice. I could literally see me making myself freak out. I just watched those thoughts flood. In a sense, zazen helped to create distance between me and the event, but in another sense it also helped blur the lines between me and the event. Non-duality, not one or two, I suppose. In the end, however, in terms of actually doing the event, it wasn't all that helpful. It was a rough day all around, though it could have been worse. I am certainly not proud of how I handled it.

  9. #9

    Re: The benefits of approaching dread

    This was a great post, Alan. I enjoyed reading it and was illuminated by it. I have a lot of respect for the courage you draw from to greet situations in your life like you do. Gassho

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