A car crash, a suicide attempt and worrying. Learn the 2 steps I use to overcome memories that trigger anxiety.

My heart sank and eyes watched in horror as the car veered off the road and into the woods.  The trees obscured my view, but I could hear the loud, grotesque sound of the sedan crashing and glass shattering.  I dialed 911.

off noyac road, southampton

“What you worry about won’t happen to you.  It is what you don’t worry about is what happens to you.  You might as well give up worrying, because you don’t know what to worry about.”  My friend, Geralyn Lucas, a survivor of breast cancer, has said to me. 

That night, when I crawled into bed, the events of the day triggered a flashback to another event that happened while I was in college.  It also began as a calm, summer night.  

I was walking home with my friend Rodger, back to our dorms, after a late night at a friend’s party.  Neither of us had been drinking, so the events that unfolded as we walked home still remain vivid and clear, as if it happened yesterday and not years ago.  We were walking past a fraternity house on campus, one of the fancy ones where the brothers were of gilded blue-blooded pedigrees, the boys who had fancy last names and used the word “summer” as a verb.  As a work study student, I rarely interacted with those of that ilk.  That night, though, we would interact in a way that would profoundly affect the way I looked at those boys.

the university of pennyslvania

We heard music and loud voices coming from the fraternity house, and a party was in full swing.  The music drew my attention to the house, and as I walked past, I admired the beauty of the old world architecture of the building, complete with beautiful ivy leaves crawling up the sides.  It looked like a picture taken out of the movie, Dead Poet’s Society.

As we walked past the house, we heard a shout and we looked up.  Out of the second story cathedral-like window, we witnessed the glass shatter and a boy jump out, arms and legs spread in a v-shape.  He came crashing into the ground, with glass shards surrounding him.  Immediately, my friend Rodger ran to him and yelled at me to call for an ambulance.  Rodger spoke softly to the boy, who miraculously survived the jump without serious visible injury.  His entire body was covered in glass…he had cuts everywhere.  The boy was disoriented and visibly under the influence of alcohol or drugs or both.  What happened next shocked me.

As Rodger held the boy in his arms and spoke comforting words to him, the boys’ fraternity brothers surrounded us and they asked Rodger to leave.  They told us that they would take care of the injured boy and demanded that we not call the ambulance or police.  They were afraid of the repercussions of police arriving to the scene.  I was proud of the way Rodger responded to the boys from the fraternity (and oh – at this point, they were starting to offer bribes to me to be silent about what I had witnessed).  Rodger said to those boys, “Fuck you, he is going to the hospital.  Stay the fuck away from me right now.”  And we stayed with the boy until the medics arrived and loaded him into the ambulance. 

As I crawled into bed last night, this memory played in my head.  Life can be so normal and painstakingly mundane at moments; yet it can drastically change in the blink of an eye.  These are the type of memories that create patterns of worry in our mind.

One of the most profound aspects of intensive yoga and meditation practice is that it throws us up against this very phenomenon.  The sheer amount of pointless thinking that is going on inside our heads becomes inescapable in the quiet of meditation.  For many of us, this comes as a surprise.  We are used to thinking of thinking as a good thing, as that which makes us intelligent.  It can be quite a shock for us to discover that so much of our thinking appears to be repetitive and pointless while keeping us isolated and cut off from the feelings of connection. 

finding space between thoughts takes practice

 

Freud has said that the purpose of so much of our thinking is to isolate us from the flow of gratifying experience.  How do we break free from the pattern of worrying?  If we only put a fraction of the time spent worrying into work, we would have gotten so much done in life!  How do we not allow thoughts from traumatic events re-visit us in the present to corrupt the purity of living in the moment? 

Here’s the 2-step solution:

  1. Practice yoga, every damn day.  Every day means 6-7 days a week.  Go to a group class a minimum of 3-4 times a week.  The group energy has the power of uplifting on days that you feel weak.
  2. Meditate for 5 minutes.  You don’t have to practice a dramatic, long drawn out 20 minute meditation to reap the benefits.  Read my previous blog post on my favorite meditation hack.

 

find a group yoga class that you can consistently attend

Each time we let go, the perception of our true self becomes clearer. In my meditation practice, I observed how memories of my past experiences affected the quality of my life. Practicing the three steps of meditation, I consciously witnessed my thoughts and embraced my mind. With practice, the strength of those thoughts in my mind started to weaken, and gradually loosened their control. Through a consistent daily meditation practice – even if it is only 5 minutes – we notice change.

It was a woman driver in the car that veered off the road.  The car plummeted into the woods so fast it flipped to its side and the front part of the car was suspended mid-air.  She was extricated through the back door of the car.  Miraculously, she had no injuries other than a few cuts on her hand.  She was an unlicensed driver and driving too fast.  Thankfully, everyone was safe but it could have been very different.


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