By Bob Stahl
We often want to extinguish feelings of panic. But when we turn toward the physical sensations and thoughts panic evokes—acknowledging and letting them be—the rush of feeling consumed or out of control can begin to dissipate.
As you continue to work with panic and learn from it, you will cultivate greater understanding of yourself and the world around you, and this will make you feel more alive, connected, and free. You’ll come to know that you’re part of this great universe and can feel more at home within it.
Albert Einstein, who was known for his wisdom as well as his scientific genius, points to the interconnectedness of existence in an excerpt from one of his letters, published in the New York Post (November 28, 1972):
A human being is part of the whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
The “web of life” meditation helps dissolve this illusion of separateness by cultivating feelings of safety, compassion, and love. Over time, this practice will increase your feelings of connection not only to yourself, but also to your family, friends, work associates, and fellow living beings, the world around you, and the universe.
The “web of life” meditation helps dissolve this illusion of separateness by cultivating feelings of safety, compassion, and love.
Interconnectedness in Action
It’s also fair to say that most of us have already tasted or had glimpses of this interconnectedness to “the web of life” but may have not fully recognized that it was happening because we were so absorbed in the experience itself. Here are some examples: a time you spent watching a beautiful sunrise or sunset, or out on a beautiful walk in nature, or having an intimate moment with someone you love that made you feel so connected that everything felt just perfect. In such moments, most likely all your panic was gone and you had a sense that you were part of a big and beautiful universe and that everything was not just okay, but exquisite. Through mindfulness, “web of life,” and also loving-kindness practices, you’ll experience more of these moments.
Formal Practice: “Web of Life” Meditation
This meditation will help you develop a deeper sense of connection—both to the present moment and those around you. Read through the entire script first to familiarize yourself with the practice, then do the practice, referring back to the text as needed and pausing briefly after each paragraph. Set aside about twenty minutes for this practice. Find a comfortable position on a cushion or chair or lying on a bed or the floor. Turn off your phone or other devices so you can remain undisturbed.
- Begin by checking in. Begin by taking a few moments to arrive and settle in by bringing your awareness into your mind and body. Acknowledge how you are feeling and let it be.
- Gently shift to mindful breathing, being aware of breathing in and out. There’s need to manipulate the breath in any way—just breathing in and out, normally and naturally.
- Shift attention to where you’re seated. Begin to feel the connection of your body on the chair, cushion, bed, or mat, and feel its connection to the floor. Reflect on the connection of the floor to the building you are in and its connection to the earth farther below.
- Let your awareness expand to include the earth below you. Feel that sense of being held by the earth below you, and just allow yourself to be held by the earth. You are in a safe space and you can breathe in and out with ease in your body and mind.
- Feel how the earth rises up to hold and embrace you. There is nothing more you need to do, nowhere you have to go, and no one you have to be. Just being held in the heart of kindness and letting be.
- Bring to mind someone you would hold this way. Reflect on your loved ones being held in the same way—with safety and ease of body and mind. Reflect on how the earth holds all beings, whether they are acquaintances, strangers, or difficult ones—with no bias, no discrimination, no separation.
- Reflect on how this earth holds all beings, forsaking none—whether they be small or large. Reflect on how this earth does not exist in a vacuum, that it is connected to a solar system and vast universe. We all are interconnected. Our bodies and the earth, the sun and the stars, are composed of the same matter—the same basic particles, joined in different ways. Feeling into that sense of connection and interconnection that we are all made of stardust. Feeling that sense of being home within your body and mind with a true sense of belonging and connection.
- Return your attention to the breath. Just breathing in and out, feeling the grace of this universe—no isolation nor separation, feeling that sense of connection and interconnection and being at home in your being. Nothing more you need to do, go, get, or push away. Imperfectly perfect as you are, resting in the heart of this universe.
- Let well-wishes form. May all beings here and everywhere dwell with peace.
This article was adapted from Calming the Rush of Panic, by Bob Stahl PhD, Wendy Millstine NC.
Bob Stahl, PhD, has founded seven Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs in medical centers in the San Francisco Bay Area and is currently offering programs at Dominican Hospital and El Camino Hospitals in Los Gatos and Mt. View. Dr. Stahl serves as a Senior Teacher for Oasis Institute for Mindfulness-Based Professional Education and Training at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Bob is coauthor of 5 books: A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Living With Your Heart Wide Open, Calming the Rush of Panic, A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook for Anxiety, and MBSR Everyday. Bob is the guiding teacher at Insight Santa Cruz and a visiting teacher at Spirit Rock.
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