The focus of my mindfulness class this week was facing difficulties and finding ways of coping with whatever might arise. This included a moment where we imagine ourselves as a vessel, like a bowl or holder for all experiences – the pleasant, unpleasant and neutral. Being with a pain in the back at the same time as enjoying the sound of birdsong. This came to mind as I drove up Reigate Hill on Friday, an icy morning. I have a lot of anxiety when driving in snow and ice, and I was aware that my heart started pounding as there was an increasing amount of snow as I drove up the hill, in a rather old car that might not have stopped very firmly on ice. Could I stay calm and be mindful? What mindfulness tips could I think of to help me deal with fear?
Not that I advise focusing on one’s breath when driving, but I found myself taking long breaths to calm myself. I then turned a bend and was struck by the bright snow on the trees, glistening in the sunshine. It was a beautiful sight that could have been on a Christmas card. My heart was still pounding with fear and yet at the same time I was enjoying the wonders of nature. “I am a vessel” I said aloud to myself, repeatedly, which helped me be with my fear at the same time as enjoy the view. It also amused me, speaking out loud to myself in a traffic jam! And then I was safely on the top of the hill. Without being able to hold both my fear and pleasure, I might have missed the lovely sight that was all around me.
Sometimes we can enjoy fear, and it is interesting to notice that the physical sensations are just the same. I enjoy fairground rides that are fairly scary, and I certainly like watching films that get my heart racing, even if I find myself covering my ears to try and stay calm. It is the context for the fear, the different stories we tell ourselves about what is occurring, that seem to make the experience pleasant or horrific. The same can be said for simply feeling hot or cold. I had such a wonderful year travelling through Asia many lifetimes ago, that despite my skin not being very happy in the sun, I always like being somewhere hot - far more than I used to before my travelling days.
When feeling fear, or any other strong emotion, if we can bring ourselves back to the physical experience in the body at the present moment, and notice our thoughts as simply events that are coming and going in the mind, it can make the situation feel far more manageable. Embracing fear was definitely something I needed to do when I went parachuting!