My first thought was ‘oh shit’ and my second was ‘ok, where are the stairs?’
Ever since I lost my husband, almost 4 years ago, I have been searching for ways to keep my mind a quiet and peaceful place rather than a refuge for random and often destructive thoughts. I meditate and can regularly be found contorting my body into yoga poses in an effort to capture a few blissful moments of a completely silent mind. Last week I was lucky enough to have two such moments; one spiritual and one brought on by absolute terror…..
I am not exactly terrified of heights – I can climb a ladder without collapsing into a state of panic – but anything over about 20 feet of the ground and I start to feel distinctly wobbly. Therefore, it was a bit of a revelation when I found myself high up in the jungle in Thailand, connected to a couple of ropes, whizzing between platforms on a zip line. I was actually feeling pretty confident after the first few but then we arrived at a platform with no zip line but a people sized hole in the floor. Our guide, seeing the bemused expression on my face, gently explained that we would be abseiling to the ground 40ft below. My first thought was ‘oh shit’ and my second was ‘ok, where are the stairs?’. It turned out that there were no stairs and the only way down was through the hole. After receiving many, many assurances that I would be gently and slowly lowered to the floor I sat on the edge and gingerly eased myself over. As the thought entered my mind that actually this wasn’t so bad I dropped like a stone! Apparently our young and mischeivious guide thought it would be funny to try and give me a heart attack, the little tinker (this was not the word I used at the time!).
After my legs started working again and my breathing had returned to semi-normal, we continued on to the next zipline which was a very long way up and 400 metres long. Bugger!
However, after the absolutely terrifying plummet through the hole in the floor I found myself agreeing to try a ‘superman’ flight which involved being attached to the underside of our guide, face down so that you could really appreciate the several hundred feet drop to the jungle floor, and then flying to the next platform 400 metres away.
For those 400 metres, with my heart racing and a huge smile plastered on my face, my mind was completely and totally empty; possibly abject terror had temporarily suspended any kind of cerebral activity or maybe it was just because I was feeling like a big kid and having the kind of fun that you can only have when you just let go…..
The second experience I’ll tell you about next time.
Your mind has taken you from sitting on the plane to it crashing within the space of a few minutes and that’s before you’ve even set foot on the damn thing!
Have you ever had a niggly little pain in your back or your neck which becomes worse the more that you think about it? Don’t worry, we all do it. It’s the same thing when we have something that we’re not looking forward to; the human mind, wonderful as it is, has a tendency to exaggerate the things that we focus on. For instance, if you’re not that keen on flying, do you find yourself thinking more and more about the flight the closer the time comes to you having to step on the plane? Does it go from a vague sense of uneasiness to imagining yourself sitting on the plane, fingers clenched around the arm rest, to imagining what it would feel like if the plane caught fire? Your mind has taken you from sitting on the plane to it crashing within the space of a few minutes and that’s before you’ve even set foot on the damn thing!
Fortunately there are things that we can do about it. Going back to the niggly pain and the mind exaggerating what we focus on; if you feel a twinge of pain when you’re doing something you really enjoy you probably won’t take any notice of it and it will go away but if it happens when you are at work or sitting at home with little to do it can turn into real pain and discomfort very quickly. If this goes on for any length of time, your exaggerating mind will do its thing and you will start imagining that there’s something really wrong with you. This is because we tense up when we experience discomfort or sometimes even the thought of discomfort. If you have a slight headache and you start to worry about it you will probably, unconsciously, tense the muscles around your neck and shoulders which will then make the headache worse. So the answer is to not panic and to relax your muscles which will relieve tension and help your headache. Find something else to focus on; try a guided meditation, let someone else talk to your mind:
When you listen, don’t feel like you have to try – your mind and your body will do the work for you and afterwards you will feel relaxed, calm and hopefully pain free.
What makes us afraid? We often don’t fear the thing itself; people are not usually scared of heights, they are scared of falling and dying. The same is true of a fear of flying, it’s not the plane itself that bothers us but the fear of it crashing. If we are claustrophobic, it’s not the fear of being in a small space, it’s the fear of being trapped and suffocated that really makes us start to panic.
Have a look at this video. Basically it takes the most dramatic scenes from horror movies but the background music is like something from a cartoon; by doing this and losing the tension and atmosphere from the movie scene, the ‘fear’ element is greatly reduced or even lost completely. Think about watching a horror film in broad daylight on a crowded beach – do you think it would have the same impact as watching it in a dark cinema? No, of course not!
So this is what we need to do with our fears because our imagination is pretty much like watching a movie isn’t it? Think about something that worries you, picture it in your mind and let it become dark and sinister; then ‘rewind’ to the beginning and think about the same thing but this time have the silliest song you can think of playing in the background. Then rewind again, start from the beginning and imagine a funny face on the object of your fear with the silly music playing. Next time imagine the object of your fear as being really tiny. Eventually that terrifying spider will be no more scary than a minion!
If you think about your imagination as a movie playing in your head, ask yourself why, if you saw a really awful movie, you’d keep going back to watch it over and over again. That’s essentially what we do when we worry about something; we watch a really bad movie, then make it worse by adding more dialogue or images and then we watch it again and again and again. The next time you feel yourself doing this just give yourself permission to switch it off and watch something else more pleasant!