High anxiety
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High Anxiety

On 30th March this year the Age Magazine, Good Weekend, published a spread titled just that – High Anxiety. The point of the article seems to be aimed at highlighting anxiety as a more recently discovered ‘mental health’ issue.

However, in this blog I’m going to be very bold and stake my claim! My story, first published in 1983 was, to the best of my knowledge, the first personal account of anxiety on the shelves in Western society. Titled In Stillness Conquer Fear, mine is a personal account of this kind of suffering but one that also offers a powerful, lasting and successful solution leading to life fulfilment.

With its most recent updated edition being published in 2016, my story has been published in Ireland, the UK and Poland, in the Polish mother tongue. That’s some claim to make and I am proud to have assisted thousands of people throughout the world through the telling of my story and my experience over 36 years as a therapist specializing in anxiety disorders.

My story relays the power of anxiety and how 8 years of my early life were limited by recurring panic attacks that led to agoraphobia, the overwhelming fear of leaving the safety of home. Despite the efforts of a range of medical experts, relief escaped me until almost by accident, I came upon the genius work of Melbourne psychiatrist, Ainslie Meares. It is to Meares’ work that I can attribute recovery for myself and for many others whom I’ve been privileged to assist.

By way of elaboration, here’s an extract from my story:

“It was as I was driving in rather heavy traffic that I suddenly experienced an unpleasant sensation of unreality – as if I was there, but I wasn’t there.

I felt a surge of alarm at this new experience. I remember vaguely thinking that perhaps I had not been concentrating very well on my driving, and almost wanted to pinch myself to see if I were dreaming.

This feeling of unreality is quite a common symptom surrounding the onset of an anxiety/panic attack. Unintentionally I most likely became more tense in an attempt to overcome that unpleasant feeling. I then realised that I was feeling extremely unwell. I was dizzy and nauseated, my head was pounding, my vision was blurred and my heart was thumping in my throat – and I was still driving the car. I managed to park and sat there for a few minutes, terribly aware of the fact that I was ill and away from home and I had two very young children with me.

By then, I was also feeling weak and faint, hot and cold and gasping for breath – hyperventilating, so I learned much later. This resulted in the unfortunate experience of paresthesias – a scary experience indeed, which begins with tingling in the fingertips gradually leading to numbness in the hands and limbs, and which, in my ignorance at that time, I thought was the sudden onset of paralysis. With all those dramatic sensations happening and the predicament of my little kids alone in the car, I was convinced that I was dying or certainly being stricken with some dreadful disease.

With the influence of recent sudden deaths and illness in our family flooding my mind, somehow I stumbled, panic stricken, into a shop nearby. All I could say was that I needed help, and quickly, as my head swam with dark patches of fading consciousness. I must also have been the colour of a sheet, for I certainly caused some agitation amongst the shopkeepers. I had alarmed them as well as myself, as they confirmed a couple of weeks later when I returned to say ‘thank you’.

I didn’t actually lose consciousness as some do in such circumstances, but my mind was swamped with panic and I was terrified. Panic is a word we have come to use fairly loosely in our vocabulary, but the real meaning of the word can only be appreciated by someone who has been through a complete panic attack. At that time what I was experiencing was a mystery to me — but I remember feeling threatened by a sense of urgency, and all my responsibilities seemed to crowd into my thoughts, in particular the wellbeing of my two little children. It was a sensational and very frightening experience and I felt, in my confusion, that if I wasn’t dying, I was about to lose control of my reason and actions.

Since being in control is a very important aspect of security in human nature, a panic attack is quite devastating. No one likes to feel threatened in any way, least of all to have their composure threatened. But when one feels threatened by something unidentifiable, it is doubly difficult to accept. I pictured myself in all that confusion, being removed from the scene with absolutely no control over the situation, even to the extent of being unable to communicate. In hindsight, a classic experience of loss of self”.

Dr Meares work and indeed his vision for mental and physical health is centred upon mental rest – known today as Stillness Meditation Therapy. This is what I learned from him; this is what I needed to learn in order to truly relax, to assist my brain to unlearn and relearn and to gain ease, confidence and over time, the insight necessary to live well.

And so it is frustrating at the very least, to read articles such as that in the Good Weekend where it seems anxiety as a social problem is only now really being addressed. It is frustrating that so many people are still victims of stress, fear, anxiety and accumulated tension while relying on medications that keep them trapped in dependence and often make matters worse. I feel very strongly that people deserve far better and, when finding the right path, are more than capable of negating the adverse influence of anxiety to become more wholly themselves.

If you appreciate the content of this blog, please pass it on to others. If you read this and identify with my understanding of anxiety, please make contact. My colleagues and I would truly love to assist.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne
, April 2019

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A Year’s Reflection

December, we know, is a busy month as we find ourselves perhaps prematurely propelled into Christmas and the New Year. For me, December is also a reminder to reflect upon the year’s work – life in general and especially at this Centre.

I use the word ‘work’ when perhaps, for the latter our engagement with the wonderful clients we meet is closer to gentle play – or reverent communication. It’s an endeavour that for several decades I have truly loved to participate in – and I believe that truly expresses the sentiments of my wonderful assistants and associates. And so my thoughts turn to the ‘why’ of our work. And from a personal perspective, why indeed have I shown up week after week to meet with and hold in ‘stillness’, so many people over such a long period of time?

The ‘why’ I believe, is because this ‘work’ is a gift to give to others who, as any of us are destined to experience, find themselves in times of emotional pain. Within this work comes the visibility of human need and the privilege to assist as we each grow through all the hopes and obstacles, successes and disappointments, losses and gains and times of sorrow – the major and minor challenges that every year presents. These highs and lows are the stuff of life from which no one is exempt – and which very often we cannot truly understand. And yet this work, the work of stillness of mind, can somehow pacify these events and bring healing and strength. My mentor, the psychiatrist Ainslie Meares says this:

What can I understand?
Events have their consequences.
Cause and effect.
Basis of all understanding.
Perhaps.
And may we say, perhaps not.
Who mended a heart ache.
By knowing the cause?
It comes in the calm and the stillness.
To know beyond words.
And we know no pain.

Yes, understanding can come in special ways. And very often in ways so subtle that it’s easy to recognise that the use of words may frequently just get in the way.

And so my thoughts travel further to recall some of the reasons people come to participate in our work … reasons that each and every one of us can readily identify with:

  • The cancer diagnosis
  • Trauma following financial collapse
  • The death of a life partner
  • A retiree at a loss to know how to find fulfilment
  • An unexpected broken marriage
  • A compelling fear of flying that prevents family connection
  • The personal outcome of a dysfunctional family
  • A breakdown due to post traumatic stress
  • Certain challenges in tending to a chronically ill child
  • The diagnosis of a rare disease
  • The mid-life crisis
  • A separation due to his partner’s dementia
  • Grief and anger surrounding the unfaithful husband
  • Exam time for the twenty year old
  • School bullying for the teenager
  • Social anxiety inhibiting life achievement
  • Unjustified accusation of wrongdoing
  • Work related stress
  • Trauma and injury following a road accident
  • Countless negative outcomes due to low self esteem
  • Chronic depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Emotional pain from early life abuse

… and so the list goes on … human life in need of consolation … or simply in need of managing things differently and perhaps becoming more complete people in the process. And we’re all in this together!

Last month I wrote of the precious gift of freedom reminding myself and others that:

“Life challenges exist and enter our way in many varieties even within the cushioning of our usually comfortable existence. And the major reaction to such challenges is that ultra modern disease – stress – meaning worry, lost energy, mental burnout, confusion, rampant, life limiting anxiety and shades of depression. So stress and the anxiety it brings, needs to be managed to gain a sense of personal freedom”.

So let’s pause for a moment and be thankful for this year, 2018, with all its ups and downs. Let’s look to the busyness of December and the coming New Year with a sense of joyful celebration and hopeful expectation. Let’s value whichever way we have established within our life to best support whatever comes our way. And let’s never forget to engage in the pursuit of peace – within ourselves and far beyond.

We look forward to reconnecting with you next year and send warmest wishes and Season’s Greetings from us all at the Stillness Meditation Therapy Centre.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, December 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stillness Meditation Therapy – learn it … live it … teach it?

The rise and rise of the popularity of meditation as a life skill calls for increased numbers of qualified meditation teachers. A wonderful prospect indeed as the widespread recognition of meditation as an enriching and sustaining life-skill has finally arrived!

I find it exciting and a privilege to welcome each year a new intake of enthusiastic candidates eager to train as teachers of Stillness Meditation Therapy – SMT as it’s known today. However, familiar questions arise:

“What do you offer … can I really teach this – and how is Stillness Meditation Therapy different from other methods?”

My primary objective in Teacher Training is to build strong group camaraderie alongside the essentials necessary to produce, over time, the right ‘recipe’ for students’ accreditation.

There are pre-requisites to commencement from which trainees develop a deep understanding of the theory, physiology, psychology and ethos of Stillness Meditation as a therapeutic modality. In training we explore all styles of meditation, respecting the value of each while identifying difference. This understanding involves an appreciation of the importance of natural mental rest as the primary purpose of SMT, as well as learning to let go of any kind of technique that may inadvertently disturb mental rest. Also, within the development of teaching skills comes a growing sensitivity to the paradox of stillness in the face of discomfort and how this affects life in general.

Achieving prolonged mental rest and the benefits to be gained takes time and repetition – something for teachers to be able to impart to their future students. In SMT we are helping people to literally change their mind – and in doing so, our aim is to emphasize the ultimate outcome of living calm. So prospective teachers must themselves be proficient advocates of what they teach.

To cultivate understanding of a range of human needs, within training we share the experience of each other’s unique life. Emotions, individual journeys, ideas, thoughts and feelings come into play. We discuss empathy, trust, example, insight and intuition, encouragement and guidance. We study the skills of non-verbal communication. We work particularly on the skill of calming touch, a unique feature of SMT which, when used correctly, is the essence of the SMT teacher’s role. In training we understand together how resting the mind illuminates consciousness, nurtures mindfulness and leads to a wholly better life. And most importantly, we embrace the intangible, but so very important element of the care of those we teach.

Stillness Meditation (SMT®) is a unique approach based in physiology. This concept was specifically created by psychiatrist Ainslie Meares to assist in health and wellbeing through the natural reduction of anxiety. In short, SMT helps people to flourish by directly accessing ‘the body’s own way of coping with distress.’ Simple … natural … profound.

And so each year I look forward to meeting new candidates within a selection consultation that may lead to broader pathways and potentially, a healthier and happier world. To become an accredited SMT teacher, please see more information on Teacher Training here.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
October 2017, Melbourne

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Mind Care

Community Education Workshop, Thursday 12 July
Box Hill Community Arts Centre, 470 Station St, Box Hill, Victoria

Click here to download the flyer

 

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SMT Workshop for Medical and Mental Health Practitioners

SMT Workshop for Medical and Mental Health Practitioners
Monday 4 June 6.30 – 8.30pm.  Click here for more information

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SMT at Duneira, Mt Macedon, Saturday 15 September

Letting go, living calm!  Manage stress, reduce anxiety and discover wellbeing.  A 2 hour workshop with Pauline McKinnon in the beautiful and historic surroundings of Duneira, Mt Macedon.  For bookings and further information please contact Duneira direct