Extract from “In Stillness Conquer Fear”
Caring for oneself is a life-long project — a kind of challenge to live well. Like a strong marriage, good health and a good life do not ‘just happen’ as many might hope; we must be prepared to work at achieving this state. So in the serious desire to over-come the obstacles of anxiety, panic and agoraphobia, it is necessary to be committed to this cause.
The film City of Joy, based on the book by Dominique Lapierre, uses the principle that in life we have three options:
• to run
• to spectate
• to commit
Most people have known at some time the experience of running away from life’s challenges. In my years of agoraphobia, I did my share of running, only to receive in return for that effort ever-increasing fear and an all-pervading emptiness, to say nothing of a host of other accompanying negative emotions.
It is tempting too, for the fainthearted to ‘spectate’. Why not, after all, let others do it all for us while we try to remain safe and comfortable? But this way of life, too, is profitless and only emphasises the dependency people have come to accept: the doctor knows best, the tablets will cure me, everything will be all right when . . . Being a spectator in life also leads us down an empty path.
But commitment — to oneself and to the world we live in — is the threshold we long for, the threshold to the wellspring of the goodness of life. Commitment to any worthwhile cause will always bring positive results. It sparks our motivation and kindles hope when hope seems to be flagging. Commitment is the tool that gets things done. We must, therefore, make commitment a priority and, through it, take responsibility for ourselves.
With commitment we can then begin to eradicate excessive tension by practising stillness with purpose. As its serenity enters our lives, from it will be distilled the answers we are seeking and the solution to the problem of this kind of fear.
A life free of problems is a life without experience and, perhaps, without meaning. The experience of agoraphobia in my life helped me towards richer personal development and a more profound understanding of life and of human kind. We are all ‘amateur actors’, feeling our way, learning by our mistakes and our successes; even the steps which sometimes seem to be backward eventually take us forward in the continuing growth towards completeness. And so we collect life’s experiences as we might collect shells from the beach.
We should remember that, while sometimes those seashells are flung on to the sand in the midst of the storm, without fail, once the storm has passed, more shells will be gently laid there by the peaceful waters of a new day. As a child I found peace in Nessa’s garden. Somewhere, in everyone’s memory, is a garden of some kind where trouble is washed away by tranquillity. I use the example of the garden, not as an end in itself, but only to kindle within the reader’s spirit the tiniest memory of stillness and the wish to seek further. For it is well to recapture that memory and realise its value. It could be just the glimmer of light necessary to help you on your way. It is necessary too, to grasp the fact that suffering, whatever it may be, is not necessarily something to be avoided or of which to be ashamed, but an opportunity for life enhancement. Stillness meditation is, in my experience, the skill by which that suffering can be more easily accepted, transformed and overcome.
I recognise my good fortune in overcoming fear. Although eight years seemed a long time to me then, it is nothing at all compared to those who have known fear for twenty-eight or thirty-eight years. But this doesn’t mean that my understanding of the problem of fear is any the less, or that those who have suffered longer cannot change.
Here now, is a confession. During those years of fear I thought I would never forget one unpleasant moment. In the original telling of this story and in now reviewing it after twenty-five years, I have had to take my mind right back with some effort to recall the detail of eight years of that experience. A statement such as that, I think, holds sufficient conviction for the reader to know that anxiety, panic and agoraphobia definitely belong to my past.
It is my privilege to have shared all this with you. I trust that my story will continue to bring fear to greater awareness and provide that much-needed hope where required. To wish an easy road is to deny you adventure. I wish you, instead, a fulfilling journey upon which you will find a tranquil return to the truth and wholeness of yourself — and a future of contentment where all your dreams will be fulfilled.
I began this book by recalling a conversation with a stranger on a train. His thoughts seem a fitting expression to close with: ‘People are scared, you know’! But it is generally because they are tense. People are tense, you know. But we don’t have to be — there is a rewarding alternative!