• Jeff Brenneman

Afraid of the Unknown, Embracing the Unknown

Today's post is a follow up to last week's post. This is my experience beginning the silent mindfulness retreat I attended. Next week will be our first post from someone new, Psychologist Caleb Reese. Enjoy this post and make sure to come back next week for Dr. Reese!


I got into a really cool headspace through the last post and then almost immediately, my brain and body went into avoid mode. I started pacing a little around my room. I pulled out my phone and started playing on it. I walked around my room a little with my phone in my hand and was playing on it a bit. Am I afraid of staying in the moment? Then my head started having all of these made up conversations with people and it started making up stories about what will happen through this retreat, which still doesn’t officially start for another hour.


I think I am afraid of the unknown and then I embrace the unknown. And I think I’m having a hard time with sitting with those 2 uncomfortable truths. Can being afraid and embracing occur at the same time? Can I sit in a place that says I am a little afraid of this unknown and also that I am working to let go of that fear?


Just a few minutes until we go silent and I’m in a place of fear. So, I guess my only option at this point is to feel it, notice the thoughts and then allow them to move on if they will. I feel the anxiety primarily in my chest, and then in my hands. I feel kind of buzzy and my hands feel a little shaky. It’s not very pleasant and I’ve decided I’m doing this so there’s nothing left but to give myself to this new, currently uncomfortable adventure. I’d say, “wish me luck,” and that’s pointless because it will all be long over before you read these words.


Here I go…


So, the first night went about as expected and then better than expected. I started my sitting meditation (that’s the primary meditation at this retreat) and I felt anxiety start to well up. Felt an anxiety attack coming on and felt the urge to get up and leave. And I was in a room with 20 other people, none of whom were moving, so I stayed right where I was. I’ve had anxiety attacks before, not fun, and I knew it wasn't going to kill me.


So, back to my breathing and my physical sensations, letting that feeling rise in my chest, just noticing the urge to get up and run out. It did not get bigger. It was not as intense as anxiety attacks I’ve had in the past. It was pretty mild in comparison to the other 2 I’ve had. So, I made it through that. Things just started to smooth out a bit. My brain calmed to just paying attention to my breathing, counting on my out breath, 1, 2, 3 up to 10 and then starting over again. Many times, I lost count and started again at 1, just like the Roshi (Zen master and leader of the retreat) had suggested.


Then, the unexpected part. There were 3 meditations the first night, each 20-25 mins with 5 or so minutes mindful walking in between. The 3rd one ended before I was ready for it to end! I could not believe it. That was pretty amazing. I was not expecting that to happen. The ability to simply participate in meditation after I started out with an anxiety attack.


Then some mindful dancing to end the night. Really liked the dancing. Simple dance, and it was all of us together lightly touching hands with these white gloves on and dancing around the circle. No talking, just participating in the moment with all of these people.


Now, I'm exhausted and ready to crash. Time for sleep.


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