A personal experience and how meditation helped me to deal with it.
This year 2017 I had to go in to a situation that had an unexpected effect on me both physically and psychologically. I am unable to go in to any great detail about the event itself but what I can say is that a lot of people were involved in a large fight which ended up in a person dying.
I was supervising and I was the first to arrive. When I did there was real anger and a feeling of harmful intent from the many people that were present. It was an emotionally charged situation where a person died after being given chest compressions, while surrounded by family and drunk club goers. I am not ashamed to say that I was afraid and felt out of control, but I carried out my role and the night ended without any other major problems.
I wasn’t expecting to be affected this, but I suppose nobody does, and I found that images from the night stayed with me as did the feelings the situation invoked in me. The next day I began to realise that something wasn’t right, I had a tight knot in my stomach, I felt anxious and the events repeated in my mind on what felt like a continuous loop. In particular I got flash backs to the person on the floor and the roll of his stomach as the chest compressions were done.
This continued and I closed down. On the outside I looked normal and reacted in social situations on almost auto pilot. On the inside my emotions pushed down in to this knot of anxiety and I couldn’t let any out, which led to night terrors and not being able to sleep for any period of time.
I tried to deal with this using CBT but it didn’t work on its own. So I turned to meditation using the Zazen techniques that we have been learning in the Dojo.
It was difficult but slowly I began to make some progress. I found that for short periods my mind would settle and the fast paced whirr of thoughts would slow down. But found it hard to let those thoughts be noticed and let go. I still latched on and the knot inside didn’t give way, which left me frustrated feeling like there was an invisible barrier stopping me going anywhere.
I felt that I needed to face the route of what was causing my difficulties but I needed to do that in a way that would let me see, and experience, but not be directly affected if that makes sense. So I started meditation with conscious breathing, and told myself not to worry about the emotional knot and just try to go over the night. Once I had reached my regular breathing pattern I started to examine the story. What surprised me was the detail in which I could see, hear, and smell. It was strange, like being there and seeing myself do what I did in part and in part being me in that situation. By doing this (almost not consciously) I was able to kind of see and experience my emotions but not be affected by them. It was like being distanced from them but still remotely connected. I was able to go through in quite fine detail thinking of other people’s reactions, facial expressions, what they said and what I did. I don’t think it was anything like pure recall but there was definitely more than I would remember normally.
Towards the end and with no actual decision I felt my emotions flood out pushing the knot away. I laughed, I cried, I shook and I felt almost like I had cleansed and let everything bad out. I felt a warmth around me and felt like I smiled on the inside, which I know sounds strange. When this process had finished, it’s difficult to describe but I settled inside and felt centred.
What struck me was that although through my work I have been given tools or strategies to help with wellbeing they weren’t enough. And it was actually the Zazen practices that gave me the break-through I needed to review, resolve and come to terms with a harrowing experience.