Two years ago I was diagnosed with panic disorder.
I had been living with it for several years before I was diagnosed.
I’d put off seeing a doctor because in my mind she was going to try to find the root of the problem. She was going to ask me about my childhood, my relationship with my father, and how my marriage was going. You know all those cliché, messy, panic-inducing questions I was avoiding. Eeeehhhh…activate panic attack right there.
To my relief, she had only two questions for me, “Do you have insurance?” and, “Which pharmacy do you want your prescription sent to?”
In hind sight, I should have realized that the medication was a quick-fix. No healing was taking place; I had just found a more effective way to avoid my issues. Modern medicine focuses on immediate, yet temporary rather than permanent, results.
Fortunately, I started studying Buddhism soon after the doctor’s appointment. I started taking a holistic approach to my healing. No more short cuts. No more masking symptoms with medication. I started to do the actual work.
Here are four quotes from the Buddha that inspired me on my journey:
1. “The root of suffering is attachment.”
This applies to every aspect of our lives. It was the most helpful to me regarding my emotions. Realizing that emotions, like every other aspect of life, are impermanent and therefore should not be held onto—unless we want to be dragged around by them. This notion gives us the freedom to sit with our feelings and allow their lessons to help us grow. If we are not concerned that sadness will linger forever, we can accept and learn from it rather than hide from it. When we get comfortable or learn to tolerate being uncomfortable, we can experience the full spectrum of emotions. We can start celebrating our human nature instead of fearing it. We can approach relationships wholeheartedly and unafraid that someone may break us.
After all, having a broken heart is just proof we were brave enough to love and there is nothing more beautifully human than that.
2. “Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts, unguarded. But once mastered, no one can help you as much, not even your father or mother.”
The “right thought” is the second step on the Buddhist eightfold path. And I was about as far off the path as humanly is possible. Thoughts are a huge problem for a person with panic disorder. We are constantly picturing the worst case scenario in our heads, panicking, and then reacting as though our worst fears have already taken place. Buddhism taught me that our thoughts will turn into our realities if left untamed. To get on the path, I started to detach myself from negative thinking and focus on love and helpfulness toward myself and others. Being mindful of my thoughts has been one of the most transformative experiences on this journey.
3. “Let go of the past, let go of the future, let go of the present, and cross over to the farther shore of existence. With the mind wholly liberated you shall come no more to birth and death.”
Most of us have heard that we should “let go” of the past and the idea what the future is supposed to look like. But how do we actually do that? By accepting that no amount of ruminating can change the past—and then we release it. We accept that no amount of anxiety will change the future to our benefit and we release that as well. The Buddha wisely recognized that releasing those thoughts is the only way to achieve a liberated mind.
In my case, that means a mind without panic and constant anxiety. When our minds are free of those burdens we finally understand that even what is present will soon pass. So to truly be enlightened (where we are at the end of the cycle of birth and death) we have to enjoy the present moment. Whatever the present moment brings, it is exactly what we need to become stronger and healthier versions of ourselves.
4. “To keep the body healthy is a duty—otherwise we shall not be able to keep our minds strong and clear.”
This one seems like a no-brainer but a lot of people including myself not too long ago get it wrong. It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that if we are treating our bodies like trashcans we end up feeling like garbage. When we nourish our bodies with whole foods (and I repeat whole; not that low fat-artificial-chemical “health food” that litters most grocery store shelves), we feel better and can function on an elevated level. Then we have the energy to exercise our bodies, and after that our mind. Buddha called this “a duty.” When I started eating better and exercising, that’s what it felt like. Now it’s therapy. Hiking up a mountain is more calming and nourishing for my mind and soul than any pill ever was.
Before studying Buddhism, I was like the majority of our society; rushing through life trying to reach my “final destination,” happiness.
When I discovered the Buddha’s teachings, it made sense to me like no other spiritual practice had before. Buddha encourages us to question everything, not to have blind faith but to apply his teachings to our own life and see if they hold true.
That was important for me because I have a hard time blindly trusting anything—but I did it. I found myself unlocking my natural healing abilities from within—the abilities that we all possess. We need to commit to doing the hard work of trusting our own mind, body and soul.
Author: Dacy Vandevender
Editor: Sara Kärpänen