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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Take A Listening Walk

One of several versions of the painting "...Image via Wikipedia
For those of you who've waited with baited breath (not!), I guess it's been awhile since I last posted here.  My excuse is that it's summer and I have been out of my routine as well as out of the city for at least part of that time.  I drove my candy apple red Mustang convertible to Banff, Alberta.  Oh, yes, and I took my husband too :-).  It was quite the adventure, and certainly a good way to get to know a new car.  I'm tempted to write a whole blog post just on driving one of these days, but then again, maybe I shouldn't.  I couldn't believe some of the drivers I encountered, especially on the stretch between Penticton and Banff!  On the whole, however, it was a wonderful trip.

Instead I want to write about something I have been doing in the last few weeks as a way to counter some anxiety attacks I've been having.  This kind of anxiety is new to me...it seems to rise up suddenly out of nowhere and becomes very physical in nature with tightness in the chest and perspiration and an all around fearful feeling.  From what I have read about menopause, anxiety or panic attacks can often be a symptom.

The worst thing to do when you're having a panic attack or anxiety is to try to push it away.  In my Buddhist readings, I've often come across the idea that "aversion" or trying to push something away, is not the way to deal with anything, whether it's an emotional reaction or an uncomfortable situation.  What that often does is simply magnify the anxiety or discomfort instead of getting rid of it.  What you are taught to do, essentially, is to go through it, feel it fully and then let it go.  Anxiety is one of those things that can be made stronger and more powerful the more you panic about panicking!

So what I have been doing, not as a way to get rid of anxiety, but a way to train myself to be more in the moment, is to go on "listening walks".  Aside from watching where I am going (which is essential!), my whole attention is on listening, not to the thoughts going through my head, but to the physical sounds of the world around me as I'm walking.  The louder sounds are obviously easy to hear, but what I try to do is listen for the more distant sounds, like a faint hum of the city, or maybe a small plane in the distance, or voices a block or so away.  And as I hear each one, I identify them to myself.  A car door shutting, a baby crying, a crow squawking;  just like that.

It does take some practice, believe it or not, because the mind wants to work things out when the body is in motion.  It wants to plan or organize or evaluate all kinds of things, and it is so tempting to be drawn into those trains of thought.  So the idea, similar to meditation, is to gently bring your attention back to identifying sounds.

Now this may sound mundane and boring, but over time I have gotten better and better at keeping my attention on sounds, with the result being that I give myself almost a half-an-hour of complete calm.  Walking is good anyway, but doing this mental exercise makes it even more beneficial.  So if you're not into meditation, but you want to find a way to relax your brain...take a listening walk, and I promise you'll find a new sense of calm.

And I ALSO promise that I will be adding more posts more frequently in the next few months if you're willing to read 'em. :-)

IJ
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