Anxiety Symptoms, Mindfulness and the Enlargement of the Self

In an early post about anxiety symptoms, I discussed my personal experience with a panic attack several years ago. In particular, I talked about the fear of falling to pieces, a kind of disintegration anxiety; it involved the feeling of a threat to my self in the most physical sense, to my bodily integrity, and the terror that I wouldn’t hold together. Anyone who has gone through anxiety attacks or has any kind of anxiety disorder will likely understand what I mean.

Although I’ve since learned how better to manage my anxiety, and have never experienced another panic attack, this period of intensified stress only recently came to a complete close. Now that I’m on the other side, I’ve begun to realize the toll it took on me, and the ways that my anxiety symptoms affected me in an ongoing way, much more than I realized at the time. I’d like to talk about the experience, my sense of self and how mindfulness meditation techniques have proven useful to me.

During my panic attack and in the early period of intense anxiety symptoms, I felt under siege, as if I were hunkered down in a foxhole with the threat of bombs about to explode around me. I use that image because it captures the degree of menace I felt (I’ve also been watching Season Two of Downton Abbey, with Matthew and Thomas in the trenches, so the image came readily to mind.) At those moments, I was often able to pay attention to nothing more than my anxiety symptoms and ways to calm myself; the outside world felt to me as if it were a threat and I needed to marshal all my resources to protect myself, which often meant shutting out that world, or at least my awareness of it. (I believe this dynamic lies at the heart of agoraphobia, and also has implications for post traumatic stress disorder.) My psychological world became very small; when I wasn’t consciously aware of the anxiety, I lived very much in my mind, using verbal thought (my favorite defense mechanism) to gain some sense of control.

During this time, I found my work with clients to be a great psychological help, a place of refuge not in the avoidant sense but as a well-defined, disciplined experience that helped me feel more self-contained. When I’m in session, I try to put aside any goals or preconceptions I may have and listen as intently as I can to what my client is saying. I don’t strain to understand, or try to work out the meaning in a logical or rational way. I strive for a kind of mental quiet while I focus on my physical sensations and emotions, waiting as patiently as I can for insight to come to me. In addition to helping me understand my clients, the discipline of my work also helped me feel more personally in focus, more whole, integrated and safe as an individual. That is, my work as a psychotherapist helped me feel contained; as a result, I was able to rely far less on my verbal thought defenses and finish my work day feeling much better.

In many ways, this approach to the practice of psychotherapy resembles mindfulness meditation, with its goal of mental quiet and the disengagement from verbal thought. While I find mindfulness meditation techniques to be useful, I worry that it’s merely the current fad; many people seem to pursue it in an almost cult-like fashion, and also as a kind of superior “enlightenment”, in a way that feels familiar to me from the 1970s, when so many people I knew began to meditate and talk about their mantras. I use mindfulness meditation techniques as a tool, as a means to disengage from my customary defense mechanisms. The mental quiet allows me to watch myself in action; because of years of psychotherapy and working with myself on a daily basis, I can see my defenses in action, “hear” the familiar verbal processes kick in and try to silence them, focusing instead on what I might be trying to avoid or defend against. Maybe it’s the anxiety in my body; or anger I’ve not wanted to face. The mental quiet might bring me into contact with my exhaustion, or the sadness I feel about some recent losses. For me, the quiet of mindfulness is not the goal in itself, a kind of enlightenment, but rather a means to silence my defense mechanisms and focus on the emotional experience that lies behind them.

I don’t meditate per se; rather, I try to bring myself back to my breathe again and again throughout the day, stilling the verbal chatter. Lately, as the anxiety of the past few years has begun to fade, I’ve been much more successful at it, and at the same time, I feel as if I’m inhabiting my body more fully. I find this very difficult to describe, but it’s as if my consciousness often extends further out now, all the way to my toes and fingers. When I’m stressed or anxious, I often feel as if I’m mostly in my thoughts, or inside my head and looking out of my eyes, focused on the visual input; I can easily lose touch with the rest of my body. Now, as the threat recedes, I feel more physically whole. My self feels larger, in a way. In these past few weeks, I’ve become more powerfully aware of the toll this period of stress has taken on me. I’m trying to take better care of myself, to rest more, but at the same time, I feel more able to face other responsibilities I’ve been neglecting.

In other words, mindfulness meditation is an adjunct tool for the process of psychotherapy, not a replacement for it. Mental quiet and a focus on your breath allows you to observe, in action, what you’ve come to understand about yourself in your therapy, to disengage from your defense mechanisms and come into contact with the physical/emotional experiences you’ve been trying to avoid.

Does this make sense to anyone else?

By Joseph Burgo

Joe is the author and the owner of, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.


  1. I would like to read more about mindfulness, I see it a lot on mental health sites, and people with BPD, talk about it along with DBT therapy.

  2. I think you’ve done a good job of describing sensations and reactions which are difficult to capture in words, and it makes complete sense to me. I’m new to your site, but appreciate the thoughtfulness with which you write, and your willingness to share your personal experiences.

    1. Thanks, Elaine. Sometimes it seems very hard to find the right words to describe these experiences and I’m glad this one makes sense.

  3. I´ve been following your site for some months now. I like your writings. This post, your experience with heightened anxeity makes perfect sense to me both on a personal and professional level. I am a psychoanalytically orientated Gestalt Therapist from Denmark so many of your thought strikes a cord over here. I have been working a lot with people who suffer from stress and stress-related symptoms. Key words are awareness-experiments (a gestalt corner stone) and bodywork (T.R.E and bioenergetics). Both are used for grounding and gaining a better sense of Self, in and out of relational contact. Stress often occurs after prolonged periods of being in the mind and not with our senses in meaningful/coherent contact with our surroundings. So do and be one thing at a time, close the gestalts before moving on to new ones so to speak.

    Best wishes from here.

    1. Thanks Frans. It seems to me that different theoretical orientations look at the same phenomena from varying perspectives, with different names, but if we lose the particular vocabulary of these schools of thought, we’re talking about the same thing. “Gestalts” is not a world I use in my own thinking but I understand what you mean.

  4. Your article makes the concept very clear, Joseph. Yes, it makes sense to me.

    I bet there is nobody who does not, at some time or another, experience anxiety. And that nattering weasel racing around the corridors of the mind….until we give him a good kick out into space. L.
    So mindfulness makes sense, in particular the notion of concentrating on the now, the present. Attention on the present; intention for the future. Isn’t it amazing how many people think, indeed are sure, that they know what will happen tomorrow, next year, in the future. They engage in fortune-telling without realizing that is what they are doing. LOL. Worse, they are magicians who think they can manipulate the future! Certainly we have to have intentions for the future, but the fact is we cannot tell the future.
    There will, of course, be those who pursue the mindfulness idea as a fad, maybe to make themselves feel superior to us lesser mortals….
    . But in reality mindfulness is not a particularly new idea.
    Just breathing properly, and learning to do so all the time is a benefit in itself. Meditation was included in our martial arts classes, and one breathing exercise I found wonderful was: breathe in to the count of eight; hold breath for the count of eight; breathe out to the count of eight. Eight times.
    There is no need to sit looking inscrutable in oriental garb to do this one. Anywhere, any time will do.

    I hope it is all right to post this link, from the U.K. Mental Health Foundation


    1. Thanks for sharing the link and yes, of course, it’s all right! I could never get into the whole meditation thing myself. I just adapted what I found useful to my own way of working with myself and incorporated it into my daily routine.

  5. Hi Joseph, I’m left wondering what happened a few weeks ago.

    The sense I got was that focusing on breath and sensations lead to a gradual diminishing of panic. But then you seem to have said that something changed a few weeks ago. I’m wondering if there was some kind of trigger or if you feel it was just a gradual accumulation of all the work you have put in – the straw that broke the camel’s back, in a positive sense.

    I do think mindfulness is a bit of a fad at the moment – and different people do seem to mean different things – from logical analysis (our thoughts control our feelings which control our behaviour) to the kinds of things you talk about (which I think of as ‘bare awareness’) and taking in visualisation and much else along the way.

    1. Nice to hear from you, Evan. While what you say is true, that focusing on breath and sensations gradually reduced my anxiety over time, we also decided to wind down this investment a few weeks ago, which means it will no longer be “on my plate” — a huge relief.

      I like to think of mindfulness as a way to “notice” everything you know about yourself in action, which then gives you the opportunity to choose: do I engage in that defense or do something different? Because our defense mechanisms are so engrained and automatic, most of the time they just happen without any conscious choice. Mindfulness allows us to interrupt that process and have some actual control (in the good sense) over our responses.

  6. How beautifully said! I too experienced a panic attacks around 14 years ago, thinking I was going to fall apart and die. A horrible experience! Luckily it never repeated and I have learned to know myself better at many levels. I have recently taken up Yoga which helps me be better in touch with bodily sensations, etc. The quietness you speak of is necessary for me!
    I enjoy the gift you have of explaining your topics.
    I too am a fan of Downton Abbey!
    Thanks for great reading!
    Magdalena (American in Seville, Spain)

    1. Thanks, Magdalena. All of those Eastern techniques that help you bring yourself back to bodily awareness and breathing are so useful.

  7. Yes, it does make sense to me and is, I think, a very good description of the experiences of stress and “centering.”

    When you described being in your head, looking out through your eyes, I really resonated with my experiences. When much younger, I often felt as though I had a seat right behind my eyes from which I worked the controls for all the rest of me. Now I don’t live that way, but I find I can go back to that place when necessary. For instance, sometime in my work as a business consultant, I need to quickly and intensely focus on rousing the troops to address an urgent problem. Then, once the immediate issue is analyzed and a response is in place, I can climb out of that seat inside my head and become more fully human again.

    Just goes to show that something useful can grow from any pile of dung.


    1. You’re right, of course. Defense mechanisms do have their uses. “Living in my head” when growing up was my salvation.

  8. I think regaining a watchfulness over one’s self can depend on whether a person is visually-oriented, aurally-oriented or kinaesthetically and so on with regard to touch, smell, taste etc. I spend my time teaching and writing, but when I fall apart in a small way I find walking or doing something at my cabin in the forest restores my balance. Sitting still exacerbates my neuroses, but movement gives me back healthy rhythms of thinking and feeling.

    1. Very interesting — makes me think about “walking meditation”. I find hiking to be very helpful, too.

    1. When I was a young man, I used to cope with my depression in that way, too — by dancing. It helped a lot.

  9. Hi Joseph,
    I liked your article very much, I found it very interesting as my friend Julia Wahl who is a therapist like me uses mindfulness a lot in her practice, Mind Institute, Poland. I was interested so started applying it to myself, as I often do when considering whether to use with clients. I find Mindfulness invaluable for bringing my attention back to my body. I was quite surprised how distracted and unconsciously away from my body I must have been before!
    As you have said it is a useful tool to use as an “add on”, I have found that when I do a Mindfulness exercise, clients tend to start the process of being their own investigators away from sessions. What I mean by that is, it seems Mindfulness exercise in the session, opens the practise of clients investigating themselves more, and starting to understand what inpacts their body. Anything from Jon Kabat-Zinn is usually a good book, thanks and take care Alisonx

  10. A good description, yes — the expanded sense of self. I have been meditating off and on for a few years now, and my guess is that, along with exercise, these two activities together (stress on the word “active”) will likely replace medication as the sort of front line therapy for lower grade mental distress. I agree that there is a faddish aspect to it. Even talking about it too much risks turning your achieved mental “peace and quiet” into nothing more than… an anecdote, ruining itself the moment it leaves the lips. But if you ignore the fad, ignore the imported cultural trappings (gongs and chants and whatnot) at the fringes, what you get is some good practical methods for, basically, quieting the mind, seeing what’s going on in there, and later, taking control of it.

    Control is maybe too strong a word, but seeing what is happening in your mind and being able to then avoid overreacting to it, instead of being whipsawn by whatever comes up — gales of emotion or thought.

    I’m not sure meditation would be right for everyone, but for people who live in their heads, it’s terrific. It’s like, instead of more thinking/learning/digesting of interesting theory, you can finally DO something, put some of that predisposition for thinking too much into physical, bodily action. Over time, it helps you to see clearly that thought IS a kind of action, with understandable, cumulative consequences. Actually, it just helps you to see everything more clearly. The reactive mind quiets down — like apple juice settling, is the metaphor I like best — and things just naturally get easier.

    1. You have a very nice way of putting things. You’ve certainly described my own experience, and I especially agree with what you say about thought being its own kind of action that has predictable and serious consequences. Sometimes I talk to my clients about what happens when they start to entertain certain thoughts/fantasies — “inviting them into tea” as my own therapist used to put, as I sometimes do now, too. If you give certain ideas a welcome reception, they can destroy your entire state of mind. Disengaging from this process is the single greatest value to be found in mindfulness techniques, in my view.

      1. My meditation teacher offers a useful metaphor: in a small room, exploding fireworks are terrifying. In a large open field, the same fireworks are quite beautiful. Meditation practice can help you to be the large open field instead of the small room. It doesn’t put out the fireworks, it just expands the space around them.

        Love your website! Thank you for sharing your thoughts here in this open fashion.

        1. Great image! And I just left a reply to another comment that goes along with what you’re saying. It is the enlargement of the self that makes it possible to “contain” experiences that might otherwise be overwhelming.

  11. I had one panic attack, which felt like the symptoms of a heart attack. My parents even called an ambulance. I was having that feeling that it was taking me over – like real death. I was so embarrassed at the hospital when the nurse told me I’d had what was explained as panic attack. I think my shame over appearing like a hypochodriac to my father prevented further attacks, but I recall it feeling very real.

    1. I find it disconcerting that everyone gets responses and don’t. It could make me feel special and unique or I don”t match your theme, or I’m too fucked up to deal with — or there’s nothing to be said about the comment, But everyone else still gets a response.

      1. This response is late because I’m behind in approving comments. But to be honest, Gary, sometimes your comments seem cryptic to me. I believe I’ve noted on a couple before that I didn’t understand what you meant, and for that reason, I have a hard time knowing what to say.

        1. That crypticness is probably due to morning anti-depressants. Your article today was good. I don’t like the direction psychiatry is going. I’m an advocate of underlying subconscious causes as well. Last night I responded to an article about how “tech” is being used to monitor patients. This is really irritating. After decades of psychotherapy they’re trying to now incorporate the tech gadgets. I’m sure you are very busy. Don’t worry about response.

          1. It IS very irritating. And even I’m busy, I try to respond to comments here on the site. I’ve been a little behind this past week and I apologize.

  12. Hi Joseph, thanks for your reply.

    I only get notified of your replies to my comment and not other people’s comments in my email. Usually, from other blogs, I get notified of all comments or have alternatives to tick below the comment box. It just means I have to remember to check back to read other’s comments.

  13. That’s it, Joseph.
    “….what happens when they start to entertain certain thoughts/fantasies — “inviting them into tea” as my own therapist used to put, as I sometimes do now, too. If you give certain ideas a welcome reception, they can destroy your entire state of mind.”

    Thoughts will, of course, arrive unbidden. The trick is not to entertain them. No tea, no cakes. L. I also think, for what it is worth, that people have lost the knack of listening to their instincts, of connecting with their instincts.
    James and Joseph. Dancing is amazing, uplifting, and demanding physical exercise.

    Described as a “fabulous soap opera” (good description) I see that Downton has exported well. Not my cup of tea, but the production and costuming are good, fine scenery and buildings, pretty people whose behaviour ranges from nice to lethal.


    1. Downtown is great fun but, despite the higher production values, it still pales in comparison to Upstairs, Downstairs. In fact, it often feels to me as if Downtown is revisiting old UD episodes and making them more melodramatic, less nuanced.

  14. I really enjoyed your article. Interesting enough I just read a book that added some different perspectives to dealing with anxiety but was related to mindfulness. Your statement “I talked about the fear of falling to pieces” particularly caught my eye because the name of the book is “Going to Pieces without Falling Apart: A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness” by Mark Epstein, M.D.
    One interesting concept he shared was that that in the Western Society the focus is on building up the self and the ego to cope with difficulties. However, the Eastern Societies (which in his book refers mostly to Buddism) they focus on the importance of relinquishing of the self. Similar to how you indicated you are with your clients, there is a focus on not judging or having pre-conceptions but just observing the experience (ie mindfulness). Ironically it seems that by decreasing the ego the experience of the self is expanded (as connection to others is more keenly felt). Conversely the more we build up our self and ego we more keenly feel the separation and isolation which makes us feel smaller instead of larger. I also think feelings if isolation can contribute and/or heighten the anxiety you spoke about.
    I also wanted to say, I am a therapist and use breathwork with my clients. I find it helpful not only with anxious clients but also those who have anger issues. I think in both cases of anger and anxiety clients are often not aware of/or tapped into their feelings and need skills to help better connect with their feelings.
    Thank you for sharing your insights and experience!

    1. And thank you for adding yours! I’ll have to look up that book; it sounds interesting, esp. the part about how relinquishing the ego to cope with difficulties. I think about it as letting go of the conscious, rationally-driven part of me (the ego) and letting the other, unconscious parts of me do their work. To me, it’s really an enlargement of the self rather than a relinquishing of it. I guess I’m also saying that ego and self are not synonymous; ego is the conscious part of me that reasons and thinks, but my ‘self’ includes much more.

  15. Your writing is beautiful. In 2009 I suffered what I considered to be a nervous breakdown. I too felt that I was in a war zone 24/7 and it was horrendous beyond belief. I did alot of CBT and took natural supplements. I take pyruvate for high lactic acid levels, benedryl for high histamine, and 5 HTP for serotonin. I am convinced that much of anxiety symptoms are physical in nature. “Depression Free, Naturally…” by Joan Larsen was a tremendous resource. I very much appreciate your insights. I had always suffered from anxiety but NOTHING like what I experienced in 2009. I felt that I truly went to HELL and survived. I do Morrie Zelcovitch’s Quantum Mind Power brain wave entrainment meditation. Morrie knows his stuff. I also received some therapy at this time…….Forgive me for this run on paragraph…..Keep on writing…you help me and many others with your thoughts!

  16. Yeah…that makes sense to me. It’s kinda how I imagine my self/body feeling when my dissociative disorder begins to fade.

  17. I agree with you Joseph, wholeheartedly, about “Upstairs, Downstairs”. And it also crossed my mind that Downton had to some extent plagiarized the older series.

    Getting back on topic, I feel that in these uncertain times, perhaps it is good to live in and with uncertainty. After all, nothing is written in stone, ever, except death. Old programming is no doubt hard to ditch, where we have been taught to think that we have power over what is going to happen, that we can not just foretell the future, but actually manipulate the future (the future is a time that is not even here yet!). That in turn is a sure-fire recipe for anxiety. Just my thoughts.

    Hope I can slip in here a mention of a film I love, and I think you would like it, Joseph.
    “The Music Teacher” 1988 Belgian film. Very beautiful.


    1. I’ll check it out. And I agree, about needing to live in uncertainty. Most people have a very hard time with that, however, even in less tumultuous times. We all like to feel certain about our world and what will happen to us.

  18. I appreciate your writing again about anxiety and “overwhelm”. I’m coming to realize that I seem to suffer from a particular kind of anxious overwhelm –“emotional claustrophobia”. I spent my childhood “hiding” physically and in books from bad things — emotional abuse, parental fighting, mother who was an extremely controlling borderline, moving so often I went to four different high schools in three states. To top it off I never felt I belonged in the family, emotionally or intellectually. I was interested in things no one else cared about, like school, and was often derided for my mother for things like asking her to take me to the library, which she called “academic bullshit.” The only thing that saved me was I enjoyed listening to and playing the same kind of music my father did, and we bonded over that.

    I was the only person in my family to go to college, then afterward moved a day’s drive away. My parents finally split up while I was in college, and both are dead now.

    Meanwhile I have switched careers three times, held more jobs than the average (though never leaving a job until I had a new one lined up), have been married three times (twice choosing men who shared some of my mother’s emotional problems), and am still searching for “home” in my early 50s. The only time I managed to stay put was for my two daughters’ sake — after my first divorce I stayed in the same city for 12 years, until the youngest graduated from high school.

    Do you think this kind of thing can be helped? Is it really what I’m calling it, emotional claustrophobia?

    1. I’d want to hear more about the emotional claustrophobia part; do mean that you feel trapped by being emotionally connected to other (toxic) people and you “solve” it by geographically moving away? That makes sense to me. Yes, I think this can be helped, but you probably know what I think — it means long-term psychotherapy of a psychodynamic kind.

  19. It is so opportune that I stumbled on this thread on your blog, as I myself have felt a resurgence of anxiety in this phase of my psychoanalysis. As I delve more deeply in my analysis, bringing up things that cause much painful affect, my too familiar (neurotic) symptoms -anxiety being one of them- are cropping up with alarming frequency . This is distressing as I had thought that I’ve slayed some of those neurotic dragons, but perhaps, as my analyst has suggested, things will get worse before they get better. I am committed to staying the course in my analytic dyad, however, hoping that more self-awareness will be a good thing in the end!

    1. I always say that no part of us ever goes away, we just develop other parts that balance it out. As your sense of self expands, you can feel anxious but it isn’t necessarily overwhelming. Instead of trying to “slay that dragon,” think about how you can bear with it. I thought the metaphor given by another commenter, of fireworks going off in a closed room versus outside in a much larger space, was excellent.

  20. Just read this and it brought to mind a couple of things. First I do believe Freud described ‘evenly suspended attention’ as something to try to practice whilst listening to our patients/clients. I attempt to return to this over and over again. Freud also used walking, as a moving meditation. Jung absorbed himself in drawing mandalas later in life. It seems clear to me that so much of eastern philosophy seeped into early psychoanalytic ideas and set a light to a fuse which as been burning steadily ever since. Indeed when the major endocrine glands of the body were discovered, it turns out they corresponded to the chakra points of ancient Hindu philosophy. Now we have science discovering that early ‘trauma’ ‘neglect’ ’emotional mismatch etc. hampers the full development of the brain. Our early theorists, Freud and Klein were busily working this out in the 1900’s.
    Mindfullness may be a rather irritating faddish word, currently rather over used, but it is I feel a non threatening accessible way of helping those who struggle to link their body and mind. I have attended yoga classes for 10 years. I have witnessed people bloom, through the practice of linking mind and bodily sensations. At some point I think feelings became something to conquer, organise, deny, tuck away, when in fact feelings need to be felt.
    Including perhaps a full blown panic attack. Maybe sometimes the mind is screaming out, I feel over whelmed, frightened, sad , angry, please slow down and listen to me. I often think a panic attack is my mind slapping me in the face. The build up of adrenalin and cortisone floods into me and forces me to re evaluate something I’m in the midst of. I try to stay in a thinking mode.

    I am fascinated by somatic symptoms , both mine and others. I believe they are another royal road into the unconscious, as Freud would say.


    1. Can I just amend? At some point in western culture feelings became something to conquer, tuck away, deny etc. almost as though having feelings in themselves was shameful.

    2. In addition to all the interesting things you have to say — and I agree with all of it — I’d add that Wilfred Bion (of the Kleinian school) grew up in India and also brought quite a lot of Eastern thought to his psychoanalytic work. He wrote about listening to our clients “without desire or memory,” which links closely to Freud’s notion of evenly suspended attention.

  21. its interesting what youve written here. many meditation teachers say psychotherapy is not necessary to advance in meditation. one needs to quite the mind and use that quite mind to watch and understand their mind. the point of meditation is not to quite the mind. the point is to understand yourself using your quite mind.
    what do you think of this? does it make sense to you?

    1. It does make sense. I don’t believe that meditation is sufficient. I’ve known people who believed as much and they struck me as extremely false people, artificially “enlightened”. I agree, though, that the goal of meditation isn’t necessarily to quiet the mind but to observe what passes through without engaging in it. As a separate issue, as a therapeutic goal for me and my clients, trying to quiet certain defensive thought patterns is also useful.

  22. I enjoyed your post and did not realize that my very loud and continuous vverbal talk that i am plaqued with is a defence mechanism. The constant chatter thaat takes place in my head from the time I wake up till I sleep is exhausting me. I had read a little on here about mindfullness but when I tried to feel my breath and be conscious of my surroundings the other day,my inner chatter just swooshed those attempts away. Another thing that really connected with me during your comments and others is the fact that I am hardly ever aware of any other part of my body other than my head and my inner verbal dialogue and the inability to talk to someone about things so I quess I internalize. I need some serious silence so I can hear the life around me.

    1. You might want to consider taking part in the group study I’m beginning next month. A big part of it is to develop and strengthen the ability to pay attention to our senses and bodies, and also to silent that inner chatter.

  23. I’m taking an excellent MBSR [ John Cabot-Zinn inspired / Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction] course @ Duke Integrative Medicine now — so far it seems a really useful daily discipline for systematic stress management, &/or as an informal, ad lib compliment as needed. Meditators often continue to practice daily altered states more regularly than folks usually do on other paths of stress management, & they also often experience spiritual advantages.
    There are no long term studies of daily self-hypnosis as yet, however there is a solid body of good research in hypnosis which meditation teachers could benefit from studying. See Michael Yapko’s recent book, Mindfulness and Hypnosis. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of well known meditation teachers with poor social skills and abusive personal habits.
    When meditators say “non-striving”, or goal-less, I think they may forget they began meditation with the intention to relieve mind &/or body pain. And when one does a Compassion or Forgiveness meditation, are we not hoping to increase these fine qualities? When any mental/visual imagery is offered in guided meditation, it would be useful to recognize the major overlap with guided hypnotic imagery. Whatever we label it, altered states of consciousness using positive imagery are a very powerful approach to growth and healing.
    In hypnosis, we actively adjust internal images, definitions and beliefs, moving beyond simply noticing or being mindful of them. The complementarity of these approaches might better be acknowledged than ignored for spiritual considerations. Both offer understanding and relief, and hypnosis has gotten a bad rap over the decades from folks who have no idea what clinical hypnosis actually is. And I suppose most folks would rather follow the Dahli Lama’s examples than Svengali’s or Dracula’s or the disrespectful stage hypnotists. However, clinical hypnosis has no connection with those unpleasant associations, and has been repeatedly shown to strengthen therapeutic outcomes, especially in the Cognitive-Behavioral therapies currently in vogue – see Lynn — Introduction To Clinical Hypnosis from a CBT/evidence supported point of view.

  24. It makes great sense. You have put to words a phenomenon I felt but had difficulty describing. When I work with clients, instead of being frighted at my performance, how I come across, what I’m going to say etc. I get a sense of calm and peace that you describe so well. It’s counter intuitive, as I am usually very shy and introverted. Instead of draining my batteries, seeing clients back to back fills them up. I think for while I am utterly un self conscious and out of my head, trying to merge neutrally with my client. Oddly the more I let go of being the expert, the more help my clients receive. I see it happen to both of us.
    Now I’m seeing that peace follow me around when I’m out of work, in the real world, and I like it.

  25. It is so very true that anxiety makes you feel like you are “boxed-in” and you lose awareness of the outside world. I too suffered from this for years and felt like a prisoner of my own mind. Practicing “mindfulness” can help slowly bring you back to reality and finally the enjoyment of freedom in its truest sense. The biggest hurdle I had to overcome was the mindfulness of the actual anxiety, but once I overcame that part of the hill life got so much easier and rewarding!

  26. Mindfulness was originally practiced not as a therapeutic technique but as a way to end the cycle of death and rebirth.

    It should be used with caution as with sufficient practice one is quite likely to experience disruptive, mystical states of mind and fundamental shifts in one’s sense of self. These can include a loss of one’s sense of agency and sense of being an entity separate from anything else. In a lot of cases, that is the intended purpose, though outside of the appropriate context, people can find this disturbing. With some people, it does not take much practice at all to have these effects.

    As well, when someone has repressed memories, including traumatic ones, it is quite likely that they will surface when sufficient calm is achieved.

    Mindfulness can be beneficial in a lot of ways, but it is by no means a perfectly benign practice and it can quite possibly be disruptive.

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