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From the Files of Ron Farmer  
CASE OF TERRIFYING PANIC ATTACKS BROUGHT ON BY WORK-STRESS

When we first met Robyn she was a young mother with a beautiful two-year-old daughter. To support her husband’s completion of post-doctoral studies she worked for several months as a social worker in a domestic violence section of a government department seeing up to fifty-five people a week. She returned home each day emotionally fragile and exhausted. When the first panic attacks started she took three weeks off work and came to see my wife Suwanti and I for psychotherapy.

At the time of our first session the panic attacks were increasing in frequency and intensity, and spreading into high-level pervasive anxiety which was always present – she was living in constant fear of having the next panic attack. Intrusive catastrophic thoughts were already taking their toll as relatively minor fears were exaggerated by her over-reacting nervous system into terrifying possibilities.

When we first met Robyn she was a young mother with a beautiful two-year-old daughter. To support her husband’s completion of post-doctoral studies she worked for several months as a social worker in a domestic violence section of a government department seeing up to fifty-five people a week. She returned home each day emotionally fragile and exhausted. When the first panic attacks started she took three weeks off work and came to see my wife Suwanti and I for psychotherapy.

At the time of our first session the panic attacks were increasing in frequency and intensity, and spreading into high-level pervasive anxiety which was always present – she was living in constant fear of having the next panic attack. Intrusive catastrophic thoughts were already taking their toll as relatively minor fears were exaggerated by her over-reacting nervous system into terrifying possibilities.

Firstly we assured her that she was not going insane, and would not harm her child nor would she commit suicide, and so on for all of the nightmarish ‘what ifs’ that were jumping into her mind repeatedly. We advised her to discard all plans of returning to any form of emotionally-demanding work, because she was a very sensitive soul and her nervous system was not able to cope with such a highly-charged work-environment. We shared with her the advice of some yoga schools in India that a person in a ‘helping’ profession should not see more than nine people a week if they have severe emotional problems.

After these few words I told Robyn that she had entered into a process of ‘nervous breakthrough’ which was akin to a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, or a seed breaking out of its shell to begin its life as a new tree. I said to her something like:


Firstly we assured her that she was not going insane, and would not harm her child nor would she commit suicide, and so on for all of the nightmarish ‘what ifs’ that were jumping into her mind repeatedly. We advised her to discard all plans of returning to any form of emotionally-demanding work, because she was a very sensitive soul and her nervous system was not able to cope with such a highly-charged work-environment. We shared with her the advice of some yoga schools in India that a person in a ‘helping’ profession should not see more than nine people a week if they have severe emotional problems.

After these few words I told Robyn that she had entered into a process of ‘nervous breakthrough’ which was akin to a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, or a seed breaking out of its shell to begin its life as a new tree. I said to her something like:

The old ‘you’ is breaking down. Your destiny is demanding that you let go of your habitual way of regarding yourself and the world around you. The minor anxieties and resentments which have automatically governed your life up until now are being presented to you in an exaggerated form. Fear at this intensity demands that you change; it is a powerful incentive to take control of the mind.

 Up until this point in your life you have lived like most other people, believing that who you are can be described by what you think. You have never had to assume control over your thoughts – in fact, instead of you being the master and the mind your servant, it has been the other way around with you doing the bidding of whatever your mind said. This is how the world operates and it is the cause of all of the suffering endured by the vast multitude. But now life, destiny, God, your Higher Self, is demanding that you change. To get through this terrifying ordeal, to allow this transformation into a new person to take place, you will need to become a ‘master-mind’, one who can decide every moment what thoughts are permitted to enter the mind. To achieve this you will need to learn how to meditate. We will show you how. It’s quite simple.


At this point I gave the analogy of sitting in a boat to cross the stormy seas – life with all of its waves of emotion was the ocean, and the intrusive terrifying thoughts were the sharks. The ‘boat’ had to be created by focusing on the breath while repeating silently a mantra or affirmation of higher Truth.

Every few minutes Robyn would tell us how difficult it was for her, how she was so frightened, fearful that the waves of fear would never stop. I reassured her that the meditation we were about to design and engage in would give her relief.

I asked her, if she had a magic wish, what emotion she would like to experience, every moment, for the rest of her life. Without hesitation she replied, “Love”.


I then asked her which emotion she would like to banish from her life forever so that she never felt it again. “Fear. I want to get rid of this awful fear,” she replied.

Now we had the basis for her mantra or words of Truth which would build her a ‘boat’ to sit in as she recited them in time with the breath. So we began the meditation. I said:


Close the eyes…. Let the body relax …. Observe the body breathing…. As thoughts come, just let them go like leaves in the wind, and return the attention to the breath…. Now put your attention at a point just above the crown of your head…. Keep observing the breath…. Now, each time you breath in, repeat silently in the mind, ‘I breath in love’….


After a few breaths I asked her to keep doing the meditation while I explained something to her. I said.


I know that you believe that God is all there is. God created everything out of God, so all is God. You know that God is love, so everything is love. Love is what holds the stars together and the planets in their orbit. Every cell in our body is full of love. Every molecule of air is full of love. So when you say, ‘I breathe in love’, you are reminding yourself of the eternal truth, that you are Love.


Robyn continued with the ‘I breathe in love’ mantra for a few minutes with occasional reminders from me to return her attention to the energy center or chakra above her scalp. Then I told her to add the second part of her mantra, ‘I let go fear’, each time she breathed out. Her concentration was good; the body had become still and the breathing regular. I asked her to continue repeating, ‘I breathe in love… I let go fear’, with the in and out breaths while I gave her more explanation. I said something like:


Underneath all that we feel there are really only two emotions, love and fear, and fear is but the shadow of love. A shadow is not real; it is simply an absence of light; something is blocking the light. In the same way, your fear is not real; it is simply an absence of love; something is stopping you feeling the vast ocean of love that lies within you.. Each time you say, ‘I let go fear’, you are instructing the deeper levels of your mind to let go of all of those prejudices and preferences which are preventing you from experiencing the love that you really are. This fear does not belong to you. It is not you. You can let it go in the same way as you wash the mud off a diamond.


Now that Robyn was habitually repeating the mantra while observing the breath, I instructed her to ‘push the stomach out as you breathe in’ a few times. This ‘yogic breathing’ is particularly valuable for those experiencing the effects of hyperventilation precipitated by the waves of fear. Just ten or so breaths of this adjusted pattern of breathing is sufficient three or four times a day, being cautious not to change too drastically the life-long patterns of breathing.

After perhaps fifteen minutes since we began the meditation I asked Robyn to open her eyes when she was ready, but to continue as much as possible to keep her attention focused on the upper chakra while repeating her mantra. She reported that this short meditation had given her the first relief from fear and head tension since the panics began two weeks earlier.

We advised Robyn to practice ‘sitting in the boat’ as often as possible, otherwise she would be ‘in the water’ and at the mercy of the waves of fear and the ‘sharks’ (intrusive catastrophic thoughts). We also told her of the value of ingesting the tissue salt, Kali Phos, for soothing the nervous system and showed her how to breathe for a minute or so into a brown paper bag to counter the excess oxygen brought on by hyperventilation.

Robyn left this first session feeling much relieved and hopeful that she would soon recover. However that was not to be. Although she could readily calm down in our face-to-face sessions, away from us she was stricken with a return of the waves of fear and catastrophic thinking. The constant apprehension brought on sleeplessness and an inability to eat sufficiently. We had two more sessions during the following two weeks, and then many long phone conversations, some in the early hours of the morning and others while we were overseas in India for a month. What follows are some of the explanations of the ‘breakthrough’ process and suggestions for self help therapy that we offered her during these twenty or so calls over a period of six weeks:


Fear is the door to the unknown
. The Sufis (mystical followers of esoteric Islam) say that when fear comes it provides both an incentive and an opportunity to enter into a new way of regarding ourselves and the world. Their words are: ‘Fear is the door to the unknown. Unbolt that door and step through into a new world of love, beauty and truth.’ There is no greater incentive than fear to make us search for ‘truth’. Terror-saturated fear demands relief. It is so distressing that, if we choose not to sedate ourselves with drugs, we have to experiment: exploring this philosophy, trying that meditation, repeating these affirmations and changing those ways of relating to the world.

Don’t let the pig in the door . I reminded Robyn that most people in the world do not have any control over the thoughts that enter their mind. In the words of the great Russian mystic, G.I. Gurdjief, we are like pre-programmed robots, fast ‘asleep’ while our thoughts and emotions dictate our activities. Because of what was happening to her, Robyn could no longer afford to allow any and all thoughts to enter her mind. Using an analogy, I asked her to consider what it would be like if she was living in a farmhouse with all sorts of animals grazing around. If she heard a thumping at the door and discovered that it was a pig, she would not let the pig into the house – once it was in it would create havoc and be very difficult to get rid of.

In the same way her destiny was demanding that she discriminate which thoughts she would allow to enter her mind. ‘Pig thoughts’ were those which immediately elicited that sickening clutch of dread in her stomach (”Will I go insane? I can’t cope anymore. Am I getting worse? Will I hurt my daughter?” and so on.) Such thoughts should not be allowed to enter the mind at all. Like the pig, they will make their presence known, demanding entry; but they cannot be entertained for even one second, otherwise the consequences in suffering are severe indeed. Only ‘good’ thoughts – ones which produced feelings of hope, love, relief, and so on – should be allowed to take up residence in the mind. As soon as a ‘pig thought’ presented itself, it was to be banished immediately with the internal command of ‘Stop! Stop! Stop!’, repeated with much force and determination, until the thought went away. As soon as this was accomplished, she was to return to ‘sitting in your boat’, repeating her mantra in time with the breath.

All thoughts come from God . Because Robyn was very spiritual I suggested to her that, since God created everything from God, then all of our thoughts, even our very worst thoughts, must be from God. I said:


We can imagine working at a conveyor belt in a giant recycling plant. Our task is to let all of the rubbish roll on past, only taking off the belt those items which are valuable. In the same way God sends this stream of thoughts, mostly rubbish, some terrifying, and just a few which are noble, elevating, reassuring and loving. Each and every thought has to be examined to see if it is worthy of keeping; if not, we let it go, even insisting on it going if it persists. In this way the thoughts which, one by one, are permitted to remain gradually bring about a purified mind. Only in this way, when the mind is free of ignoble and fearful thoughts, can selfless love flow uninterrupted out to the world around us.


You are ready for this
. It is common to us all that when we find ourselves immersed in unending suffering we lament, “This is not fair…. It should not be happening to me … I can’t handle this anymore… I can’t cope”, and other such pleas, perhaps to an unseen God. And yet the esoteric scriptures tell us that, whatever happens, we have the wisdom and skill to deal with it.

There are two examples to illustrate this reassurance: The first describes the student who has studied the set work all year and then sits for the examination. The material in the exam is based only on that studied throughout the year. Similarly the lessons of life come our way; we gain in wisdom and common sense; then we are given the appropriate testing. So we can say, when the crisis comes, ”I am ready for this. It may not seem so at first, but I have within me all the skills required to win through this ordeal.”

The second analogy is that of the yogi or ‘seeker’ who searches for and finds his spiritual teacher high up in the mountains of ice and snow. His master shows him to a cave and gives him a mantra meditation the effect of which is that the body stays warm regardless of the weather. After twelve years of ceaseless practice the yogi goes to his guru and says he is ready to be tested. He is instructed to sit outside in the sub-zero snow, without clothes, for the next two days. Can we imagine the yogi saying, “This is not fair. I can’t cope. It shouldn’t be happening to me?” No, quite the opposite; he would be affirming, “I can do this. I am ready for it. This is what I have trained for these past many years.” In the same way, regardless of our trials and tribulations, we too can say, “Yes. Yes. Yes. I know I am ready for this.”


Several months later
. It is now seven months since our first session with Robyn. Most of the time she is free of fear and catastrophic thinking. She attributes her recovery mainly to meditation. As well as using our CDs, Robyn studied the wonderful book by Pauline McKinnon, ‘In Stillness Conquer Fear’, a personal account of a journey out of severe panic attacks. Another helpful book was that by Dr. Ainslie Meares, ‘Relief without Drugs’ (now out of print but available in some libraries) .

Robyn also gained reassurance during times of unrelenting anxiety – despairing about whether she would ever recover – by reading personal accounts on the internet of the ups and downs of fellow sufferers and their final recovery from months and even years of panic attacks. Robyn had used a mild tranquilizer at a low dose for some of her journey, weaning herself off it gradually as she gained in confidence that she could be master of her mind.

When I asked Robyn what changes the ‘nervous breakthrough’ has brought into her life, she told me:


“Whereas before I would avoid speaking in front of a group of even my friends – now I am quite at ease. I am no longer concerned that others will think that what I say is silly.

Also, I used to have quite a lot of envy and jealousy and this would come out as anger and resentment. That has largely gone now as I feel a lot more at ease with myself. I feel confident and I can now be more open in expressing my love.

Finally, having gone through these experiences I now feel I am older and wiser and I can be helpful to some friends who are anxious about various things.”


Although it will be a few months before these gains are consolidated Robyn is confident that, with regular meditation and prayer now part of her everyday life, she can venture forth into her life with a new sense of freedom to be herself.

A poem by Dr. Ainslie Meares aptly describes the journey of transformation experienced by Robyn:

Some run for shelter,
The Tree holds firm
And sways with the storm,
The eagle is borne higher and higher.


Relevant CDs:

Mastering Fear
Self Esteem
Nervous Breakthrough
Simple Meditation