As the shockwaves of the attack here in Manchester continue to ripple out across the world, I am aware of an undercurrent of fear that is trying to settle within me. Tomorrow is a friend’s birthday and we have arranged to meet in Manchester, and I have to admit that I am scared. This is exactly what terror attacks are meant to do of course: to terrorise us. So how can I respond in a way that offers a peaceful resistance, and how can I transform my fear into something positive? Mindfulness is ultimately a method of healing and transformation, so what can mindfulness do for fear?
Personally I always turn towards my fear with compassion in order to understand it, then use gratitude and appreciation to help transform it. I metaphorically give myself a hug and acknowledge that my fear is a reasonable response to what has happened. Then I focus on the reassuring pattern of my breathing to calm my body and mind, so that I can think more clearly. I realise that I am watering the seeds of fear that lie within me by dwelling on the horror of what has happened, and so instead I focus on watering the seeds of inner strength that I feel I need at the moment. By this I mean that I focus my attention on the sensations of feeling strong and secure: so that then I can look at my fear from a safe place. There is a particular meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh that I use for this purpose called the Pebble Meditation.
Suddenly I realise that my fear is directed towards other people. Who are these strangers that I will be surrounded by tomorrow? Does one or more of them wish me harm? Is somebody, somewhere, plotting to kill me? As my thoughts follow this path I am immediately back to watering those seeds of fear in myself. My stomach tightens and my breathing becomes shallower. I pause, bring my thoughts back to my breathing and again water those seeds of safety, security and inner strength whilst I wait for the fear to subside, like a wave that peaks and gently drops away.
This mindful exercise has brought me the insight that I need in order to transform that fear: instead of being scared of other people, what can I find to appreciate about them? So here is what I have so far, much of which is inspired by the actions of those around me over the last few days.
What do I appreciate about other people, particularly at the moment?
- Their kindness
- Their compassion
- The way they are reaching out in practical ways to help those in need
- The strength and unity that they display
- The peaceful gatherings and messages of support
- Their determination to draw together instead of apart
- The creative ways people are finding to help each other and move forwards
…… and already, within just a few minutes, instead of being frightened I am looking forward to going into the city and experiencing these aspects of the atmosphere for myself. I will not stay at home, feeling frightened. I appreciate the fact that I live in Manchester, a multicultural city with an open heart and an open mind: and I’m looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow.
I wish you every happiness.