As my head was strapped into position and I was handed the emergency 'Get me out of here' panic buzzer, my heart raced and the impending terror-thoughts loomed. The apparatus was enormous and yet the space for my body was surprisingly and unpleasantly small.
I had been here once before and was not given any warning when the machine sucked me in. I'd never considered myself claustrophobic before, but when I saw just how close the contraption was to my face (my nose was almost touching the top - and no, my nose isn't that big!) I disintegrated into waves of terror and panic.
I had to consciously employ every technique I had learnt over the years: I brought my attention to my breathing (which was somewhat rapid to say the least); reigned in my catastrophic thoughts; and took myself to a 'happy place'. It took a while, but I was watchful. Even though the machine was banging and juddering, I was attentive with my thoughts and managed to remain in the capsule for the full twenty minutes without pressing the panic button.
So many years later, I knew exactly what I would be climbing into - literally and metaphorically. I closed my eyes as soon as my head was locked and loaded. I watched how my body tensed as the appliance dragged me in. I noticed the - crazily self-destructive - urge to open my eyes just to see if it was still as claustrophobic. And, instead of succumbing, I brought my attention to my breathing, regulated it and slowly released the tension and sent relaxation down my legs until my feet flopped to the side. I then repeated the exercise with my arms as I noticed I was holding the panic button very tightly indeed!
When my hands were soft, I invited my heart to be drawn into 'Source' - a term Brandon Bays, mind-body healing expert, uses to name the unnameable which some call Light, Love, Divinity, and others call Peace or God. I simply call it Stillness. I focussed on the expansive presence, the boundless awareness that I experience as my true nature when I am profoundly still. I allowed my internal landscape to expand spaciously above and to all sides. I then could rest and let go.
Catastrophic thoughts are pesky things. They can sneak in the back door no matter how groovy you're being and side swipe you without a moment's notice. As the movements and clattering of the machine were erratic, those troublesome thoughts had more opportunity than usual to sneak in. So I chose to become curious about the thudding noises of the giant machine I was enveloped in.
Before I knew it, my imagination had flooded my mind with a really cool angelic DJ conducting a dance floor full of raving angels moshing to the beat of the scanner. My imagination even took me by surprise - which is saying something as I am rather used to its random wanderings! It made me laugh. I found myself with a broad smile on my face as I watched how the angels changed their dance style as the engine shifted gears and changed pounding rhythms. Hilarious!
Now this is freedom. No matter what your external circumstances, you can take charge of your internal landscape. You can take charge of your response to outer stimuli. You can be liberated in prison (like my mindful stress management students were) or you can be imprisoned in your everyday life.
As I was carefully extracted from the scanner, I was filled with immense gratitude for the mindful skills and heart-centred approaches I have learnt over the years. This is why I am so passionate about teaching young people, prisoners, teachers, parents (anyone and everyone actually!) these skills.
It may not be an MRI you have to undergo, it may be an interview, a parole board, exams or speaking out about a bully. If you're anything like me, you're not too keen on the dentist, and get nervous when trying to make a good impression (like a lesson observation or performance review). I am a big believer in getting real and applying solution-based approaches to every day tough stuff.
Today I was reminded just how fortunate I am to know and practice present moment awareness. I also recognised how powerful my imagination is and how much I take it for granted.
I say explore Mindfulness and don't get too hung up on getting it 'right'. Just be present, be curious and have fun. It might just save your sanity and help you cope with the crazy roller coaster of life we ride.