Terror registers in the body as uncontrollable heart-thumping anxiety. Mastery of terror is the resumption of voluntary control over the short-circuited nervous system. This mastery involves a transmutation of powerful energies that creates highly resilient nervous system circuitry to handle the emotional impact of the greatest stressors in life.
Voluntary control requires the participation of one’s conscious ego in directing one’s response to terror. Though the order of actions to be taken are unique to one’s personal experience, each of the following are likely to be part of one’s process.
Redirect the racing mind: Oftentimes, the mind responds to anxiety by projecting and imagining scenarios that invite intensified fear to the body. This can generate repetitive cycles of overpowering future projections and ever-heightening anxiety.
The mind, in an attempt to bring order into chaos, gets helplessly trapped on the mental plane, seeking a mental narrative that will extinguish the fire in the body. In so doing, the mind dissociates from the body’s experience, and actually contributes to its distress through its mental imaginings.
Shut down mental processing by redirecting attention to the body.
Direct the breath. Breathe into the abdominal cavity. Allow the stomach to expand, like filling up a balloon. Keep the focus on the breath; refuse to engage thought. Be accepting of any amount of breath that enters the lower part of the body.
Keep breathing into the abdomen, noticing its ability to take in more air. When possible, begin to introduce counting. Occupy the mind with this task: Breathe in to the count of 4. Hold the breath for a count of 8. Exhale to the count of 8. Repeat this cycle, incessantly. Gradually this breathing exercise will shift one’s brainwaves into a more relaxed alpha state.
The Recapitulation Breath. Turn your head as much as you comfortably can to the left. Fully exhale, then immediately begin a full inhalation as you turn your head, in pace with your breath, all the way to the right side. Pause slightly as you reverse direction and begin a complete exhalation, fanning your head back to the left side. Pause, ever so slightly, and begin again a full inhalation as you turn your head back to the right, then exhaling back again to the left. Repeat this pattern as long as you wish, adjusting the pace to what feels right.
Send direct commands to the subconscious. The subconscious is command central for the CNS and all the organs of the body. It operates with default programs on automatic pilot unless redirected by the conscious mind to do otherwise. Speak directly to the heart: “Heart, slow down your beating.” State this command with the cadence you intend it to beat at. Restate this suggestion rotely, adjusting the pace and intensity of the words to the needs of your experience.
Broaden attention and suggestions to the entire body. If possible lie down, allowing the body to be fully supported and able to release. Bring attention to the feet. State: “my feet are calming, my feet are relaxed.” Restate this suggestion. Notice the release of tension, the tingling of warmth in your feet.
Proceed to the legs. Bring present awareness to the sensations in the calf muscles. State the direction: “My calf muscles are calming, my calf muscles are relaxed.” Repeat this suggestion. Notice the body’s response. Move on to the thigh muscles, torso, stomach, heart, shoulders, arms, fingers, back, neck, head, face, eyes, and jaw. When finished, start over again.
At bedtime, direct the mind to place its concerns on the shelf of tomorrow. Now is the time for restorative sleep. Refuse thoughts that tempt reentry into processing. Trust the powers of deep restorative sleep to care for the overall needs of the self. Let go to the higher power of sleep.
If sleep is not possible, or if it is the time to be awake, direct the self to be fully present and engaged in the task it is undertaking. Refuse the mind’s slip into trancelike imaginative thoughts that reactivate fears. Decide when the time will be in the day to take the issue of concern off the shelf for consideration. Remind the self throughout the day to stay present to now, and that one’s appointment with thoughtful consideration of the issue will take place later, at the designated appropriate time.
Show up for your appointment. You have successfully strengthened your CNS circuitry through the above practices. Nonetheless, the completion of mastery requires that you reenter the experience that first generated terror. Valarie Kaur, in her book See No Stranger, presents many examples of successful entry into challenging encounters despite a somewhat accelerated heartbeat.
Oftentimes, terror occurs on the cusp of recapitulating an activated trauma from earlier in life. Mastery of that trauma ultimately requires that we reenter the fullness of that unprocessed experience and tame it. Armed with the above mentioned tools, as well as other needed supports, one’s present-self gradually calms the CNS and neutralizes the emotional intensity of the trauma.
This is mastery. The trauma becomes merely a fact of one’s life that no longer holds one captive to its terror. The energy of terror is now transmuted into the maturity of mastery.