I was in India, staying with a relative, in a house with multiple floors and an elevator that can fit four people. One day, a cousin and I got stuck in this tiny elevator. When we reached the destination and expected the doors to open, they stayed closed and then the lights went out.
Playing the scene back from memory now in slow motion, I see –
My heart beating fast and loud! My fingers pushing several buttons, hoping one would do the trick and let us out, to no avail. Noticing that the inner doors had an opening of about 12 inches and the outer doors were shut with a gap of 2mm between them. Feeling grateful for these gaps. My voice announcing, “We have air! We have plenty of air! We are okay!” Remembering that elevators have fans, finding and pressing the fan button, hearing the fan sound, and my voice saying, “We also have circulation!” Guessing at which floor we were and knowing that chances were good that someone would hear us. Saying out loud, “Now we need to let someone know that we are stuck here.”
Reaching through the opening in the inner doors toward the outer doors and banging loudly on the outer doors. Getting my husband’s attention. Explaining the situation to him and asking him to get a technician. His concerned voice saying that he will be back with help. Feeling somewhat relieved, and starting a conversation with my elevator companion that went something like this --
“We have done our part and now help will be on the way. It's just a matter of time… How are you? Are you okay?”
“Not really. But it helped when you said ‘We have air!’
“We do! Also help is on the way! What are you feeling?
“Not Good! But I am glad you are with me.”
“How does 'not good' feel? Where are you feeling it in your body?
“I am afraid. I usually avoid elevators.”
“It’s okay to be afraid. Where and how in your body are you feeling this fear?
“My heart is pounding really hard! I don't know why this happens to me!”
“It happens to most people when they are scared. My heart was pounding too!”
“Really? But you seemed so calm!”
“Fear and stress make hearts beat faster, because our brain has evolved to help us run away from dangers of our caveman days, like tigers! It is giving a signal to the heart to pump more blood to our muscles to help us run away from the tiger! But we know that there is no tiger and we can’t run away. We just need to relax and wait until help comes. We are okay!
“But knowing this isn't helping! My heart is still pounding!”
“It will calm down eventually after some time. Let's not expect any quick fix. We have nothing to do and nowhere to go. Why not spend the time being mindful? It may help. What else are you feeling in the body?
“I feel something, a tightness, in my stomach area.”
“Okay! What is the shape of this tightness?”
“This sensation that you feel occupies some space in your body. What is the shape of that space? What else do you notice about it? What is its size? Is it deep or shallow? Is it painful?”
“Kind of irregular shape. Not painful but an uncomfortable pressure.
“Good! Can you breathe normally and naturally and feel your breath reaching there?
“Okay. I'll try… I am breathing and imagining that it is reaching there.”
“Don't try too hard. Just keep breathing normally and naturally, keeping a gentle attention on the area, knowing that your breath is reaching there as it reaches all parts of the body.”
(After a couple of minutes) “How does the tightness feel now? Is its shape the same or different?”
“It has diffused a little. It is still there but it feels different.”
“These sensations shift and change like fluid, don't they? But we mistakenly take them to be fixed, solid and permanent, especially when we are anxious.”
“I would have fainted by now if you were not here with me.”
“It is scary to be alone and fainting thoughts may show up. Mind is quick to carry us to the past and the future. But the body is in the present and is telling you what fear feels like, if you listen to it. You can keep coming back to the present moment experience in the body whenever you realize that thoughts have taken you for a ride. You can use the breath as your anchor, anytime, anywhere, even when it is stressful, like now. Keep breathing normally with a gentle attention on that tightness.”
A small crowd assembles outside the elevator. The 2mm gap widens at the bottom, through which fingers and tows appear. We hear concerned voices asking if we are okay. We assure them that we are fine. Someone has placed a fan outside and blowing air through the widened gap. Someone offers us water through a pipe in case we are thirsty. A stick is pushed in through the widened gap and someone struggles to slide it up the gap. The doors remain stubbornly shut. We wonder if they know what they are doing and if any of them is a technician. My husband assures us that they know what they are doing. Apparently, we can’t claim to be the first ones to be stuck in that elevator!
I check with my cousin. The distraction is helping her, she reports. We are asked by the crowd to press a button with a bell icon on it. Recalling where I had seen the bell icon, before darkness hid it, I press a button. A loud siren startles us. The siren magically transports the right technician to the scene within a few minutes.
Trusting our rescuers, we return to continue the mindfulness practice and lesson. How often does one get such an opportunity to practice mindfulness while stuck inside an elevator! How lucky is that!
Light comes back and eventually, after about 30 minutes or so, the doors open and we step out and join the cheering crowd.
January 11, 2018