I suffer intermittently from a widely suffered yet rarely diagnosed syndrome.  It’s called Prepositional Panic.  I thought I might describe the symptoms to you so that in case you suffer from the same ailment, you might seek treatment for your symptoms.


diagram illustrating prepositions above below behind under over

Those darned prepositions!

Those who suffer from Prepositional Panic might find that they suffer from a racing of the heart, feelings of nausea, and an overwhelming sensation of exhaustion when they utter the following  sentences including these key prepositional phrases:

  •  I need to get on top of my work
  •  I have to put this in back of me
  •  I need to get through this
  •  I’m falling behind in . . .
  •  I’m under a lot of pressure
  •  I’m in over my head
  •  I can’t seem to get ahead of . . .

So why does panic arise when we who suffer from Prepositional Panic say these words to ourselves or others? Well, think about it.  In all of these statements you are saying that you are either scrambling to get to the top, racing to get to the front, being crushed by something, or being defeated by something.  You are pushing, pulling, climbing, falling, and generally losing a battle. It’s no wonder your heart is palpitating!

But stop for a moment and ask yourself? Where is the top? Where is the front? Where is the resting point? Even if you make it to the front of the pack, won’t someone or something pass you if you stop and rest to take stock of your lead position?  Even if you are at the proverbial “top of the world” won’t you eventually have to make the trek downward?

The point is that there is no actual point at which we are “on top”, where everything is “behind us”, where are “ahead”.  It is an imaginary point that exists only in our heads. And it is constantly shifting so that even when we finally make it to the place where we imagined we would be, we find that Prepositional Panic begins to emerge and we begin to worry about the next imagined point of completion.

We are like the mythological Sisyphus who is fated to spend eternity pushing a boulder to the top of a mountain, only to have it roll back to the bottom just as he approaches the top.  It is a kind of self-imposed torment.

In Buddhist teaching, we are told that there is no above and no below.  And the discrimination between the two is a cause of great suffering.

Let’s put it in layperson’s terms.  I have four children.  And there is a lot of laundry to do.  I sometimes am under the impression that I need to get “to the bottom” of my laundry pile.  As soon as I have this thought, the Prepositional Panic sets in.  I try to “get through” the laundry.  And with a feeling of pressure in my head and a heaviness in my heart, I make my way through the laundry.  And just when I empty our the last hamper, the final towel is folded and the final single sock finds its partner . . . another piece of dirty laundry arrives in the hamper. And the very sound of that piece of laundry hitting the bottom of the hamper triggers feelings of resentment, exhaustion, and futility.  And so the short-lived victorious feeling of “being on top of my laundry” or “getting to the bottom of the pile” (you see? it really is arbitrary: when I am done am I “on the top” or “at the bottom”? How can I be both at once?) is replaced once again by Prepositional Panic symptoms.  I am a modern-day Sisyphus pushing my imaginary boulder up a mountain of dirty clothes.

So what’s the cure for those of us who suffer from this insidious syndrome?  It’s a new habit.  A simple mantra. When we find ourselves saying those prepositional phrases and then begin to feel the pressure in the head, the nausea rising, and the hear palpitations setting in – take a breath and repeat this ancient wisdom:

There is no above.  There is no below.  There is no before.  There is no after.  There is only this moment.  And this moment is eternal. 

And when in doubt . . . be like Buddha, not like Sisyphus. It’s much more relaxing.