A few years ago I was overwhelmed by deep anxiety, a fundamental intense anxiety with no storyline attached. I felt very vulnerable, very afraid and raw. While I sat and breathed into it, relaxed into it, stayed with it, the terror did not abate. It was unrelenting even after many days, and I didn’t know what to do.
I went to see my teacher Dzigar Kongtrul, and he said, “Oh, I know that place.” That was reassuring. He told me about times in his life when he had been caught the same way. He said it had been an important part of his journey and had been a great teacher for him. Then he did something that shifted how I practice. He asked me to describe what I was experiencing. He asked me where I felt it. He asked me if it hurt physically and if it were hot or cold. He asked me to describe the quality of the sensation, as precisely as I could. This detailed exploration continued for a while and then he brightened up and said, “Ani Pema, that’s the Dakini Bliss. That’s a high level of spiritual bliss.” I almost fell off my chair. I thought “Wow, this is great!” And I couldn’t wait to feel that intensity again. And do you know what happened? When I eagerly sat down to practice, of course, since the resistance was gone, so was the anxiety.
I now know that at a nonverbal level the aversion to my experience had been very strong. I had been making the sensation bad. Basically, I just wanted it to go away. But when my teacher said, “Dakini Bliss,” it completely changed the way I looked at it. So that’s what I learned: take an interest in your pain and your fear. Move closer, lean in, get curious; even for a moment experience the feelings beyond labels, beyond being good or bad. Welcome them. Invite them. Do anything that helps melt the resistance.
Then the next time you lose heart and you can’t bear to experience what you’re feeling, you might recall this instruction: change the way you see it and lean in. That’s basically the instruction Dzigar Kongtrul gave me. And now I pass it on to you. Instead of blaming our discomfort on outer circumstances or our own weakness, we can choose to stay present and awake to our experience, not rejecting it, not grasping it, not buying the stories we relentlessly tell ourselves. This is priceless advice that addresses the true cause of suffering- yours, mine and that of all living beings.
– Pema Chödrön