Transforming pain into wisdom requires fierce devotion and an undefended heart.
I write this to you from my deepest experience of grace, which is to say the flip-side of my greatest suffering. This is a love letter, a confessional, an offering to my demons. And if any of the following resonates for you, it is an offering to your demons too.
As I have heard from Lama Tsultrim Allione, in Tibetan Buddhism there is a mandala of the enlightened feminine that includes five Dakini families. In this lifetime I am the poster child for the Padma Dakini family.
The Padma family person is like a rolling summer landscape, lush and verdant, full of hidden coves and grottos, perfect for things like making love. She embodies the quality of seductiveness. The encumbered mind of the Padma person carries a deep longing for union, and she seeks that union voraciously in her relationships with others. That is where her suffering thrives—and where the possibility for transformation lives.
So it’s no surprise that this story begins with a love affair. Not just a love affair, the love affair. We met a month before he was leaving for an indefinite trip to India. It was the union I have craved my entire life. It was Shiva/Shakti incarnate. It was the answer to 37 years of my prayers to experience divine love in this body on this planet. It was complete illumination, wrapped up in breathtaking beauty. No, really, that happened.
And then the human part kicked in.
It is our collective karma to see that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, right? Take all that white hot love intensity, multiply it by the number of samsaric relationship patterns two people have collected by the time they hit their mid-30s and you’ll get a pretty good picture of the shadow side that reared its ugly head. Our final communication was via text message and went something like this:
Me: Can we please see each other before you leave? For closure.
Him: No. I’m very busy. But I energetically release you from our connection and wish you well.
Me: Seriously? You’re “releasing” me energetically in a text message? Go to India then, you fucking frat boy wrapped in mala beads. I hope you shit your white linen pants.
That’s when the real work began. I’ve had a broken heart before but nothing like this. When past relationships ended I could take solace in the sense that there was something missing in them and, therefore, there was something better on the horizon. But here I could not see that. My fantasy lover had been signed, sealed and delivered. There was no part of him or our connection that I resisted. It was perfect. And then—pow! He was gone. Like really, totally, completely gone.
And here’s the worst part: I created this. All of it.
In collusion with my soul, for the purpose of evolution and healing, I made all this happen. Me. It was unbearable. And there was no getting out of it.
As the weeks unfolded, each day brought with it a new horror. All the old feelings of abandonment, betrayal, self-loathing, jealousy, anger, shame and grief marched through my heart in battalions. There was no stopping them, there was no controlling the pain. The only relief came through two specific meditation practices, Tonglen and Feeding Your Demons, both of which prescribe opening to one’s suffering completely so that it might be transformed.
What I understand is this: while my pain feels quite personal, it’s not. It’s collective. At the root of it all, each of us is looking for the same thing—to remember who and what we are: primordial, pulsating, radiant energy that creates all material form out of the quality of its own mind. This life is a trick, it’s a game we’ve created. Currently we like it to see things get fucking bloody before we become willing to change the quality of our minds. It’s only when we are devastated and traumatized beyond repair that we are willing to play a kinder, more joyful game. In the case of the encumbered mind within a Padma family person, romantic love is just a metaphor for what is happening on this planet in every sense.
It’s up to us: we change the game only by changing the quality of our minds.
When it comes to changing the quality of one’s mind, sometimes meditation alone won’t cut it. I asked my teacher for ways to purify my sexual and relationship karma. One of the empowerments she gave me is a vow of celibacy. When you take this vow, you take with it the other Layman’s Vows too, meaning you won’t kill another human or a human fetus, you won’t take intoxicants, you won’t steal, you won’t lie about your spiritual experiences…and you won’t have sex or masturbate.
This is a way of giving yourself and others a break from objectification, need and desire so that there’s space to heal. With great tenderness, you might become the priestess/priest of your own awakening, facing all your deepest longings with bravery and clarity.
This love letter comes to you from a heart that is freshly broken open again, from a mind that is temporarily stunned into submission. This morning I received an email from my (former) beloved. He is home. He is in a new relationship.
With the realization that there is still much more to let go of, I again ask myself, how do I best serve this blindingly uncomfortable feeling of groundlessness? How do I transform this pain into wisdom? I have found there is only one answer: the transformation of the encumbered Padma person’s mind is discernment. With fierce devotion and an undefended heart, I must feel all of this… and love myself inside of it as much as I loved that beautiful and temporary partner I created so many months ago.
Safia Radha Ohlson is a writer, yogini and aspiring sky dancer living in Santa Barbara, California.
Editor: Alexandra Grace