The In-Between State, March 25th, 2009

Ane Pema Chodron

We are told about the pain of chasing after pleasure and the futility of running from pain. We hear also about the joy of awakening, of realizing our interconnectedness, of trusting the openness of our hearts and minds. But we aren’t told all that much about this state of being in-between, no longer able to get our old comfort from the outside but not yet dwelling in a continual sense of equanimity and warmth.

Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state. It’s the kind of place we usually want to avoid. The challenge is to stay in the middle rather than make us more rigid and afraid. Becoming intimate with the queasy feeling of being in the middle of nowhere only makes our hearts more tender. When we are brave enough to stay in the middle, compassion arises spontaneously. By not knowing, not only hoping to know, and not acting like we know what’s happening, we begin to access our inner strength.

Yet it seems reasonable to want some kind of relief. If we can make the situation right or wrong, if we can pin it down in any way, then we are on familiar ground. But something has shaken up our habitual patterns and frequently they no longer work. Staying with volatile energy gradually becomes more comfortable than acting it out or repressing it. This open-ended tender place is called bodhichitta. Staying with it is what heals. It allows us to let go of our self-importance. It’s how the warrior learns to love.

-Pema Chodron, from The Places That Scare You (Shambhala Publications)

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Anxiety, heartbreak and tenderness is what is within today so I am so grateful to hear this teaching and to be able to put it into perspective. It is one thing to understand this intellectually but to be it is another kettle of fish.

However, this is what I needed to here. To stay with it, gently and lovingly and know that I am not depressed which is the thought tendency.

The path of the warrior is indeed to stay and not run away.

Thank you.

derek_a's picture

It seems this in-between place can last many years and I have taken solace from sayings I have read from the Zen masters of old. I particularly remember one that talked about "sitting for a 1000 lifetimes may be needed to reach enlightenment". That really got me focusing on the journey and not the destination. In my in-between place, my ego seems to attack through bodily pain and discomfort during zazen and often through the day as more and more mindfulness develops. Yet as you say, I cannot return to the lower level of consciousness I experienced before, because although ignorance may have then been bliss, it was still ignorance just the same.

Now I have the "iron ball" I cannot swallow or bring back up again. :-) Derek