The very thing that terrifies you is where your treasure lies

09/06/2016 10:40 am ET Updated Sep 07, 2017

In 2009 I had "tinnitus," i.e. ringing in my ear. I went through a battery of tests -- hearing tests, even an MRI scan. The doctors couldn't help me. Thank God it eventually went away on its own, but it took months. It scared the hell out of me in the meantime.

That same year I took a class in mindfulness-based stress reduction. I learned how to focus on my breath and slow my heart rate. I learned to do walking meditation. I bought and listened to Guided Mindfulness Meditation series 1 of mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn. But the most profound thing that came out of that class was a skill that I'll refer to as peeling away the layers of an onion. It was on one particular occasion: at four in the morning, when I was really sick, my mind was racing, and I couldn't sleep even though I desperately wanted to. First I slowed my heart rate. Then I was able to distinguish that I had 7 distinct thoughts simultaneously and quiet them one by one -- like the thoughts were strands of a rope I was unraveling one at a time. It was quite a surreal experience; actually it really scared me.

I didn't see the connection between the mindfulness and the tinnitus until today, seven years later. I was watching a talk by Jonathan Fields, of the super-popular Good Life Project podcast. In the video, Jonathan describes his experience with tinnitus, which unfortunately never went away for him like it did for me. He tried so many things, and none of them worked. Then he tried mindfulness. He ran headlong into acceptance of the ceaseless sounds in his head by focusing on the sounds themselves instead of his breath. The very thing he was running away from he eventually embraced. Tinnitus became his gateway into mindfulness, and it changed his life fundamentally. Jonathan shared this quote from Joseph Campbell, which touches my soul:

"It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for. The damned thing in the cave that was so dreaded has become the center. You find the jewel, and it draws you off."

This reminds me of something I learned from the monks in India on a trip to Oneness University. The Oneness monk said, "Let the tiger devour you." Whether you're feeling fear, anxiety, pain, or some other uncomfortable feeling -- instead of running from it, trying to dissipate it or repress it, let the tiger devour you. Just let the feeling engulf you. That's where the freedom lies.