Living with demons

We live with demons everyday. They are our innermost fears, burdens, afflictions. They are also reflected in our environment in frequently unpleasant ways. 

When we come face to face with our fears, like with monsters and demons, we are first repulsed…and our human wiring prompts us to freeze, flee, or fight. This innate reaction was shaped from so many generations of ancestors who often had to deal with threats in the physical environment. But nowadays, how often do we suddenly find ourselves confronting a ravage animal?

And throughout our human history, we are taught to choose fight. This continues to be fed by stories about heros who slayed the monster, told to soothe our fears. It’s hard not to enjoy the occasional superhero blockbuster hit. They remind us of the satisfaction in feeling we can meet the enormity of our fear with an equal intensity. That feels like strength.  

Sometimes the way forward or through is not with fight. How often have we gotten into shouting matches, each person escalating their voice hoping the other will back down… yet that rarely happens. Emotions such as anger are normal and reasonable in many scenarios. But choosing to inflict violence reinforces only one message..that it is the most effective solution.

And in our innermost reality, how often do the anxieties and insecurities we resist the most come back to haunt us? No matter how much we try to beat them back, how often do illnesses and addictions flare back with the right trigger?  We get highjacked by flight/freeze/fight when we are taken over by fear. 

If we drop the battle and struggle, what remains?  Can we dare to find ways to reroute that energy into a non-violent force…another experience of strength? 

In the 11th century, a legendary Tibetan buddhist practitioner, yogini and teacher, Machig Labdron, developed a drastically different approach for confronting our demons…aka the fears, insecurities, addictions, emotional traumas that cling to us. Another way to think about it is that demons are the parts of the ego that we subconsciously cling to. Demons show up for each of us, whether we invite them or not.

Her method of Chöd asks us to visualize one of our demons as if it were sitting in front of us. And instead of slaying it with violence, we practice sitting with it and understanding what it wants and what it needs. After a while, the compassion that builds helps to visualize feeding the demon with our corporeal body. We feed the demon until it is satiated. Until it finds peace.

We can practice Chöd as often as needed, until we see clearly that these demons are a part of what we are, don’t need to be feared any longer, and so we can integrate their energy. With enough practice, a demon no longer can hijack our minds or hearts. 

What we resist persists. Fight the demon, and it reciprocates with more ferocity. Like that stranger we got into a yelling match with on a crabby early morning in the crowded subway car. 

By not choosing to fight the demon, we cease to make it stronger. Rather, we make ourselves stronger and more fearless. 

If you try this meditation/visualization, let me know how it goes. If you would like support, also reach out. We can also connect in one of the two breathwork group sessions scheduled for this month.

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