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This article is an addendum to the Feb 12, 2012 Study Group Notes from Heather Martin.
Feeding Your Demons - Tsultrim Allione
Five steps to transforming your obstacles—your addictions, anxieties,
and fears—into tranquility and wisdom, from Tsultrim Allione
Artwork by Andrew Guenther
DEMONS are not bloodthirsty ghouls waiting for us in dark places; they
are within us, the forces that we find inside ourselves, the core of
which is ego-clinging. Demons are our obsessions and fears, feelings of
insecurity, chronic illnesses, or common problems like depression,
anxiety, and addiction. Feeding our demons rather than fighting them
may seem to contradict the conventional approach of attacking and
attempting to eliminate that which assails us, but it turns out to be a
remarkable alternative and an effective path to liberation from all
dichotomies.
In my own process of learning and applying the practice of Chöd, which
was originated by the eleventh-century Tibetan yogini Machig Lapdrön
[see sidebar on page 43], I realized that demons—or maras as they are
called in Buddhism—are not exotic beings like those seen in Asian scroll
paintings. They are our present fears and obsessions, the issues and
emotional reactivity of our own lives. Our demons, all stemming from the
root demon of ego-clinging, but manifesting in an infinite variety of
ways, might come from the conflicts we have with our lover, anxiety we
feel when we fly, or the discomfort we feel when we look at ourselves in
the mirror. We might have a demon that makes us fear abandonment or
a demon that causes us to hurt the ones we love.
Demons are ultimately generated by the mind and, as such, have no
independent existence. Nonetheless, we engage with them as though
they were real, and we believe in their existence—ask anyone who has
fought an addiction or anxiety attacks. Demons show up in our lives
whether we provoke them or not, whether we want them or not. Even
common parlance refers to demons, such as a veteran who is home
“battling his demons” of post-traumatic stress from the war in Iraq. I
recently heard a woman say she was fighting her “jealousy demon.”
Unfortunately, the habit of fighting our demons only gives them
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strength. By feeding, not fighting, our demons, we are integrating these
energies, rather than rejecting them and attempting to distance
ourselves from disowned parts of ourselves, or projecting them onto
others.
The Practice of the Five Steps of Feeding Your Demons
WHEN I began to teach the Chöd practice in the West twenty-five
years ago, I developed an exercise of visualizing and feeding “personal”
demons so that the idea of demons would be relevant and applicable for
Westerners. This exercise evolved into a five-step process, which
began to be used independently of the Tibetan Chöd practice. My
students told me that this method helped them greatly with chronic
emotional and physical issues such as anxiety, compulsive eating, panic
attacks, and illness. When they told me the five-step process also
helped in dealing with upheavals such as the end of a relationship, the
stress of losing a job, the death of a loved one, and interpersonal
problems at work and at home, I realized that this exercise had a life
of its own outside of teaching the traditional Chöd practice.
When we obsess about weight issues or become drained by a relationship
or crave a cigarette, we give our demons strength, because we aren’t
really paying attention to the demon. When we understand how to feed
the demon’s real need with fearless generosity, the energy tied up in
our demon will tend to dissolve and become an ally, like the demons that
attacked Machig and subsequently became her aides.
Feeding a demon will take about half an hour. Choose a quiet place
where you feel safe and comfortable. Arrange a time when you won’t be
interrupted. Set up two chairs or two cushions opposite each other: one
for you and one for the demon and ally. Once you’re set up you will want
to keep your eyes closed until the end of the fifth step, so put the two
seats (chairs or cushions) close enough to each other that you can feel
the one in front of you with your eyes closed. Keeping your eyes closed
will help you stay focused and present as you imagine this encounter with
your demon. However, until you know the steps by heart, you may need
to glance at the instructions.
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Begin by generating the motivation to do the practice for the benefit of
all beings. Then take nine deep abdominal breaths, which means
breathing in deeply until you can feel your abdomen expand. Place your
hands on your stomach and notice it rise and fall. As you inhale during
the first three breaths, imagine your breath traveling to any physical
tension you are holding in your body and then imagine the exhalation
carrying this tension away. During the next three breaths release any
emotional tension you might be carrying with the exhalation and in the
last three breaths release any mental tension such as worries or
concepts that are blocking you. Now you are ready for the five steps.
Step one: Find the Demon
In the first step you will find where in your body you hold the demon.
Your demon might be an illness, an addiction, a phobia, perfectionism,
anger, depression, or anything that is dragging you down, draining your
energy. So first decide what you will work with. Finding the demon in
your body takes you out of your head into a direct somatic experience.
Think about the issue or demon you’ve decided to work with and let your
awareness scan your body from head to toe, without any judgments,
simply being aware of the sensations that are present. Locate where you
are holding this energy by noticing where your attention goes in your
body when you think about this issue. Once you find the feeling,
intensify it, exaggerate it. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
What color is it? What shape does it have? Does it have a texture?
What is its temperature? If it emitted a sound, what would it be? If it
had a smell, what would it be?
Step two: Personify the Demon and Ask It What It Needs
In the second step you invite the demon to move from being simply a
collection of sensations, colors, and textures that you’ve identified
inside your body to becoming a living entity sitting right in front of you.
As a personified form appears, a figure or a monster, notice its color,