“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious.” –Carl Jung
In my last post I shared my journey of how I stopped fighting my demons and began to feed them. In this post I’d like to talk about the practice of feeding your demons that I am learning from Tsultrim Allione and show how it is not so un-Christian as one might think. This is her guide based on the teachings of Machig Labdrön, an 11th century female Buddhist teacher. I am only summarizing her in depth practice so please refer to her work if you would like to try this.
Step One: Find the Demon
Take a few deep breaths to calm your body. Identify a situation or a feeling in your life that troubles you. Look for the place in your body where you carry the burden of this problem. Is it in your tight jaw? In your chest? In your lower back? Is it in a place on your body where you self harm? Does it have a color? A temperature? A smell? A texture? A sound?
Step Two: Personify the Demon and Ask What it Needs
In this step imagine what this creature would look like if it was sitting in front of you. What is the shape? The gender? What is its emotional state? How big is it? How do I feel in its presence? Once you have imagined it sitting across from you, ask it: What do you want from me? What do you need from me? How will you feel if you get what you need?
Step Three: Become the Demon
Keep your eyes closed and move to the place where you imagined the demon sitting across from you. Take a few deep breaths as you imagine yourself as this creature and what it feels like to be in its shoes. Then answer the three questions you asked it: What I want from you is… What I need from you is…When my need is met, I will feel… Tsultrim Allinone writes, “With a disease like cancer the demon might say, ‘I want your life force, all of it.’ And responding to ‘What do you need?’ the demon might say, ‘I need strength.’ And if to the question ‘How will you feel if you get what you need?’ –in this case, strength–the demon replies, ‘I’ll feel powerful,’ then you know to feed the demon power. Be sure the answer to the third question is a feeling. For example, the cancer demon might have said, ‘I will feel huge.’ But hugeness is not a feeling… the feeling behind hugeness might be power.”
Here is the paradox: we may think that feeding a demon makes it grow, but it actually diminishes it’s strength. By becoming conscious of our demons and the needs behind their pain, they can be soothed and transformed into a helper for us.
Step Four: Feed the Demon and Meet the Ally
Return to your body and original seat and face the demon again. Imagine your body melting into a nectar that you can offer the demon. If it was love, or acceptance the demon wanted imagine what that would look like as your body melts into a bowl or a chalice or whips around the demon like a wind. Follow your imagination as you offer the gift of your body to the wounded part of yourself. Take note of the color or consistency You are giving the demon the feeling it will have when it gets what it needs. Feed the creature until it is totally satisfied. At this point the demon may transform or leave. Ask to meet the ally, to see how this transformed energy might be used for good. Again use your imagination and take any notes on its appearance and your feelings. Ask the ally: How will you help me? How will you protect me? What pledge or commitment do you make to me? How can I gain access to you? Then change places again and answer the questions as the ally.
Step Five: Rest in Awareness
This is an important part of integrating the experience into your body. I like to lie down in shavasana pose. Let yourself enjoy the lightness and freedom of this experience.
How can this practice be Christian?
Without writing a thesis on the topic, I will outline a general theology that runs throughout the biblical text and Christian tradition.
The Hebrew word “satan” literally means adversary. When Jacob wrestled with God, God is called the “satan” in the story. The Hebrews did not see evil as an external force, but understood the “satan” to be a force within humanity that is inclined toward evil. Even in the story of Job, the Satan seems to be a part of God’s counsel and works with God to carry out God’s will. So the overall voice of the Hebrew scriptures lacks our notion of demons and hell. Later in human development this force is recognized as existing outside of human will (This is introduced in Enochic literature in the 4th Century BCE.) One of the main components of Old Testament law is the command to care for strangers on the land, windows, orphans and the poor. Essentially to live in a just community. This narrative continues in Jesus’ teachings.
Jesus is constantly criticized for his extension and reinterpretation of the law as he dines with sinners welcomes outcasts and touches people who are ritually unclean (read sick and dangerous). The Gospel of Luke centers on the image of a feast, where all are invited to God’s table to be nourished and recreated. At the institution of the Last Supper (the most troubled night in the life of Jesus) Jesus made his body into a nectar, offering it to his friends (to sooth their future agony) and to remember him. When Jesus left his disciples he continued to tell them: go and do likewise–heal the sick, raise the dead. Essentially, be Christ to others too.
Reconciling the Opposites
American culture especially suffers from a debilitating polarization. Complexities of self are easily lost in the rigid categories of right or left, republican or democrat, good or evil, conservative or liberal, and with the escaping middle class now we have rich or poor, and so on… The task before us now is to move from flat polarization of opposites to a reconciliation of them: the paradox. This makes me think of the tongue twisting gospel of John this week: I in you and you in me and God in me and you in God, fox in box and sox on fox! One exercise I do frequently to remind myself when I am projecting my shadow onto others is make a list about everything that annoys me about someone. Then I put my name at the top and I see that I have given them the worst of myself.
The next level of our human consciousness is to gain the understanding that everything is connected. Carl Jung taught that what is happening in the global world is also unfolding in our interior lives. If the earth is wounded, our bodies are scarred. If we can face our shadows and tend our pain, we can have compassion enough to heal the world. The answer to so many of our problems is connection.
“If you’re feeling what the river is feeling, it’s hard to pollute the river. If you are feeling what a child is feeling, it’s hard to rape the child. If you are connected to your own internal being, it is very hard to be screwing and destroying and hurting another human being, because you’ll be feeling what they’re feeling. If you’re separated, it’s not a hard thing to do at all.”