Do you remember the movie Inside Out? In the movie, we follow a little girl that is made to move into another city. A scary new city where she has to make new friends. Understandably, she experiences many emotions around this event. The emotions are visualized as different characters that are living in her head. One character is always angry, another is always sad, another is always happy.
It is striking how easy it is to recognise myself in this picture of these little characters living in my head. Sometimes they are in harmony, but more often two or more of them are in conflict with each other. As if they are captured in a game of tug of war. These characters are what I will mean when I talk about our inner demons in this blog. And they are not all that bad, when we get to know them…
The female buddhist teacher Machig Labdrön observed that “what we call demons are not materially existing individuals with huge black forms, frightening and terrifying anyone who sees them. A demon means anything which hinders liberation”.
You see, our demons are rooted in our polarization of them. Fighting them, trying to keep them away, will only make the power they have over us grow. So what if we stop fighting them? What if we show them some loving empathy?
The practice of feeding our demons that Machig Labdrön developed might seem a bit odd at first, but bear with me as I walk the walk. The practice is like having a little interview with the demon and consists of 5 steps: find the demon, personify the demon, become the demon, feed the demon and, finally, rest in awareness.
I wrote the following section while going through the practice myself, and it feels vulnerable to share this with you.
Find the demon
I sit down on my meditation pillow in an empty living room. In front of me is another pillow, still empty. As I focus on my body, I feel a tightness around my chest. A tight knot. I direct my attention at the sensation and try to imagine what it looks like. I get the impression of a metallic, gray, spikey ball.
Personify the demon
Projecting the spiky shape onto the pillow in front of me, it changes shape. I see the shape of a sensual lady appearing, leaning on the pillow with her one side. She is green with a slithery snake skin. She looks at me daringly and radiates power.
I ask her the same three questions that I ask every demon: “What do you want? What do you need from me? And how will you feel when this need is met?”
Become the demon
Now it is time to move onto the other pillow. I imagine becoming the demon, snake skin and all. As the demon, I feel I am trying very hard to radiate confidence. But instead of confidence, there is a feeling of dissociation and a lot of pressure to keep up.
“I want to be seen as desirable. I need you to worship my beauty, and lose attention for all else. If only just for a little bit. I need confirmation. When you give me this, I will feel like I can finally relax”.
Feed the demon
I move back to my original pillow, with the demon sitting in front of me. Her eyes are a little softer now. There is a sense of vulnerability. I imagine my body turning into pure relaxation, the feeling that the demon desired above all. I invite the demon to feed on my relaxation incarnated body.
Slowly, the scales start falling off and reveal a human skin underneath. A soft and fluffy pajama appears. She comes up to my body and cuddles up into my arms.
“Are you my ally?”, I ask. “Yes”, she answers. I ask her the three questions I ask every ally: “How will you help me? How will you protect me? What pledge do you make to me?”. “I will be here to give you comfort”, she answers, “I will be your confirmation. I pledge to be here for you when things get rough. Your little place of comfort”. She hugs me tightly.
I rest in the state of relaxation that is there right now. A space without thoughts. A soft energy fills my body. I don’t want to move, as I rest here. A ray of sun starts hitting my face right then. Was that sunshine there before? I don’t know how long I sat here, but at some point I start feeling more active again. Slowly I stretch my legs and stand up. I mentally probe the place where I found that spiky ball before. It’s still tender, but it feels more comforting now.
Thank you for being here, my demon.