We each have our own demons. I am not referring to elfin sized red creatures with tails and horns, or to evil creatures in human disguise, though I neither confirm nor deny their existence. I am referring to thought patterns, habits, and imbedded subconscious concepts present in all of us, each with his or her own specific forms. On the surface these are reflected in the events of our lives and in the continual chatter of our minds. Sustained introspection, such as meditation, can reveal them more clearly.
I have been wrestling with my own demons. That sounds like a casual statement, but it is really a painful process. One’s demons are not positive thoughts and concepts; they are difficult to dismiss or diminish, and they bring with them feelings of fear, inadequacy, despair, hopelessness and the like. They are the opposite of the qualities most of us are trying to grow into – such as peace, kindness, empathy, hope, service, beauty, love, connection. The negative aspects are not called demons for nothing.
Take one of my demons as an example; perhaps some of you share it. This particular demon is continually castigating me for not being or doing enough. It doesn’t really matter how much I do or how much I learn or grow. For this demon, the bar keeps rising. If for a moment I acknowledge myself for what I am or have done, this demon quickly points out what I failed to achieve. It shows me all those who are doing great things to heal the earth or grow a kinder and more just society or help those who suffer or are forgotten. I have not done those great things. The demon suggests that I am useless. It shows me all the things I have not accomplished financially, or that I have not created conditions under which I might do broader things. If I acknowledge this and try to proceed in a direction that could hopefully remediate those criticisms, the demon then shows me that I have a cluttered and disordered house and should be spending my time remedying that situation. If I try to do that, too, it then mocks me for not having enough sleep or exercise or meditation or social time. There is no way to satisfy this demon. It sustains its life from my failure and despair.
One secret about demons is that they depend on attention and emotional attachment. Accomplished meditators understand this. Meditation is frustrated by continual mind chatter, sometimes called monkey mind. The instruction for clearing this is to not fight it, to simply acknowledge its existence and withdraw attention from it. It is harder when one’s ego is involved.
One’s ego can be defined as the mental concept of oneself. It is an individual’s idea of who he or she is and what he or she can do or not do. It usually assigns a level of worthiness to that individual, most often less than a high level. Truly, one is not one’s job, or one’s position in a relationship, or the number that declares one’s age, or one’s skill in any activity. Sometimes it seems that an individual’s real identity is a peeling away of all those things in the ego’s mental concept until one is left with the emptiness which is filled with infinite connectedness. But that is a subject for another time. It is when a demon, or mind chatter or idea is accepted into the ego that it becomes hard to weaken or release it by ignoring. After all, the ego, which perceives itself as an entity, does not wish to be damaged by having part of its definition stripped away.
It is here where most of us, me included, get stuck. Trying to replace negative thoughts with positive ones (affirmations) is in effect giving attention to them. Affirmations, over time, do have some success, and they are good techniques, but asking affirmations by themselves to rid one of one’s demons is a tall order, particularly if those thoughts have been accepted into the ego. Stripping the ego of all its self-identifications feels like a process of dying, which is a letting go of everything of this physical life. Anger is sometimes a reaction to such attempts. Frustration mounts, too, as one’s demons continue to block manifestation of one’s perceived goal into a present reality.
Perhaps one needs to embrace one’s demons, to find a way that they have helped and thank them. Perhaps our ideas and deep desires are not the path it is best for us to follow – we may believe they are, but we do not know everything. Mother Teresa once said that there are no great works – there are only small works done with great love. Could loving our demons persuade them to cease their battering?
I do not know the answers. I am still working on it. I have faith that the correct answers are there and do think that some people have arrived at a satisfactory resolution of these issues. It could be that it is simply a process of growing, that we need to relax as we grow into another stage of our being, much as adolescence morphed into adulthood.
I wish us each peace when our individual demons raise their heads, and a successful transition into a stage wherein the demons have no power.