Sunday, May 10, 2009

Feeding Your Demons

I was going to crop this photo of the Buddha painting I just finished and then was amused because it looks like he's waiting for a call.  ET, is that you?

Last night I decided to listen to a Dharma talk and chose some talks by Tsultrim Allione of Tara Mandala.  I like her quiet presence and the fact that she is a woman who follows a practice from a female Tibetan tradition.  The talks were fine but they reminded me to return to her book "Feeding Your Demons" which is outstanding.  The book is subtitled "Ancient Wisdom For Resolving Inner Conflict" and is based on the ancient Tibetan practice called "Chod" (pronounce che).

It's interesting how we all have our thing.  Yesterday I was over at Peter's monkeymind blog and he said, okay after this I'm not going to write about fear anymore.  One of my great teachers has been my physical health and sometimes I think you might get tired of hearing about it.....  It can be a great source of frustration and longing and grasping for me.  Am I ever going to feel well? and blah, blah, blah?  I go over the same territory so many times it get's boring even to me.  But it's like a compost bin, lots of rich, stinky stuff here that makes the garden grow.

I decided it was time to bark up a different tree regarding my health (and I'm not even a dog person)  Maybe I  should meow down a different mouse hole??  But I digress in a fit of foolishness. Tsultrim Allione has a chapter on "The Demons of Illness" and so with a slightly nagging sore throat I turned to it and started to read.   In the afternoon as I worked in the garden I was aware of the vague sense of feeling crummy (and man, I could see how much I just want to push this away, in a poof, wave my magic wand, be gone, kind of way)  but I said to myself, "Self, maybe what you need to do is ask, what are these feelings of unwellness trying to tell you, what is the message here.  All the herbs and vitamins  have just not cut it."   

And so when I turned to Allione's chapter on illness I was ready to hear what she had to say.  I think she had been snooping on my thoughts..... because listen to her: "If we always treat the symptoms by trying to suppress them and never understand what the disease is trying to tell us, we may miss important information that the body is trying to communicate."  In another place she says. "If we can shift our conventional understanding of illness to see it as a form of energy, we can understand this way of healing..... In order for us to "get" an illness, it has to be able to find in us a receptive environment, like a key fitting into a keyhole.."

Now where is she going with this you might ask.  I have examined my inclination to feel responsible, inferior and a failure for "getting sick".  I acknowledge my part in it for the way I have used my mind, but that is not the whole story.  Sometimes I just wonder if it is my karma to be sick, but then I remind myself to be careful about that thought too.  Maybe yes, but I don't know this for sure.  I am aware that I can't will something to disappear, but I can do my part.  

And here's what Allione so skillfully reminds us when she sites the research of Candace Pert, a specialist in immunology: "she discovered that consciously setting an intention or creating a visualization can affect the "periaqueductal gray" (does this sound like some kind of parrot to you?), located between the 3rd and 4th ventricles in the brain.... it can explain how it is possible for our conscious mind to enter the network and play a deliberate part."  It's not so much that the mind has power, she says but "that the body and mind are one... intelligence is distributed democratically all over the body."  I like that.  We're a democratic entity.  At least democracy exists somewhere!  And this is in keeping with Buddhist thought that the mind is simply another sense organs with thoughts as their object, a nose smells odours, a mind thinks thoughts.  In the west we assign so much power to the mind.  It seems so unbalanced when you stop and think about it.

So the process of feeding your demons is one of finding the feelings of illness or pain in your body, personifying them and then sitting across from them and having a wee chat.  How do they look?  What do they want?  What do they need?  And how will they feel when they get it?  And then we feed them something to nourish them, a nectar that we create from our own bodies which prevents them from feeding on us.  She has a series of steps for this "chod" practice and it can be used for other things besides physical illness.  I won't explain it here in detail but it is definitely worth exploring.

I used this method when I first bought the book last year and found it helpful but then in true human fashion I forgot about it and went on to something else.   Call me crazy but I tried it again this morning and I don't have a sore throat tonight.  My demon looked kind of like this sharp nosed cartoon character, dressed in black, a little angled fedoa, arched eyebrows.  He found me rather weak and wanting, an easy host he said.  He told me I needed to have more faith, more belief in my self (but I thought there was no self???.)  Points taken.  His nectar was lemon pie filling which he slurped up with gusto, it was sunny and tart and sweet all at once and it was just what the demon ordered, apparently.   He said he would feel hopeful when he got what he needed.

Does this all sound somewhat odd to you?  For me it addresses the whole issue on another level, a level that is not connected to logic and reason, a level that is connected to the mystery that exists, to the unknown, the subconscious.  It addresses "the conflict" whatever it may be  on a level we seldom go to.  I am pushed there because logic and reason have failed to resolve my "conflict". I believe we are pushed to greater depths by our own suffering and conflicts, if we are willing to go there.  For me it is about having faith and following the call of my own intuitive self, not the little self, but that source of deeper knowing.  

Here is my wish for you.  May your suffering lead you to deeper understanding of life.  May it transform you.  May you emerge as someone deeper and wiser and more compassionate than the one who started out on this journey.  May your suffering be the kind that leads to the end of suffering. May you savour the sweet and sour all at once.  Now go... and fix yourself some lemon pudding or whatever your demons are shouting and banging on the table for.


  1. Interesting juxtaposition: Ancient Buddha/Modern Phone. Maybe you could do a whole series of paintings on this theme? Anyway, I love your art. My favourite is Live in Joy.

  2. dear carole, reading your post made me turn to an author I think we both respect, Zen teacher Ezra Bayda. In "Being Zen" (2002, Shambala, p. 76-77) he writes:
    "This is a fact of life: we don't like pain. We suffer because we marry our instinctive aversion to pain with the deep-seated belief that life *should* be free from pain. In resisting our pain by holding this belief, we strenghten just what we're are trying to avoid. When we make pain the enemy, we solidify it. This resistance is where our suffering begins."

  3. thanks Tallis, yes that push, pull of the old and new is fun, maybe that's what I was seeing that amused me so.

    And Peter, yes, such wise words. Ezra Bayda is one of my favourite Dharma writers. It warmed my heart yesterday to hear my daughter say she is reading "At Home In Muddy Waters" which she bought ages ago.

    And yes, we use a lot of energy resisting our pain. It's almost instinctual, don't you think, like drawing a way from a hot flame? But yes if we can know this truth, that "our resistance is where our suffering begins" Otherwise everything just is.

    with bow to you both

  4. Thich Nhat Hanh talks about inviting in the (well he doesn't use the word "demons," but I think it's the same thing)for a cup of tea. He says something to the effect of give it a cup of tea, and when the cup is finished, send it on it's way. I rather like that whole imagine, being friendly, but not overly.

    The photo of your painting and the phone is wonderful - really funny!

    And those repeating themes - don't we all have them? Just seems like we get to work with what we get to work with. I know I get bored of my "stories" too, and yet, the bored is another place to pay attention.


  5. Wonderful post and it feels right to pass this on too you!

    Om Peace,