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Dealing with Inner Demons

Dealing with Inner Demons


We all have them.

In the West, where the prime directive (from adolescence on) is often “Make something of yourself,” this can become especially problematic. I’ve often said that a preoccupation of many teenagers is to cultivate a ‘credible act,’ which will serve to impress others (or, at least, fend off their criticisms). The tragedy, of course, is that — years later — they may think that they are that act.

In truth, we play many different roles while in the domain of ‘relative truth.’ 

Gracefully negotiating the rights and responsibilities attendant on such ‘personas’ is, perhaps, an art to be cultivated.

The domain of ‘absolute truth’ is, however, another realm altogether.

In that context, one’s own self-construct — The World of ‘I, Me, Mine’ — is revealed to be a source of many difficulties. Once we intend, then pretend, to ‘be somebody,’ we must endlessly extend and defend that ultimate fiction. This gives rise to situations fraught with all manner of judgments (from others as well as oneself). All too often, we internalize ‘demons’ that would have us believe that we are ‘NOT [fill in your own terms here] ENOUGH.’ Learning to deal wisely with such inner demons is a crucial step in cultivating sanity.

All too often, as such demons arise in our minds, we react with aversion, anger, and even hatred. Sadly, our desire to destroy inner demons simply energizes them. Perhaps, the more significant problem isn’t so much the nature of our personal demons as it is our relationship with them.

The good-humored monk, Ajahn Brahm, tells a wonderful story of dealing skillfully with such manifestations.

My spiritual mentor and friend, John Travis is fond of the following thoughts (by the thirteenth-century-poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī), which echo similar sentiments:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

—A teaching story translated by Coleman Barks © by owner. provided at no charge for educational purposes

A life of wise practices will work to disempower our demons. Consider the following testimony of Tara Brach:

The belief and feeling that “something is wrong with me” . . . continues to be part of my life. But my many rounds of meeting it with presence have had an effect: The trance is much more transparent, short-lived, and suffering free. Often it makes a brief appearance, and then there’s recognition, “Ah, this again . . . ” and a letting go. It’s not that “I” am letting go, but rather the old false sense of self just dissolves when it is seen. What remains is an invigorated realization of the heart space that holds this life, and a trust in the tender awareness that lives beyond the trance.

– Tara Brach, True Refuge, pg. 73

Tara Brach also quotes Rumi’s poem, expanding further on this theme in her 2012 Blog Post, Inviting Mara to Tea.

For those who would spend an hour with one of my favorite monks, I heartily recommend the following Dhamma talk by the Venerable Ajahn Amaro. He points to how we may use ideals to recognize and profit from mistakes without losing loving kindness and compassion for ourselves as we negotiate our crazy, uncertain world.

May all who visit this page
Indeed, may all beings
Ultimately experience
That tender awareness
Which lives beyond
Their Trance.

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