Have you had the experience of having intentions, goals and aspirations that you are passionate about but never seem to fully come to fruition? Do you find yourself struggling with habits, addictions or feeling stuck in familiar patterns in your life that no longer serve you but resist your efforts at change? Do you ever feel like there is a part of you that is working against your wishes? Well for me the answer to these questions has been most definitely YES, and for a long time my response was to increase my effort and fight against the tendencies in me that I found to be obstacles or to throw up my hands in frustration and sink into depression. However I began to realize the more I struggled to rid myself of the qualities I didn’t like about myself, the more I tried to force change by sheer effort and willpower and the more I judged myself for not succeeding the way I felt I should I only made these seemingly opposing forces or qualities stronger. Recently I discovered a powerful practice that directly addresses this issue which is known as “Feeding Your Demons”. Having put it into practice I find my life transforming in amazing and powerful ways and I don’t find myself so much in conflict. Feeding your demons is an old Tibetan practice known as Chud which originated in the 12th century with a female Yogini named Machig Labdron. It is presented in a very simple and accessible Western context by Buddhist teacher Tsultrim Allione in her book “Feeding your Demons” (see resources section).
What is a demon?
It is important first to look at what we mean by demon in the context of this practice because its not the classic Hollywood evil spirit. This type of demon is a part of our own psyche that has been denied, repressed, avoided possibly relating to some form of trauma or conflict. It could be the pain of a parent leaving us which we didn’t fully feel and express, a traumatic experience such as war, rape, or an accident, or simply a feeling of anxiety or sadness deep down that we can’t bear to fully feel. Demons are any part of us that is unconscious and impacts us in a painful or destructive way that we cannot control. Addiction is a great example of this, the painful and destructive use of a substance or behavior that is self destructive but which we tend to get taken over by causing us to act out a repetitive destructive pattern which we feel we can’t escape from. Indeed, the more we try to fight it, resist it and escape the stronger it becomes. These demons prevent us from fully living our potential, from being truly happy and fulfilled. Psychologist Carl Jung called demons autonomous complexes because they are parts of the psyche that take on a life of their own as if they were a separate entity. This is a result of our cutting these parts of us off through our repression and denial of them.
However these repressed parts of us, and we all have them, are not really negative or evil they simply need attention and healing. The feeding your demons practice provides us with a direct approach to heal these parts of ourselves if we are willing to face them with courage. It is incredibly effective because it allows us to drop the conflict or the battle against the parts of ourselves that we don’t like or are ashamed of. Instead of fighting for change we can go directly to the cause of negative patterns and heal what is at their root so that the surface pattern or behavior naturally changes as we dispell the energy behind it. Addiction is again a good example because most often when people stop drinking, gambling or otherwise avoid the addictive behavior it usually takes another form because the root cause is not the alcohol or drug, it is the wound beneath it and until that is healed the addiction will continue in one form or another.
The practice is simple and I will briefly describe it here but if you are interested in this I encourage you to read the book because it presents a more complete version. We begin by sitting in a quiet place and engaging in some slow deep breaths to get into a relaxed state. We then decide which demon we want to work with and this can be done by looking at what we are struggling with most right now. If its an argument with our partner we can focus on that. We do that by paying attention to our body and the sensations we are feeling in the moment. If we bring to mind the argument with our spouse or some other painful situation we can notice where we feel discomfort in the body. The idea here is that there is always a physical component to our mental and emotional issues and focusing on the body allows us to get in touch with it without getting lost in thought. Once you feel the discomfort in your body notice its location, how it feels, the qualities of the sensation and really pay attention to them, allow yourself to really “feel” it rather than analyzing it rationally.
Next we bring in the imagination because the imagination works with symbols and images which is the language of the unconscious so it provides us direct access. As you feel the bodily sensation, imagine it taking a form right in front of you. Imagine the demon or painful part of yourself taking an animated form sitting across from you. Allow yourself to accept whatever form it takes without judging or thinking about it, the first thing that comes to mind is usually it. Notice this form or demon very carefully, see its qualities but don’t push yourself if its not clear, be gentle and let it be whatever it needs to be. The ask it these questions: “What do you want from me?”, “What do you need from me?” and “How would you feel if you got what you needed?”.
Before you imagine the figure answering these questions, get up and switch places with it. Sit in its place and allow yourself to feel what its like to be the demon. Then answer your questions as the demon. Again accept whatever answers come up without second guessing or judgment. Note the difference between what the demon wants and what it needs. My demon of lack and scarcity manifested as an angry little troll with a coin pouch that had a hole in it while he angrily protected the one little penny he clutched in his little hands. When I asked him what he wanted he said he wanted me to be poor and realize I was worthless and would never have what I wanted, that I would end up on the street and homeless. However when I asked him what he really needed from me he said he needed attention and he felt powerless and incomplete so he craved power and fulfillment. He said he would feel abundant and fulfilled if he got what he needed.
After you answer the three questions from the place of the demon move back to your seat and imagine transforming your body into exactly what the demon needs and offering it to him. In my previous example I imagined my body transforming into a white energetic nectar of abundant power and I feed it to my lack demon. You allow him to feed until he is completely satisfied. You are not only giving this part of yourself attention rather than avoiding it, you are also giving it what it needs. Often you will find when you do this the demon transforms or disappears altogether. The figure that it transforms into is what the book calls an Ally. The ally is the hidden wisdom within the demon which we can uncover when we make the demon conscious and heal it by giving it attention and feeding it. My demon of lack transformed into a magnificent white elephant that looked like a Hindu God when I fed him. When the Ally appears you ask another set of questions: “How can you help me?”, “How can you protect me?”, “What commitment do you make to me?” and “How can I call on you when I need to?”. Then you switch places with the ally and experience how it feels to be the ally answering each question from that perspective. My white elephant ally told me he represented abundance and complete fulfillment and he would always be there to remind me of abundance when I forgot.
Once we answer the ally questions we move back to our seat and imagine the ally dissolving into us and then we sit is silence for a few minutes and allow ourselves to integrate the experience. We’re not thinking about it just sitting with it in stillness. The root of the word demon is daemon which is a Greek term for spirit or supernatural being. It could be a negative figure but was not inherently negative and would often take the form of a spirit guide offering support and wisdom. It is interesting to note that when we transform our demons they often assume a positive supportive form and contain wisdom and power which can really help us in our lives. In the end, the only real problem is our resistance and avoidance of the painful or seemingly negative parts of ourselves.
In working with the lack demon I found my struggle with money and resources really begin to shift. I felt more trust in the universe and in abundance not just as a concept but as an actual experience. I was able to let go a lot more of my struggle with money and was amazed to see it begin to flow into my life in unexpected ways. I actually felt abundance in a very real sense for the first time in my life. Since I have worked with many other demons including anger, attachment, anxiety, fear and self doubt. This practice really offers a very direct way to address the parts of us we are struggling with and to hold them in compassion rather than avoiding them because the demons are parts of ourselves that desperately need attention. When they get attention and nurturance they don’t need to create chaos, conflict and obstacles in our life anymore. We experience freedom.