Have you ever had a picnic with your demons?
I first learned about the feeding of demons, the practice called Chöd in Tibetan Buddhism, from a book of that title by Lama Tsultrim Allione. She adapted the practice from the teachings of Machig Labdrön, an 11th-century Tibetan yogini.
I’d read Lama Tsultrim’s book several years ago and apprehended it intellectually, but most things in my life have to happen to me before I can understand them in my cells. My experience of demon-feeding might vary from Lama Tsultrim’s trademarked practice, but this is how it occurred.
I was sitting in meditation at dawn, running through my awareness the parts of myself that I feared, that I was ashamed of.
Then I remembered about the demons.
Your demons are the parts of you that you are afraid of being. Not just the parts that are unwanted or unloved—that is too tame—but the parts that you actually fear being, that you chain down inside you like dragons in a cave.
The parts that in large part you craft your life to avoid happening, yourself or anyone else seeing. We cram our demons down in subterranean interior spaces, in asuric chthonic realms.
Sitting on my meditation blanket in that flooding moment, I actually saw my demons, and felt them, more than in just in my mind’s eye: they looked like the front-and-back cover illustration of the first edition Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual that I saved up to buy when I was seven years old, and then subsequently imprinted every page, and its lovely unselfconscious high-school-art-grade ink illustrations, deeper than memory into the grooves of my brain. The covers sported a cutaway diagram showing fabulous beasts both above and below the surface of the earth. Amid the monsters beneath the crust, amidst the stalactites, are a green troll and a purple worm.
And then I saw myself—not on my meditation cushion—but seated on a blanket in a sunny meadow, picnic basket beside me, and the demons dragging themselves up out of the earth toward me, hangdoggedly regarding me.
I let them come up. The purple worm, the green troll, the night hag, they came lurching and shambling up from below. And I stood to meet them.
And then I understood what I was supposed to know.
Our demons are a gift. They are ourselves. They are deep powers within us. Our anger, our fear, our jealousy, our greed and gluttony, all are the shadow aspects of important and useful powers.
But not realizing this, we edit what we are, because we are either afraid, or someone has made us ashamed. But all of what we call demons are a treasure given to us, no matter whence you might choose to believe that it arises, or is bestowed. What am I afraid of, what are the deepest things within me that I fear? My fury, my rage, my jealousy, my suspicion, my paranoia, my cowardice, my vanity, my insanity, all of the things that I do not love of myself and am afraid will make me unloveable to others.
Oh, no, I said to them. Oh no, I am so sorry, how violent I have been to you.
Because what happens when we cut ourselves off from our demons, when we edit ourselves instead of understanding ourselves, is that we sever ourselves from sources of energy. When we cast them away, we also cast away the good things they can do for us, and tell that dear valuable misunderstood part of our self that we do not love it.
When you cut yourself off from anger because you are afraid of being “an angry person,” you cut yourself off from the strength that it takes to stand up to something that is wrong. When you cut yourself off from jealousy because you are afraid of being “a jealous person,” you cut yourself off from a sense of value.
There is a bright side to all shadows. When you banish the shadow, you also banish the brightness. You declaw and defang yourself, dividing yourself from an innate source of real power. You tell your inner self that you are ashamed of it, which is what you should never do.
It is anger that lets us stand up against injustice. It is willfulness that allows us to choose and follow our right path in this world. It is gossip that allows us to share empowering information with one another, and to tell stories. All of these attributes are fire and flourishing energy.
I want to be very clear that letting your demons back in is not about abusing others, exploiting or misleading them, or treating them cruelly. It is about the wise and judicious channeling of power.
Others have sovereignty over themselves and deserve respect, and wholeness, just as you do.
Another benefit/perquisite of feeding your demons is that if you are not afraid of those parts of yourself, then no-one will ever be able to manipulate you by using them against you. If someone says you are ugly if you do such-and-such, and you are not afraid of being ugly (not just someone thinking you are ugly, but actually being ugly—so what if you are?), then the thing you are trying to do will get done.
The way a person or system can manipulate you is this, and please never use this for evil; it is hard-won knowledge and I’m sharing it because it might help someone: they figure out what you are afraid of being, and then when you behave in a way that is inconvenient to their purposes, they will tell you that your behavior is identical to what you are afraid of being.
Are you afraid of being unsexy, undesirable? Then if you are doing something they don’t want you to do, they will tell you that you are that thing that you fear. And you will contort yourself until you break your back trying to not be it.
And in the meantime you are cutting yourself off from your intuition, and your healthy flow of emotions.
All of a sudden, I was not afraid of my demons. They are me. And I loved myself: in my anger, in my possessiveness, myself in my pleasure-hogging decadence, myself in my lustfulness, in my ugliness, in my craziness, in my perversion, my egoism, myself as the greasy awkward little girl that people called a freak, myself in the prospect that I will be old and dried up and no-one will ever love me again, that I will be broken-toothed and live in a hut at the edge of a garbage dump.
If that is the case, then so be it.
I stood up on the picnic blanket and one by one my poor sweet demons stepped into me, each one I had spurned and exiled and edited and redacted while all the time they were all aspects of myself.
How could I do this to myself? I loved them all: the roper, the owlbear, the purple worm, every monster in the manual.
I was crying, I am so sorry I did this to you. Come back to me; you are part of me.
The picnic was to start precisely at 2.
I laid out the picnic cloth of red and white checkers
The plastic tea set from Disney World,
Paper napkins, bento boxes.
The curious ants were like pepper or raisins
They were all different sorts of ants, red and black together,
Black eyes and inquisitive feelers, delicate and elegant as ants are.
First came my judgement like a dusty taxidermied eagle with stuffing coming out
Sheepish and abashed, because arriving earlier than the others
My vanity like a poxy ass wearing a golden crown
My lies like clouds of flies
My rage like a single, gritted jaw
My madness like swords in the night
My paranoia like the sound of whispers coming from another room
My addiction, which came late, as junkies always do.
I thought of pretending not to notice, I thought of being merciful and polite,
Instead I spat, ‘Where the fuck were you?’
Where else can we be honest, if not with our demons?
To my vanity, I fed two scoops of undying love
To my anger, I fed a bowl of validation
To my jealousy, I fed a cup of never-ending security.
I am, I am a shrew. What else have you got?
If I call myself every name anyone could call me,
If I am those things, no-one can harm me.
What hurts is the ego of a self divided.
What hurts is the gap of ‘I don’t love myself.’
Demons, I love you.
You are part of me.
I am Heaven and Hell, I am angel and demon.
I am whole.
I wish I could put into words how that felt.
If you feed your demons, if you give them what they are crying for, you will be free, and you will be powerful, full and splendid in yourself, immune to shame and fear.
Do you know how radiant you are, when your strength is fully on line? How free and wild you truly are?
Your ego with all its manifest quirks exists to defend and express your soul. It needs to be wed back to your soul, where it belongs.
Mythology is a map of how we apprehend cosmology. So imagine what the Universe was like, before divided into Heaven and Hell. What was it like, before there were angels and devils? Were they all angels as we know angels to be? Or were they something different? Like in The Dark Crystal, like the UrSkeks on Thra before there were Mystics and Skesis?
The word “beautiful” isn’t right to describe this unified state, because we split what we consider ugly from what we consider beautiful: one excludes the other. So I will say: if you let your demons back into you, you will be both beautiful and ugly, like Krishna when he shows Arjuna all his aspects in Chapter 11 of the Bhagavad Gita: some of you will be alluring, some of you will be terrible to behold.
You are the Universe before the War in Heaven. You are the angels before the rebellion. You are light and you are darkness. At long last, you are whole.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtwQiueNLWI
Namaste, and Love! Love your demons. Love your Self.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
‘Once Upon a Time’ tefillin crafted by Julie Komenda.