Psychology

Embracing Darkness: how to feed your demons

Recently I realised that I’d spent my whole life fighting against the darkness. But my demons won’t die, no matter how many times I bash them over the head. It’s exhausting. So I was open to trying anything that might help when I came across the practice of Feeding Your Demons in the book of that name by Tsultrim Allione.

On the face of it, feeding demons doesn’t seem like a good idea. Surely they’ll just fill their faces then go on a cake-fuelled rampage. But this practice is about compassion and making friends with your shadow. Apparently demons just want a hug.

Feeding your demons doesn’t make them stronger, but fighting them does. When you deny parts of yourself and they fall into the shadow it takes a lot of energy to keep them there. The demons don’t like being neglected and so they push back against your repression. You have to keep a tight hold on yourself to stop them breaking out. Hence the exhaustion.

When you feed your demons you’re nurturing parts of yourself that have fallen into the shadow. This can have a transformative effect and will unlock the energy you’ve been using to keep them repressed so you can channel it into something more positive.

Demons can be anything that undermines or sabotages your best intentions: like obsession, fear, chronic illness, depression, anxiety, and addiction. These behaviours and negative emotions tend to operate from the unconscious. You’re either aware of them and battle against them, or not aware of them and end up surprised when things keep going wrong.

The practice of feeding your demons is a way to make friends with something you’d rather avoid. You can move from fear and hatred to tolerance, acceptance and integration by using compassion, dialogue and understanding. There are similar practices in Western psychology, but this one goes deeper because it’s based on the spiritual practice of recognising emptiness and seeing through the nature of the self.

Chöd: the roots of the practice

Machig Labdron
Machig Labdron

The process of feeding your demons described in Tsultrim Allione’s book is a stripped down version of the ancient practice of Chöd which comes from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. There are various lineages of these practices, but the one used in the book comes from Machig Labdron, an 11th century female teacher and the Mother of Chöd.

Chöd is pronounced “chuh” and it means ‘to cut through’. It’s also known as “Cutting Through the Ego” and is based on the sutras of the Prajnaparamita, which includes the well-known heart sutra. The Prajnaparamita is a teaching on emptiness and interdependence and the fact that nothing inherently exists. This gives us a clue as to how the practice works. It’s a form of meditation that cuts through the conflict between opposites. If you can see through the illusory nature of the battle between apparent enemies, like you and your pesky demons, you can resolve the conflict and rest in inner peace.

“To consider adversity as a friend is the instruction of Chöd.”

Machig Labdron

Chodpa
Chödpa

Chöd combines Buddhist meditation and philosophy with ancient Tibetan-Siberian shamanic rituals that include sky burials, the feeding of corpses to vultures. The Chöd practitioner, or Chödpa, goes into a trance and transforms their own body into nectar and journeys into the realm of spirits to bless the demons and help them find liberation. The ritual uses a human thighbone trumpet, a hand drum, curved knives and a skullcap for the nectar.

The body is offered as part of a tantric feast, but it’s really about overcoming fear and attachment to the body and ego. The self is dissolved so you can see through the illusion of duality and develop compassion for all beings, whether good or evil.

“A good spirit is one which radiates love outwards from itself towards all others with whom it is concerned. And the ‘higher’ the type of spirit, the more it is intrinsically connected with all sentient beings. An evil spirit, on the other hand, is one which has become closed upon itself, isolated from the whole, and lives tightly turned inwards on its own neurosis. The tighter and darker becomes the suffering of that spirit, the more demonic its nature.

But according to the Adepts of Chöd, nothing is permanent. A spirit lost for a time in one of the hideous ‘lower realms’ of suffering, may always be healed (either through time itself, or by the intervention of the Chödpa) and gradually lifted up into the Light. Thus the work of the Chödpa, as of the saint who prays constantly for the welfare of others, is to transform spirits of darkness into angels of light.”

Gyalwa Karmapa

How to Feed Your Demons

Feeding Your DemonsThe original Chöd practices are slightly different to the meditation given in the book by Tsultrim Allione. She has simplified the process into five steps which you can do on your own or with a partner, and you don’t have to know anything about Buddhism or use a thighbone horn ;). It’s a practice you can incorporate into your life and use to overcome your fears and blockages.

Personifying your fears as demons brings them into clearer focus and can reveal new information about what lurks in your subconscious. Demons don’t always behave the way you expect and the results can be surprising. Sometimes these results are instant, but usually it’s gradual and takes many sessions. The demons will change over time and perhaps different demons will come up as you work through the layers of conditioning.

Machig Labdron identified four types of demons which I’ll describe in another post. But for now, anything that stops you achieving liberation and enlightenment is a demon. Even positive things can become a problem if they stop you from letting go of your ego. So the ultimate demon is the ego itself – your sense of being a separate self.

There may be many demons hanging around causing problems in your life, so the first thing you need to do is decide which one you want to feed. It might be wise to start with one of the smaller demons and work up to the big fears, or if you’re feeling courageous you could just aim for the head honcho and see what happens.

Here’s a basic description of the five step process. You can see the full instructions on the Tara Mandala site here and can also download the details for reference plus forms to help you track your demon work here.

Before you begin, sit comfortably, close your eyes and meditate for a few moments. The book encourages you to take nine relaxation breaths to let go of any tension in your body, emotions and mind. You can then dedicate the practice to the benefit of all beings. Then you begin the steps:

1. First pick a demon and find where it’s held in your body.

2. Then you personify the demon and see it take form in front of you. When it’s clear you can ask three questions: What do you want? What do you really need? How will you feel when you get what you need?

3. Switch places and become the demon so you can feel what it’s like to be him or her. Then answer the questions as the demon.

4. Return to your seat and see the demon opposite you again. Now you know what the demon needs, so you dissolve your body into a nectar that has that quality and feed it to the demon until it’s totally satisfied. At this point you may notice the demon transform into something else or another being may arrive. This could be the ally who will help you in some way. You can swop places with the ally and go through the questioning process again to find out exactly how it will help. Then return to your seat again and feel the ally’s energy pouring into you and imagine it dissolve into light. Allow yourself to dissolve into the light too.

5. Finally, simply rest in awareness and slowly allow yourself to come back to your body.

There’s a lot more to it than I’ve included here as it’s quite an intricate process, but it’s worth taking the time to learn the steps and try it out.

A performer twirls a flaming baton - Ko Lanta, November 2010
A performer twirls a flaming baton – Ko Lanta, November 2010

A Ball of Fire

When I first did this I wasn’t sure what would happen. It seemed complicated and I wasn’t sure it would work, but it released a burst of emotional energy I hadn’t been aware of until then. I’d been struggling with auto-immune problems and had a lot of inflammation in my body and it was causing me problems, so I decided to work with that.

I located the inflammation demon in my right side where I had a particularly sharp pain. The trouble was, by the time I’d done the nine breaths and relaxed and dedicated the practice to all beings, I felt okay. So I had to wriggle a bit and make myself uncomfortable so I could feel the pain and then visualise what it looked like.

I got an image of a red spear that kept jabbing at me. The hand holding the spear was amorphous, like it was made of fire, so I realised the demon was a fireball. I asked the three questions and then changed places with the demon.

At this point I was surprised that I wanted to cry. I had expected the demon to be angry – and he was – but he was also incredibly sad. He said he wanted me to burn. Then it all started to unravel and I struggled to follow the steps because I couldn’t stop crying. Eventually the demon said, “I want you to be my friend.” My demon was lonely. In answer to the third question he said that if I was his friend he would feel accepted and understood. He did a bit of shouting about nobody listening to him too.

I swopped places again and turned my tears into nectar and imagined it was rain. The nectar rained down friendship and acceptance onto the ball of fire. At first the water sizzled and turned to steam, but then it started to make contact with the flames. The demon turned his face up to the rain and smiled, then opened his mouth and stuck out his tongue to drink the nectar. He started to giggle and skip and play in the rain, and slowly transformed into a little girl with pigtail plaits (I wore my hair like that as a kid). I asked if she was the ally and she solemnly shook her head.

That’s when it all went hazy. I waited for the ally to turn up and felt something coming towards me, but then it was as if a wall of dust and dirt was thrown up and I couldn’t see. There’s obviously another demon behind that one that I need to turn my attention to, and I think I know what it is. It could take a lot of feeding.

I highly recommend Feeding Your Demons by Tsultrim Allione. The book contains lots of examples of demons and shows how others have transformed themselves using this practice. You can find out more here or watch a video of the process here.

>Shadow Companions: Types of Demons

Images: Fireball; Chodpa; Machig Labdron

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17 thoughts on “Embracing Darkness: how to feed your demons

  1. Is it possible to see a person you know as your demon? Because that is what i saw. The sad face of a man who has bern ruuning away from himself while i have bern trying very hard to help him find direction once again. But his resistance is strong.

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    1. Hi Lana – it is possible for a demon to take any form because it’s coming from your own imagination and subconscious. So that’s probably telling you this person represents a part of your own being, perhaps something you’ve repressed or suppressed, and you’re projecting it onto this person. Maybe you trying to help him is really a way to help that part of yourself.

      You say he’s running away from himself, so ask yourself – what are you running away from within yourself? What are you resisting?

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  2. Cool stuff Jess, I’m sorry I haven’t been keeping up with your posts, I’ll read them all soon! This one is particularly interesting and the part where you talked abut nectar and feeding the demon felt a little taboo for me…but I’m quite fascinated by the idea of it. I guess evil is always omnipresent, it’s how we accept it as a part of life and learn to be at one with the reality. Are you saying we don’t necessarily have to fight the evil as much as get in touch with the good? Great post Jess :))

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The teaching is really that evil doesn’t inherently exist – it only exists in relation to other things and our perception of it. And more often than not, things that appear evil are really just parts of ourselves that have got lost or confused or scared so they’re acting out and demanding attention the only way they now how – like a kind of tantrum. If you deal with that by judging and saying it’s wrong, then those parts of yourself will just feel worse and so their behaviour will get worse. But if you’re kind and understanding, they relax and then transform. It’s a kind of mind alchemy. Tricky to get right!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So insightful, Ms. Davis. My inner work took a big turn when I realized, why not take my challenges and make them into friends? Poof! What about enemies, or demons, or shadow? By no longer pulling against them and staying in this taut relationship, each went slack and the healing was fast. All my demons have been built on misunderstandings of how things are.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. i will say something which is most likely wrong, yet nevertheless: the only task of a demon is to cut your ego. It’s danger is however that we usually misunderstand the process and project the personal demon onto the outside and try to cut the ego of a fellow man, being or a phenomenon….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the reblog, Bostjan.

      Both the ego and its shadow (aka the demons) are illusions, and yes, we do tend to project our shadows onto others and think the ‘demon’ is outside of us. But it’s all in the mind…

      Liked by 1 person

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