Demons and Goddesses


In Tantric Hatha Yoga, there is a model that breaks down our experience of life into two energies: demons and goddesses. Demons are those things which feel harmful to us, and goddesses are those things which feel like blessings to us. It is easy to see this split in our own lives. We all have experiences, energies, emotions, thoughts, circumstances and people which feel upsetting and threatening to us. And we all have those aspects of being alive which bestow upon us great calm, support, generosity and abundance. Mostly we believe that these two energies live separately from one another. Mostly we believe that it is best to avoid the demon and to curry the favor of the goddess.

From the Tantric perspective however, it is said that if we can learn the name of our demon, i.e. what that experience, feeling, thought or habit actually means to us, then we can transmute that demon into a goddess who  blesses us. To learn who the demon is is to learn its power and precisely how it is that it hurts us. This is the alchemical process of changing darkness into light.This approach offers a rationale for turning towards the dark, as opposed to hiding from it. This view offers a way to embrace the totality of what life brings to us while allowing us to be strengthened in the process And it gives the permission and the protection that we need to actually look forward to getting to know what we most seek to avoid.

I was away last week for my father’s memorial service. Anticipating seeing family of origin, while preparing for the day itself, brought up more emotions, and more combinations of emotions, than I could possibly list out. It was the equivalent of repeatedly being caught in a daily avalanche which ripped and pulled at me as I spiraled down and out of control. Every day I walked, ran, danced, did yoga, and meditated; multiple times on certain days because the demons had me on the run. It was exhausting. And when it was over, it was liberating. Why? Because I had learned the name of my demons. And they did not exist in others. They were, in fact, alive and well within me. While overwhelming at times, ultimately it left me with one unavoidable question; “Do you want to be free and happy, or do you want to continue to pull forward pain and suffering in the form of what other people do, or do not do?”

Every day we are all faced with some version of this question. And while we would all likely say we would rather be free, we often do not think or behave that way. There is a world of difference between wanting something and choosing something. To choose is to get to know your demon’s name, his real name. This is a very, very difficult thing to do. It requires that you be willing to see things differently. It requires that you be willing to put your attention to this. It requires that you slow down enough to feel some things you have been desperately trying to avoid.

Try sitting quietly with yourself taking long, slow, deep breaths. Allow an image of your demon to surface. What does it look like, smell like, feel like to you? What memories and thoughts arise in association with it? When you feel ready, ask it its name, and nothing more. Do not try and do anything to it. Do not try and make it go away. Instead, try listening. Just as you would introduce yourself to a new person and spend time getting to know them, do this with your demon. Be open to allowing the demon’s name to shift and change over time. Doing this will bring you closer and closer to the power it holds over you. From this place, it will become clear how what has harmed you can instead be what blesses you.

As I did multiple versions of this work across the week, my demon changed form many, many times. Initially it began as a person from my past, only to shift into “the governor;” that internal part of me that keeps tabs on me, making sure I do not step out of line. That part of me that references others to make sure I am doing it “right.” Not exactly the path to freedom I am yearning for. Ultimately, it presented as an essential protection that I required growing up, but that I no longer need. I had finally caught up with the change in my reality. Difficult as it is to do this work, once you know your demon’s name, you have something to sink your teeth into, as opposed to something sinking its teeth into you.

Darkness as Medicine


Years ago I was doing a shamanic training. It was an intensely deep, personal and arduous experience. Suffice it to say that when I began this inner exploration there was a lot I ran into about myself that I had been keeping from myself; both the light and the dark. A shaman is said to be one who sees in the dark; one who goes into those places most of us do not want to go because we are afraid of what we might find. Rightly so. At one point, utterly and completely overwhelmed by it all, I was wisely told, “This is your power coming towards you.” Nothing about my experience felt empowering. It felt dark, scary and beyond me.

When looked at from a certain angle, we are living in very, very dark times. And we are most definitely at the end of something. The evidence is everywhere. Every form of life is crying out in one way or another. We are drowning in violence. We are saturated in suspicion and hate for those we do not understand. Our bodies are screaming in pain and with great alarm. Nature rebels.

We have a choice to make, each and every one of us. How will we choose to be in this time of great upheaval? Will we put our heads in the sand, refusing to see? Or will we turn towards the pain and violence we see all around us and do the bravest thing of all; find it within ourselves. I have built a life on choosing to see. Deciding to know, no matter what. I will tell you that this one decision alone has brought me the greatest comfort, joy and inner confidence that I have ever known. Equally it has brought me the greatest fear I have ever known. It is terrifying to look at those things we have shoved beneath the surface. But like anything pushed down long enough, it will makes its way back to the surface at some point, with or without our consent.

Whatever is breaking down in you, let it. Whatever is dying, say good-bye and thank you. Whatever is struggling, hold it tenderly and then allow it to release. Do not try and get past this. As I was once told, “When all that can falls away, what remains is true.”  We need to let what needs to, fall away. We need to become the ones who can see in the dark. The ones willing to become familiar with those banished places within ourselves. For only in knowing the dark places within will we be in a place to understand the totality of who we are. And in knowing this, we will understand and shift what is happening all around us.  As the saying goes, “As within, so without.”

The Best We Can Do


I lay in bed last night awake for hours. Hot. Sweaty. Frustrated. Ready to implode. What am I doing here? What is it really all about? Some intensity inside of me was trying to figure something out. Trying to figure out whether I was on the “right” or “wrong” side of this thing called Life.

A professor friend of mine died this past weekend. She was the one who interviewed me and had, without even knowing me, somehow decided I was the one for the job. I never went through the “normal channels” to be hired. She was the one who, without me knowing, kept me from being laid off when the trustees wanted to cut corners and have one of the full time faculty teach my classes. She told the trustees I was the only one who could do what I do. For someone who truly knew me so little, she knew me better than some who have known me longest. She had a kind of built-in faith about me, and it gave me a strength and a confidence that I was lacking at the time.

I actually love death. And I love heartfelt services which necessarily come on the heels of death. Why? Because for that little window of time, everyone’s head snaps back into place. Everyone stops pretending, if even a little, that we don’t know. Everyone stops pretending, if even for a day, that the normal things we run around and chase, pale in comparison to this moment in time.

Our spirits are daily breaking. Each and every day we put more faith and more attention into a machine than we do the sanctity and preciousness of our own lives. We think about our devices more than we do each other. There was a time when we were schooled in placing those energies into Something Greater. Something not man-made. For those of us already grown, maybe we can mend our way back. But what about the children? What about the ones who are being schooled daily to believe that their faith, attention, energies, and the life force itself belongs to something that beeps?

I don’t know if putting these things together is somehow uncouth. All that I can tell you is that when I woke this morning I had a strong sense that all of  it must  be included. That the best that I can do is to decide to notice, and decide to observe deeply. And to act in the only way I know how.