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.