Bringing Demons to Light

October 2, 2018

This time of year, Vata season in Ayurvedic teaching, is about whipping winds, crackling leaves and cracking skin, unpredictable story lines, and anxiety playing out in our guts, our joints, and our minds. One classic symptom of Vata season is interrupted sleep: worries keep us awake, monsters appear in our dreams. If we pay attention, we can find these demons in our waking hours, too.

I feel a strong pull towards what some might call optimism. It’s enticing to embrace the belief everything is “fine” rather than be labeled a conspiracy theorist. Even when I recognize the demons in my midst, I want to look away from them, pretending they have no power, they can’t be vindicated. Or maybe I want to believe that their power isn’t equal to mine.

Here’s the thing, though: we all have evil inside. We can all fall in line with monsters and monstrous missions, unless we work to counter those instincts with light. Dismissing demons isn’t the same as countering them.

One of my beloved teachers, Jacoby Ballard, frequently tells this parable.

A nun was in retreat. She found a dry cave and decided it was safe to pursue her practice in its cover. Her first day of meditation passed, and on the morning of the second day, she was awakened by a demon. It flew over her and around the cave, taunting her, reminding her of pain she tried to forget.

The nun went out to collect kindling.

When she returned to the cave, the demon had prepared a showcase of her fears. The nun saw what the demon prepared, and she began building her fire. The demon decided to use the fire to increase the terror.

The nun went out in search of water.

When the nun returned, the fire was blazing, and the demon had rolled out the nun’s repertoire of shame. She saw what the demon wanted to show her, and she poured some of the water into a kettle.

As she sat in front of the fire, waiting for the kettle to boil, the demon confronted her directly: “What is going on here? I know how you hate to revisit that pain, those fears, and your shame. But you aren’t running away from me this time, you’re just puttering around building a fire…”

The nun looked the demon in the face and said, “I saw you coming before I woke. I know what you like to do when you visit. You’ve been here before, and I’m sure you’ll come again. Right now, while you’re here, I thought we could have some tea.”

Facing our demons means accepting they are real. Getting to know them means we can ask them their intentions, and we can evaluate whether that works for us.

Facing our demons doesn’t mean conquering the pain, the fear, or the shame. It means accepting that those are real parts of our lives. It means that we don’t pretend things are one way when our gut, our mind, or our soul tells another story.

In this season of shadow, we are trying to figure out if Kavanaugh needs to be held accountable for acts that happened decades ago, as well as for lying under oath which is relevant to the job he is hoping to get.

Simultaneously, on a smaller stage, we are trying to figure out if Botham Jean needs to be held accountable posthumously for storing marijuana in his own home, which we know because it was found after he was murdered at home by a Dallas cop who meant to enter her own apartment.

Surrounded by lies and injustice, some of us are telling ourselves that lawmakers, white men and women with power, will value the rights of all of us to live free from any kind of persecution, in particular sexual violence, assault, and murder.

The truth, though, is that those in charge don’t value the right people have to live without persecution. Coordinating an FBI investigation weeks after one was requested is not about valuing survivors’ voices. Jeff Flake–and Lindsey Graham and everyone in this country–has heard survivors’ voices before. We have ALL heard the agonizing telling of sexual assault, and we are still demanding the public telling in order to “decide” how evil it is to shred someone’s autonomy, sense of safety, access to sexual pleasure, connection to confidence and self, and more.

And we have all heard the agonizing telling of unarmed black and brown men being shot, strangled, pursued and killed by lawkeepers. (We have also heard how the armed shooter at Parkland was captured by skilled lawkeepers, incurring no physical harm.) We have seen families hold press conferences to demand that murderers be charged for their crimes.

We are all still allowing perpetrators to publicly tell their side, to bemoan their loss of self-regard, their acquisition of shame (and, in Kavanaugh’s case, the insistence that he can’t claim shame; he’s a hard worker). We are telling the same story we have told for generations: a little progress is better than regression.

Not true. When it comes to corruption and lies in our “justice” systems, we can do better than a little progress. In the pursuit of justice, a little progress is a quieter demon who we can more easily ignore while the regression sets in.

This week look for ways you allow demons to practice in your midst. What lies are you repeating as if they are truth? Where are you looking the other way, hoping things will work out? How can you bring some light to the shadows that are in your world? (Talking or writing about it is always a good start.) Tell yourself, “I am brave enough to recognize demons.”

If examining the relationship between shadow and light is up your alley, make sure you are signed up for our Lunar Letters. The next one will arrive on Sunday, in time for the new moon in Libra on October 8.