The purpose of our Buddhist practice is to learn to see things as they are which also includes seeing all sides of ourselves as they are. How is that working out for you? Me, I am having great difficulty in the all sides of myself- area.
Often I was told what I should be like or what I should not be like – by family, teachers, partners, employers, culture – and was so busy trying to become someone else I never really had a chance of getting to know myself, not the one that I thought I was or should be, but just as I was. So I spent a huge chunk of my life energy in endless self-improvement projects. The time has come to meet the whole me (not the perfect me) and get to know that “person I would rather not be”, or my shadow, using the Jungian term.
“You must go into the dark in order to bring forth your light. When we suppress any feeling or impulse, we are also suppressing its polar opposite. If we deny our ugliness, we lessen our beauty. If we deny our fear, we minimize our courage. If we deny our greed, we also reduce our generosity. If you believe that we have an imprint of all humanity within us, as I do, then you must be capable of being the greatest person you ever admired, and at the same time capable of being the worst person you ever imagined”.
Debbie Ford, “The Dark Side of the Light Chasers”.
The story of the Tibetan Buddhist saint and mystic who at one point had to face his own demons and reclaimed their offerings, inspired me to try a new strategy for a change (something that might actually work). Milarepa was sent by his teacher on a lifetime long solitary retreat in the mountains and lived a life of great austerity. Once upon returning to his cave with firewood he found the place invaded with five horrific demons with eyes as large as saucers. (This is where I’d do a runner but Milarepa knew better than that, with all that experience baggage behind.) The monk used pretty much the same strategies most of us would use to get rid of intruders. He tried to befriend the demons, to reason with them, and even preached Dharma to them but the demons would not vanish. Finally he realised that those demons were nothing more than the manifestations of his own mind, part of himself and they cannot hurt him. In the end (and this is where Milarepa’s strategy has differed from mine so far) he sings to the demons a Song of Realization in which he welcomes them, invites them to stay for the night and to play and then rushes towards them. The demons then merge into one and vanish. End of this story.
I was struck that a saint like Milarepa had some dark sides of his own and was not particularly keen on meeting them, just like myself. My own tried-and-failed strategies for dealing with the demons in the past include:
- avoiding situations and people when the demon could stick out its ugly head
- “I know” attitude: trying to reason myself out of the negative sides
In this story I found the answer to the question – Why do I have to deal with those demons? – that resonates with me more than any other answer I’ve come across so far: my demons are living in my home (this I take as a fact now), so it is in my best interests to see to it that I no longer fear them and see them for what they are so that they do not become a boss of me.
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
– T S Elliot