Feeding your Demons

tsultrim-allione

Lama Tsultrim Allione

This is a practice I really value, developed by Lama Tsultrim Allione… Try it for meeting those recurrent obstacles (or demons) and rather than the habitual fighting them in one form or another, see what happens when you feed them instead. Based on the powerful Tibetan Buddhist practice of Chod, offered in a very accessible form with the potential of true transformation.

For a practice session guided by Lama Tsultrim Allione herself, click here. For more info on this process, please click here. The following description of the practice comes from the Tara Mandala website.

An Abbreviated Version of the Five Steps of the Feeding Your Demons Process

Nine Relaxation Breaths

Take nine deep relaxation breaths with long exhalations: for the first three breaths, breathe in and bring the breath to any tension in the body releasing it with the exhalation. For the second three breaths, inhale into any emotional tension, feel where you hold it in your body and release it with the exhalation. And lastly, breathe into any mental tension. Feel where you hold nervousness, worries or mental blockages in your body and release them with the exhalation

Motivation:Generate a heartfelt motivation to practice for the benefit of one’s self and all beings.

Step 1. Find the Demon

Decide which demon, god or god-demon you are going to work with.
Locate where you hold it most strongly in your body.
Become aware of the qualities of the sensations in your body including:

  • color
  • texture
  • temperature

Intensify the sensation.

Step 2. Personify the Demon and Find Out What It Needs

Personify this sensation as a figure with arms legs, and eyes and see it facing you. If an inanimate object appears imagine what it would look like if it were personified as some kind of being.

Notice:

  • color
  • skin surface
  • gender
  • size
  • its character
  • its emotional state
  • the look in its eyes

Notice something about the demon you didn’t see before.
Ask the demon what it wants.

What is it that you want from me?

Ask the demon what it needs.

What need do you have that is behind what you want?

Ask the demon how it would feel if it gets what it needs.

If you get what you need how will you feel?

Having asked the questions, immediately change places with the demon.

Step 3. Become the Demon

Face the chair or cushion you were seated on and become the demon, allowing yourself a little time to “sit in its shoes.”
Notice how your normal self looks from the demon’s point of view.

Now answer these three questions:

What I want from you is…
What I need from you is…
What I would feel if I got what I need is…

Step 4. Feed the Demon and Meet the Ally

Feed the demon

Come back to your original position. Take a moment to settle in and see the demon in front of you.
Dissolve your body into nectar that has the quality of the feeling that the demon would have if its need was satisfied (this is the answer to the third question in step 3)
Feed the demon to its complete satisfaction, imagining the nectar entering the demon any way you wish. Keep feeding until complete satisfaction is reached (if the demon seems to be insatiable, then imagine how it would look if it were completely satisfied). At this point you can go directly to step 5 or meet your ally.

Meet the ally

If there is a being present in place of the demon when you end the fourth step, ask this being if it is the ally. If it is not, invite an ally to appear. If the demon has dissolved completely then simply invite an ally to appear.
Notice all the details of the ally: its color, its size, and the look in its eyes.

Ask it one or all of these questions:

How will you help me?
How will you protect me?
What pledge do you make to me?

Change places, becoming the ally, and answer the question(s) above.
Return to your original position, then take a moment and feel the help and protection coming from the ally to you and then imagine the ally is dissolving into you. You and the ally dissolve into emptiness, which naturally takes you to the fifth step.

Step 5. Rest

Rest in the state that is present when the ally dissolves into you and you dissolve into emptiness. Let your mind relax without creating any particular experience. Rest as long as you like without filling the space, trying not to make anything happen or rushing to finish.

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Verses for Environmental Practice

spiders-web-2Waking up in the morning
I vow with all beings
to be ready for sparks of the Dharma
from flowers or children or birds.

Sitting alone in zazen
I vow with all beings
to remember I’m sitting together
with mountains, children, and bears.

Looking up at the sky
I vow with all beings
to remember this infinite ceiling
in every room of my life.

When I stroll around in the city
I vow with all beings
to notice how lichen and grasses
never give up in despair.

Watching a spider at work
I vow with all beings
to cherish the web of the universe:
touch one point and everything moves.

Preparing the garden for seeds
I vow with all beings
to nurture the soil to be fertile
each spring for the next 1000 years.

When people praise me for something
I vow with all beings
to return to my vegetable garden
and give credit where credit is due.

With tropical forests in danger
I vow with all beings
to raise hell with the people responsible
and slash my consumption of trees.

With resources scarcer and scarcer
I vow with all beings
to consider the law of proportion:
my have is another’s have-not.

Watching gardeners label their plants
I vow with all beings
to practice the old horticulture
and let plants identify me.

Hearing the crickets at night
I vow with all beings
to keep my practice as simple –
just over and over again.

Falling asleep at last
I vow with all beings
to enjoy the dark and the silence
and rest in the vast unknown.

By Robert Aitken. Published in Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism, ed. Stephanie Kaza and Kenneth Kraft (Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2000), 471-473.a

The Shambhala Warrior Mind-Training

by John Wigham/Akuppa

· Firmly establish your intention to live your life for the healing of the world. Be conscious of it, honour it, nurture it every day.

· Be fully present in our time. Find the courage to breathe in the suffering of the world. Allow peace and healing to breathe out through you in return.

· Do not meet power on its own terms. See through to its real nature – mind and heart made. Lead your response from that level.

· Simplify. Clear away the dead wood in your life. Look for the heartwood and give it the first call on your time, the best of your energy.

· Put down the leaden burden of saving the world alone. Join with others of like mind. Align yourself with the forces of resolution.

· Hold in a single vision, in the same thought, the transformation of yourself and the transformation of the world. Live your life around that edge, always keeping it in sight.

· As a bird flies on two wings, balance outer activity with inner sustenance.

· Following your heart, realise your gifts. Cultivate them with diligence to offer knowledge and skill to the world.

· Train in non-violence of body, speech and mind. With great patience to yourself, learn to make beautiful each action, word and thought.

· In the crucible of meditation, bring forth day by day into your own heart the treasury of compassion, wisdom and courage for which the world longs.

· Sit with hatred until you feel the fear beneath it. Sit with fear until you feel the compassion beneath that.

· Do not set your heart on particular results. Enjoy positive action for its own sake and rest confident that it will bear fruit.

· When you see violence, greed and narrow-mindedness in the fullness of its power, walk straight into the heart of it, remaining open to the sky and in touch with the earth.

· Staying open, staying grounded, remember that you are the inheritor of the strengths of thousands of generations of life.

· Staying open, staying grounded, recall that the thankful prayers of future generations are silently with you.

· Staying open, staying grounded, be confident in the magic and power that arise when people come together in a great cause.

· Staying open, staying grounded, know that the deep forces of Nature will emerge to the aid of those who defend the Earth.

· Staying open, staying grounded, have faith that the higher forces of wisdom and compassion will manifest through our actions for the healing of the world.

· When you see weapons of hate, disarm them with love.
When you see armies of greed, meet them in the spirit of sharing.
When you see fortresses of narrow-mindedness, breach them with truth.
When you find yourself enshrouded in dark clouds of dread, dispel them with fearlessness.
When forces of power seek to isolate us from each other, reach out with joy.

· In it all and through it all, holding to your intention, let go into the music of life. Dance!

warriorbravery

Painting by Miriam Davis

Self-Compassion Break

developed by Kristin Neff.

The daily life practice of the Self Compassion Break has been invaluable to me countless times over the years. It takes some of the sting out of whatever difficulty presents itself, as soon as I remember to connect with it. Having practised self compassion for many years, I was surprised about how inspired I felt when reading Kristin Neff’s book Self Compassion, The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. Apparently there was still a part of me that believed that I just had to shape up and shut up, rather than be kind to myself when the shit hits the fan…

As the cover says:

Dr. Neff helps readers understand that compassion isn’t only something that we should apply to others. Just as we’d have compassion for a good friend who was going through a hard time or felt inadequate in some way, why not for ourselves? Many people believe that they need to be self-critical to motivate themselves, but in fact they just end up feeling anxious, incompetent and depressed. Dr. Neff’s research shows that far from encouraging self-indulgence, self-compassion helps us to see ourselves clearly and make needed changes because we care about ourselves and want to reach our full potential.

A further recommendation to this book came from an MSc student who said it ‘read like a novel’. You can’t say that of many mindfulness and compassion books! So below the short practice of the Self Compassion Break:

Think of a situation in your life that is difficult, that is causing you stress. Call the situation to mind, and see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body.

Now, say to yourself:

1. This is a moment of suffering

That’s mindfulness. Other options include:

This hurts.
Ouch.
This is stress.

2. Suffering is a part of life

That’s common humanity. Other options include:

Other people feel this way.
I’m not alone.
We all struggle in our lives.
Now, put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch of your hands on your chest. Or adopt the soothing touch you discovered felt right for you.

Say to yourself:

3. May I be kind to myself

You can also ask yourself, “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?” Is there a phrase that speaks to you in your particular situation, such as:

May I give myself the compassion that I need
May I learn to accept myself as I am
May I forgive myself
May I be strong.
May I be patient
This practice can be used any time of day or night, and will help you remember to evoke the three aspects of self-compassion when you need it most.

Taking in the Good – Rick Hanson

“At the banquets of life, bring a big spoon.”

spoon

What Is Taking In?
• In a profound sense, we are what we remember – the slow accumulation of the  registration of lived experience. That’s what we have “taken in” to become a part of ourselves. Just as food becomes woven into the body, memory becomes woven into the self.
• Two kinds of memory: Explicit and Implicit.
– Explicit: Recollections of specific events.
– Implicit: Emotions, body sensations, relationship paradigms, sense of the world.
• Implicit memory – emotional/somatic memory – is different from remembering ideas or concepts: this kind of memory is in your “gut.” It’s visceral, felt, powerful, and rooted in the most ancient and fundamental structures of your brain.
• The sense of self, of what it feels like to be you, is rooted in emotional/somatic memory. That’s why it’s crucial to take real good care of what’s contained in those memory banks.

The Importance of Taking In Positive Experiences
• Negative experience is registered immediately: helps survival.
• Positive experiences generally have to be held in awareness for 5 – 10 – 20 seconds for them to register in emotional memory.
• Negative experiences trump positive ones: A single bad event with a dog is more memorable than a 1000 good times.
• Experiments with learned helplessness: great illustration of the enduring power of negative experiences compared to positive ones.
• Therefore, it is SO IMPORTANT to consciously, deliberately help the brain register positive experiences so they sink into the deepest layers of your mind. The benefits:
– Generally positive internal emotional landscape, atmosphere, climate.
– The fundamental foundation of self-soothing, emotional self-regulation, resilience.
– Positive expectations about oneself, others, and the future. This is the legitimate basis of “verified optimism.”
– It’s also the basis of true faith or confidence in your spiritual path.
– “Evoked others,” the sense of others inside who are nurturing, encouraging.
– In psychological terms, this is the mechanism of what’s understood as the internalization of positive resources.
– A crucial resource inside and pathway for healing from trauma.
• All this is about being in reality, not wearing rose-colored glasses:
– It’s about proportionality, about our sense of the world being consistent with the nature of the world. For example, if the “mosaic” of life is mainly good, shouldn’t our sense of living itself be mainly good?!
– It’s about learning from new positive experiences – having them make a difference. It’s about using new positive experiences to counterbalance old negative ones.
• From a spiritual perspective, you are helping yourself really sense and then register good experiences on the path, or that come with skillful practice (e.g., the sukha, or deep happiness of peaceful meditation). This has many benefits:
– Highlight the milestones along the way, so you can know what they feel like and find your way back to them.
– Build faith and confidence in the fruits of the path.
– Reward yourself for doing something that’s noble but not always easy, and thus support your ongoing motivation.
– More easily tap into the peace, contentment, and basic well-being that are the preconditions for deep states of concentration and insight.

How to Take in the Good
The Science
Since you are building up records of experiences in your most visceral memory banks, you need to focus on the emotional and body sensation aspects of your positive experiences. Through the mindfulness skills you’ve already learned, really tune into the embodied sense of the good experience. For example, relax your breathing and extend your awareness into the felt sense of the experience in your body.

General Attitudes
• Being in reality. You are just being fair, seeing the truth of things. You are not being vain or arrogant – which distort the truth of things.
• You’ve earned the good times: the meal is set before you, it’s already paid for, and you might as well dig in!
• Recognize the value to yourself and others of taking in positive experiences. It is a good, a moral, a virtuous thing to soak in good experiences. Even from a spiritual perspective, positive emotional states support practice through freeing up attention, building confidence and faith in the path, and fueling heartfelt caring and kindness for others.

Try to be aware of any attitudes that say it’s vain, selfish, sinful, or somehow unfair to feel good — especially about yourself. Explore those attitudes — and then let them go by relaxing your body, releasing the emotions embedded in the attitude, and disputing in your mind the illogical beliefs in the attitude.

Specific Actions Inside Yourself
#1 Help positive events to become positive experiences for you. You can do this by:
• Paying attention to the good things in your world, and inside yourself. This includes pretty sunsets, nice songs on the radio, chocolate!, people being nice to you, the smell of a baby’s hair, getting something done at work, finishing the dishes, holding your temper, getting yourself to the gym, feeling your natural goodheartedness, etc., etc. You could set a goal each day to actively look for beauty in your world, or signs of caring for you by others, or good qualities within yourself, etc.
• Maintaining a relaxed, accepting, spacious awareness.
• Setting aside for the moment any concerns or irritations, or at least nudging them to the background of your attention.
• Sometimes doing things deliberately to create positive experiences for yourself. For example, you could take on a challenge, or do something nice for others, or bring to mind feelings of compassion and caring, or call up the sense or memory of feeling contented, peaceful, and happy.

#2 Extend the experience in time and space:
• Keep your attention on it so it lingers; don’t just jump onto something else.
• Let it fill your body with positive sensations and emotions.
• Savor, relish the positive experience. It’s delicious!

#3 Sense that the positive experience is soaking into your brain and body – registering deeply in emotional memory. Perhaps imagine that it’s sinking into your chest and back and brainstem. Maybe imagine a treasure chest in your heart. Take the time to do this: 5 or 10 or 20 seconds. Keep relaxing your body and absorbing the positive experience.

#4 For bonus points: Sense that the positive experience is going down into old hollows and wounds within you and filling them up and replacing them with new positive feelings and views. These are typically places where the new positive experience is the opposite of, the antidote to the old one. Like current experiences of worth replacing old feelings of shame or inadequacy. Or current feelings of being cared about and loved replacing old feelings of rejection, abandonment, loneliness. Or a current sense of one’s own strength replacing old feelings of weakness, smallness.
The “replaced” experience may be from adulthood. But usually the most valuable experiences to replace are from our youngest years. They are the “tip of the root of the dandelion,” the ones we need to pull to prevent the dandelion of upsets from growing back. The way to do this is to have the new positive experience be prominent and in the
foreground of your awareness at the same time that the old pain or unmet needs are dimly sensed in the background.
The new experiences will gradually replace the old ones. You will not forget events that happened, but they will lose their charge and their hold on you.

THIS IS A PROFOUND, FAR-REACHING, AND GENUINE WAY TO HELP YOURSELF GROW. YOU ARE LITERALLY CHANGING YOUR OWN BRAIN.

Important Kinds of Experiences to Take In

Introduction
Everybody has vulnerabilities, particular soft spots or “holes in the heart” which we yearn to be filled to make up for missing experiences (mainly from childhood). Reflect on yourself or ask a trusted friend what those might be for you. Then look specifically for experiences that would address your needs – or even take appropriate steps to evoke such experiences in yourself (e.g., ask a friend to explain a little what led her to say something nice about you). Then, once the experience arrives, you know what to do with it!

Common Key Experiences – and Potential Sources
For all of these, look for opportunities to feel them in the moment, and reflect on the past for signs of them as well.
• Safety, security – Settings that feel protected; being with someone who is completely accepting; (for many people) being in nature; if this speaks to you, feeling cradled in God’s love.
• Gratitude, appreciation – Even the smallest bit of good fortune; appreciating simple things like a sunset, a smile, or a spoon; reflecting on the good things in your life today or in the past.
• Strength, “I’m a survivor,” tenacity, grit, resilience – Any time in a day when you were determined, or moved forward in the face of fear, “spoke truth to power,” used your will, pushed back, asserted yourself, etc.
• Feeling loved, cared about, liked, included, attended to, empathized with – Notice when people give you their interested attention, or are warm, or touch you kindly, or are loving, or join with you in any way. Notice when you are included, fit in, are part of the gang. Look for the sense of community, of belonging. Especially look for implicit goodwill toward you within others that may not be actively expressed but is truly present inside their hearts.
• Worth, value, competence, capability, “good enough” – Look both for acknowledgement from others that you matter and have value as well as for signs of this on your own. Like times when you learned something new or did something hard. Any ways that you have contributed to others, like raising a child, volunteering in your community, helped a friend feel better, accomplished something at work, clarified something in a meeting, were kind to a stranger,
helped a family member, held back your hand on tongue when you were angry, etc. Simply the sense of validity in existing, in being here – like the Buddha touching the ground when challenged by the forces of darkness to say “I get to be here, as part of this earth” – in having rights as a being to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
• Your innate goodness – It’s a remarkable fact that the people who have gone the very deepest into the human mind and heart – in others words, the sages and saints of every religious tradition – all say the same thing: the fundamental nature of every human being is pure, conscious, peaceful, radiant, kind, and wise . . . and is joined in mysterious ways with the ultimate underpinnings of reality, by whatever name we give That. Just look inside. When you are calm and don’t feel threatened, what sort of person are you? Of course, like everyone else, you wish the best for other people (and yourself). You can sense your own deepest qualities, even if they’re sometimes veiled by the worries and sorrows we all feel. As an inherent property of the nervous system, there’s a deep down essence or core in each of us that is awake, present, interested, and quietly happy. And if this sort of language speaks to you, you could also reflect on and deepen your sense of your own soul, innermost being, or Buddhanature. As you access a growing feeling of your innate goodness, let that sink in like any other beautiful experience.