Ask the Loveologist: Feeding Your Demons
I have been out of my relationship almost as long as I was in it but I can’t seem to go on. I have dated a little, but am so afraid of being hurt again that I find some excuse to break it off before anything can happen–good or bad. I feel like I am just going through the motions in my life. Why can’t I just accept my husband leaving me and move on? Any ideas about how to re-start my life?
Thank you for sharing this very personal and challenging question that I believe is experienced by millions in one form or another. Perhaps the most normal and least helpful response that we humans have to our emotional pain and fear is the habit of looking away or trying to suppress our feelings. Most of us are not trained or adept at dealing with the fear, rejection and pain that life and relationships often present. Emotional injuries from childhood that were never processed become silent filters that impact how we perceive and understand our entire lives.
Our feelings can seem so large and overwhelming that they threaten to consume us whole. They grow into demons as we ignore and refuse our emotional experiences that are the life blood of our identity. The demons that run our lives come in an infinite number of manifestations–they are as unique as we are in personality, yet universal in the needs we all share. The problem you mentioned of broken-heartedness can include every thing from conflicts with people we love, to anxiety about communicating, discomfort with our appearance, the terror of being abandoned, or the shame of feeling worthless. We demonize our emotional experiences by our inability to attend to them. Anything that calls for our attention and is continuously rebuffed will become an active demon inside of you.
The issue of demonizing our fears and pain is as old as recorded history. The ancient Buddhist practices of working to embrace our dark places was first recorded over a thousand years ago. The practice has been translated and modernized for our times in an extremely user friendly version, called Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict. Written by a former Buddhist nun, Tsultrim Allione, the book provides a helpful five step process to identify and attend to the experiences and emotions that prevent us from joining life.
Although the idea of feeding and nurturing our internal enemies flies in the face of the conventional approach of overcoming and eliminating our weaknesses, getting intimate with the parts of ourselves that we attempt to cut off from ourselves makes great sense. Instead of battling with the places that scare us, this practice shows us how to invite them in, take a good look at them and try to find a way to give them what they need. If ever a Buddhist path offered a way to true liberation, this is it. And you don’t even have to learn to sit, anyone with the willingness and a little bit of courage can learn to embody your feelings and listen.
Dismantling and integrating our internal demons has the added benefit of helping us to develop the skills of attending and turning towards our feelings before they become the monsters that can control us. The better you get at learning to look at what makes you afraid, sad, angry or anxious, the more you realize that there is no real form to these feelings. Their intensity grows from through our unwillingness to see them. With practice, dealing with the emotions that have kept you locked away from your own life is as simple as turning your awareness towards the experience as soon as it comes up. Emotions that are witnessed do not intensify, they resolve and literally vanish before your eyes. The shift from being controlled by our emotions to being governed by our awareness is subtle and profound. Emotions don’t stop happening, they just stop keeping you from a life of your choosing. Try this and let me know how it goes.