A favorite story of mine to start your Monday (and perfect for Halloween week):
“One evening Milarepa returned to his cave after gathering firewood, only to find it filled with demons. They were cooking his food, reading his books, sleeping in his bed. They had taken over the joint. He knew about nonduality of self and other, but he still didn’t quite know how to get these guys out of his cave. Even though he had the sense that they were just a projection of his own mind—all the unwanted parts of himself—he didn’t know how to get rid of them. So first he taught them the dharma. He sat on this seat that was higher than they were and said things to them about how we are all one. He talked about compassion and shunyata and how poison is medicine. Nothing happened. The demons were still there. Then he lost his patience and got angry and ran at them. They just laughed at him. Finally, he gave up and just sat down on the floor, saying, “I’m not going away and it looks like you’re not either, so let’s just live here together.” At that point, all of them left except one. Milarepa said, “Oh, this one is particularly vicious.” (We all know that one. Sometimes we have lots of them like that. Sometimes we feel that’s all we’ve got.) He didn’t know what to do, so he surrendered himself even further. He walked over and put himself right into the mouth of the demon and said, “Just eat me up if you want to.” Then that demon left too.” - Pema Chodron
Everytime I read this story, I laugh first. Then, I pause. I look around at my present life, choices, and surroundings. Who are my demons at this moment? Who are the demons who have been my companions since youth?
No matter how many times you hear a story like this and label your demons, noticing they are there is only the first step. The fact that they are there with you in your space is not the issue. But if they have started to "take over the joint", you must engage with them.
In preparation for colder months and Winter nesting, I am using my Fall energies to reorganize my home. After a Summer of outdoor adventures and a Fall schedule that has made it rare for me to be here unless I am working late hours at my home office or sleeping, unfinished projects and unfiled paperwork have begun to accumulate. There used to be a time when I was able to organize more regularly and it alarms me that I might have created a work/life imbalance in recent years to make this task so periodically monstrous. Then the cycle of frustration with my childhood desire to attain perfection and control my surroundings begins. I have learned to recognize the cycle so I can see it clearly when it begins to get too much power. Last night as I lamented the situation and contemplated my plan of action over a cup of tea, I noticed that many of my demons were sitting right there on the sofa with me. Some of them were crushing me by sitting on my lap, and others were calling me names and prodding at me. They were spilling their drinks and getting crumbs on the floor. They were like unwanted house guests.
As I meet the discomfort of reorganizing my home, this story reminds me that I can't just open the door and sweep the demons out or shred them away into the recycling bin. Somehow the image of my demons being put to work in helping me to engage in my home life to prepare for Winter makes me feel a little lighter about the whole process. I imagine Frustration is dusting, Fear is cleaning windows, Anxiety is finishing home projects, and Control is decluttering to make space for me to nest comfortably. The visual of my demon workforce alone makes me smile as I embark on this mission.
So, while I realize it is important to let my demons crash with me on the sofa from time to time, they know I am definitely not looking for steady roommates.
Does the story of Milarepa help you notice your own demons? How do you plan to engage them so you can work with their presence?