Feeding Your Daemons (Part II): Learning Self-forgiveness

The origin of all demons is in mind itself. When awareness holds on and embraces any outer object, it is in the hold of a demon.” –Machig Labdrön

Both my mediation and Feeding Your Demons (FYD) practices have repeatedly touched upon the parallelism of self-forgiveness and compulsion. Noah Levine, founder of Refuge Recovery, is currently teaching at Tara Mandala. Noah is a brilliant soul  with an unique view on Dharma and a truly compassionate, down to earth person that provides safety and assurance we need.

Today, our morning’s meditation was focused on exploring dominant feelings with a neutral lens. And as most sitting meditations practised in Refuge and Recovery, it is followed by the walking one. For unknown reasons my sitting meditation triggered memories of past events when I was harsh and unforgiving towards myself. The walking part took us downstairs, to the temple, circling inside the great Tara Hall where I kept reading descriptions and mantras instead of focusing on my walking meditation task. Regardless, at the end when we gathered in the room above the temple we started our sitting part a sense of peace and quietness rested upon me.

At noon all of us, Living Dharma Volunteers, were invited to join Chandra Easton’s FYD class .  Chandra is a superior guide as FYD’ guides certainly need to be because to help identify obstructing forces in our psyche swiftly and guide them patiently toward fullness of transformation requires skill, elegance and grace. The FYD practice (described in my previous blog), is derived from Machig Labdrön, a 11th-century Tibetan tantric Buddhist practitioner, teacher and yogini who began several Tibetan lineages of the Vajrayana practice, including Chöd.  Lama Tsultrim Allione revived the practice in mid 1980s to suit Western mind and sensibilities. She was also recently recognized as an emanation of Machig Labdrön,

FYD is exceptionally well suited to combine with all forms of art therapy. Today  we were given pieces of soft, moist, clay from a nearby pond. The clay was rounded into 8” balls and placed on the paper plates in front of us, the pillows we sat on neatly arranged, shoulder by shoulder on a small porch around the Children Yurt. We were also given aprons to wear and closed our eyes to start with the nine opening breaths. The air was hot and dry emanating the sweet scent of wild flowers.

My intention for the day was to explore self-forgiveness even further. I still had some residue feelings from the morning’s work, some heaviness around my neck and chest. I closed my eyes and visualized this feeling I saw as a smooth metal piece. We were asked to intensify the feeling so it could be projected outside of the body and, with our eyes firmly closed, to shape the image in clay. I divided the ball in three unequal pieces modelling a flat, gingerbread female figure. I ventured into the most simple shape, afraid of my artistic limitations. Two smaller pieces I saved for arms and the rest I first rolled, then flattened. I firmly squeezed the top to form the head and neck. I glued the arms the best I can and opened my eyes slightly to view my disproportionate creation then moved forward.

Chandra clued us again –  ask the demon what she wants, really needs and how she will feel when she gets what she needs. The seats are changed and now I was on the opposite pillow with this “demon” on the paper plate in my lap. I needed to assume her body so I did. I felt stern, dry, lifeless and demanding. I saw myself from the demon’s perspective as needlessly joyous and, rather, frivolous. What my gingerbread woman wants from me is obedience but when she is asked what she really needs she responds by saying that she wants acceptance and to be soft and fertile. She wanted to be fed “aliveness”. The seats are changed again to start the “feeding”.  My “aliveness” feeding nectar assumed colours of bubbly pink, blue, green and pale yellow of an early spring. Filled with nectar she craved this demon-ess transformed into a colorful, plump, happy and sleepy creature. I felt an ocean of tears opening somewhere inside me mostly because I felt overwhelmed by compassion for this lonely, unhappy, isolated being.

Chandra clued us further – to ask about allies, if there are any out there.

First I saw a man, an ancient Roman peasant walking on a stony path with a very young girl. In one hand he held the girl’s hand, and in the other he a flaming pitchfork with three pointers. I felt that this man is a refugee on a long path, taking him away from whichever place he was exiled from. I also sensed that my lack of self forgiveness was somehow related not only to this man but to a long chain of man (and girls) who are forced to place duties before free exploration. Yet, he was not an ally.

I saw then, instead, an image of Tibetan women in the traditional dark vine dress sitting on the top of the barren hill covered with small grey stones, turning a small instrument,  a combination of a spinning drum and praying wheel. I asked if she was my ally and she answered in the positive. At first I am trying to push the image away – this is too obvious, it cannot be – I am here at the Tara Mandala where Chöd is taught and practised so I would prefer something “more substantial” and unexpected.  yet, my psyche is persistent. I visualized details –  her eyes, demeanour, character while burying my hands into the same pile of clay to remodel demon-ess into an ally. My new figure is not flat but erected. I start with pyramidal composition keeping her left arm folded in her lap while the right one is erected at 90 degrees. I set aside a small amount of clay for the instrument. Our eyes are still firmly closed and I attempt to sense how the sculpture relate to the space.  We are cued to change our seats again with allies in our laps, assuming their personalities. I can taste dry air and grey, dusty land. My clothes are rough and old but clean and solid. I am in a half meditative state and from the ally’s perspective I see my original self as somebody I consider to be a generally decent only needing more time to get where she needs to go. As an ally I am willing to help by encouraging her interests in experimentation. She will access me whenever she will spin the wheel.

We are cued now to change back to our original seats and start dissolving allies into our physical bodies. Unexpectedly, I felt as if hit by an entire spectrum of the Aurora Borealis lights penetrating every cells of my entire body. This abundant light dies in a high, bright internal fire first that slowly weakens and disappears with my breathing. Dissolution is now completed and we continue to rest our minds in deep meditation.

I feel deeply shaken by these fundamental concepts. First, the necessity of focusing on survival over having  time for self-exploration (the Roman figure) seems to be an old but persistent pattern inherited vie my Eastern European lineage. My grand-grand mothers, grandmothers and my mother never dared to venture outside of their home duties and lives devoted to husband and large number of children. To serve and endure in serving left no spare time for self.  Naturally, in my life and perhaps in the  lives of many women with families interested in temporary renunciation a sense of guilt when priorities are shifted is triggered automatically. The same feeling, however, is virtually unknown to our male counterparts. It seems that our female social modelling gives us an access to household roles (mother, daughter, sister) and worldly roles (corporate, entrepreneurial, creative) but is ignorant of spiritual roles we need to play and explore (priestesses, nuns, renunciates).

Yet, if no time will be taken for seeking spiritual guidance my life will not be enliven and  the ginger- cookie lifeless life is destined to manifest. In spite of our multitasking capacity we are simply not built to play simultaneous roles comfortably. So I choose this one to be played right now fully. Right now I am forgiving myself to be renunciate. “All these disciplines, renunciations, and services which the Holy Ones perform and which others admire so much because they imagine them to be difficult and austere are in reality joys and privileges to the performers. This is one of the great sacred Secrets, and it will always be a secret, no matter how many people give it away, because no one will ever believe it who has not tried it.” (Joel Morwood, Naked Through the Gate, 1985)

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