Embracing Our Inner Demons

Posted on May 25, 2017

Our attitudes to the people we encounter are mirror images of our attitudes to our inner selves. If we have a habit of putting blame on others, we can be sure that an inner voice is putting blame on ourselves, all the time. If for anything that happens to us someone must have been at fault, then ever so often it will have to be us. And there will be a nagging inner voice telling us so. Compare this with accepting that accidents just happen, sometimes, or most of the time.

If we measure others by a yardstick, being obsessed with where they are in relation to others (“He is an able pianist, but not top league”, “She is less of a cook than me”, “He is absolutely incompetent at chess”), then this can only mean that we also use that yardstick to punish ourselves. If we look deeply into this habit we may be able to slowly, gently let go of it. That would be a wise thing to do, as Dan Greenberg reminds us of in his book How to make yourself miserable.

There are two ways of comparing ourselves to others. There is a way that makes us miserable, by confronting us with what we are not but think we should be. There is also a way that uplifts us. The image of people we admire for what they do or have done can inspire us to act like them, revealing to us how we could be.

If we are in the habit of labelling actions of others (“What she did was really spiteful”, “What you just said was so mean”) this invariably means that we label and censure our own actions too. Again, if we notice this by putting our awareness on it, it can shift. In this way we can learn to let our actions flow more naturally, with mild amusement at what the things we do or say reveal about ourselves.

Sarcasm, ridicule, scoffing: these are poisoned arrows. Unleashing them at others means aiming them at ourselves. Outer voice coinciding with inner voice.

My teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (talking about someone I admire because he reveals to me how I could be) recommends looking deeply into our attitudes to others, in order to start healing our attitudes towards ourselves. Once we start noticing how our outer voice coincides with our inner voice, we are taking steps to get more acquainted with our inner demons. They become less threatening as soon as we realize they may have something to teach us.

So notice the inner voice that finds fault with what we do, or fail to do. Gently ask whether what this voice says is true. Open a dialogue. Gentleness is key here. Often we will find some truth in it, but mixed with something that does no longer serve us. Then we can start owning that truth. Owning means not reacting to it, but, instead, absorbing it. As soon as we do that we will notice a shift, and new truths will reveal themselves. We are starting to befriend our demons. We are turning them into allies. We are starting to heal. Our actions are becoming more natural, more authentic. This is a never ending process.