Feeding Your Demons

Once in a while I stumble upon a piece of wisdom that makes me rethink and expand my previous map of the world. Once in a while a book comes along that feels like a piece of the large puzzle of knowledge magically coming into place. It answers countless questions I had had in my mind, some of which I wasn’t even able to articulate before reading it. This summer “Feeding Your Demons” by Lama Tsultrim Allione is that book for me. I found it in a lovely bookstore in Seattle and was drawn by the title. Then I read a bit about its author and knew I had to buy it. Tsultrim Allione is an American teacher, writer, poet, a Buddhist Lama, a former Buddhist nun, mother of three children, grandmother of three grandchildren and above all a truly remarkable woman. She spent years studying in Nepal, seven of which as a nun. Later on she left monastic life, got married and discovered that leading a spiritual practice while living through the challenges and tragedies of “normal” life can be one of the most valuable spiritual lessons a human could receive. She went through two divorces and the tragical loss of one of her children before she found a way to bring the wisdom she had gained as a Buddhist nun into her life as a mother and a wife. This amazing woman created a surprising bridge between Eastern wisdom and the realities of a Westerner’s life. She found that the demons modern men and women are facing every day, going about their jobs and caring for their families, are no less scary than the demons ancient mystics were confronted with while in deep meditation on the top of a mountain. Demons like “fear”, “jealousy”, “addiction”, “anger”, “depression”, “guilt” – are all real, all capable of destroying lives and, surprisingly, can be tackled using some almost forgotten Buddhist practices. What Tsultrim Allione realised was that ancient Buddhist wisdom could be used to help...

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Overcoming Learned Helplessness

Today I took part in a Swimathon, alongside four wonderful people, all giving our best in the water to raise money for a charitable cause. We swam next to 7 other teams in an open air Olympic pool. We encouraged each other and we had our friends on the side cheering us on. At the end of it we got our diplomas and medals. I hadn’t expected to feel so elated to hold that shiny piece of medal in my hands. I wondered why. Then it struck me. It was the first time in my life I had attended a sports competition of any kind and no less than two or three years ago I would have told you this day would never come. Why?  Because I suck at sports! At least, until recently, I was fully convinced I did. I have been mostly exempt from sports class all throughout my school years, for all sorts of reasons, but in the end it all boiled down to one thing: I was convinced my body was clumsy, that my jello feet were only  good for carrying my brain around and when it had come to giving His people sports qualities, God had forgotten me altogether. When I was little I was the one nobody wanted to have on their team on the playground because I’d slow them down. And when I did try to keep up the pace in impromptu running competitions I’d always turn out last. My knees were perpetually bruised from tripping and falling. I didn’t even have to run to manage that one. I could’t roll, tumble or do any other gymnastics moves properly, so sports class at school was my nightmare because I’d be one of the few kids with poor grades in sports, messing up my grade point average. For most others that class was a welcome break from more “serious” stuff like math. For me it was an ordeal. The only sport I ever enjoyed, even remotely, was swimming,...

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Where Do You Go When You Run Away From Yourself?

I have just finished reading a fascinating book: “The Examined Life – How We Lose and Find Ourselves” by psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz. It’s a collection of stories gathered in more than 25 years of practice, patient stories which Grosz turns, with great skill, into life stories that can illuminate any of us. What can you learn from someone’s phobia, depression, panick attacks, self-hatred, obsessions? What can you learn from a wife whose husband has died? Or from an autistic child? How about from a depressed, anorexic young woman? What did Grosz, as a human being, learn from the experiences of patients he was treating as a psychoanalyst? These are the questions this book attempts to answer. Grosz finds enlightening insights in the most gruesome of human dramas. Far from being saddening, the book is engaging and inspiring, both through the pace of the stories – each is no more than a few pages long – and through Grosz’s amazing capacity to extract the universal lesson from a very particular situation. There was a common theme that I discovered reading all these storieone more fascinating than the other. That is the theme of “running away from ourselves“. There seems to be an inherent impulse in all of us to “look out the window” when the going is rough and “in the mirror” when things go well.  Somehow, by some inner mechanism originally meant to protect our self-esteem, we become endlessly creative in the ways in which we self-sabotage, refuse to confront and overcome our inner demons and stubbornly look for the causes of all our misfortunes on the outside. We literally run away from ourselves, rather than facing our deepest truths, especially when these truths hurt.  One story in particular resonated with me. Grosz met this woman on a plane, who had a longstanding problem with her parents, her father in particular, who, for the past 16 years, refused to speak with her or have any contact whatsoever, even if this meant not even getting...

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The Comforts of Being a Victim

May 19, 13 The Comforts of Being a Victim

Posted by in Featured, Mindfulness, Psychology

Recently I have been having some very interesting conversations about what it means to feel victimised and act from this perspective until you become convinced you really are a perpetual victim and the whole world is out to get you. I have thought a lot about what it means being a victim and, more specifically, what payoffs lay hidden in this status that, overtly, nobody wants. I have hardly ever heard anybody boasting about feeling a victim, yet I have seen people, myself included, stubbornly hanging on to this state of victimhood and finding countless explanations on why this is inescapable. “I have had a hard life”, “I still pay the price for my parents’ mistakes”, “I have bad luck”, “I am surrounded by heartless people who disappoint me constantly”, “I just know that more misfortune is coming my way – this is my destiny”, “Nobody appreciates my efforts – why are they all so ungrateful?”, “What else can I do – life is unfair”, “I have sacrificed everything for you and here’s what I get in return!” – all these are variations around the same theme. When I asked myself what did I have to gain from being a victim I found answers I really didn’t like at first. The very idea that I might be feeding and perpetuating my state of helplessness was disturbing. Yet the truth struck me in the face with a force I couldn’t ignore. I finally had to confront the chilling reality that I had much to gain from being a victim. Victimisation made it easy to feel sorry for myself. I had an excuse for my failures. I could blame others for my dissatisfaction. I always had some explanation for bad decisions, bad relationships, bad feelings – others were to blame – if only they changed, if only they stopped disappointing me, I would be happier. In fact, as I discovered, being a victim was quite pleasant in its own, twisted way – I got rid of...

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Peeking Through the Keyhole at Life

I was talking to a friend the other day about the amazing studies on human consciousness which show that only 400 bits of information/second reach our conscious mind out of a staggering 2 million bits of information hitting our senses every second! Much of the rest we process unconsciously. That means we are aware of 0.02% of reality every single moment of our lives! It also means we could potentially have access to the rest of 99,8%, if only we learnt how.    I found it brain bending to grasp the real implications of this. It is as if we were peeking through a keyhole at reality and we are not even aware of it. Moreover, most people live their lives convinced that their perception of reality IS reality. And they strive to convince everyone around them of the same thing. The fact that the limitations of our conscious mind allow us to perceive a small portion of what actually lies in front of us is just the beginning. To this we add a host of limiting beliefs that plague our consciousness and make that keyhole even smaller than it actually is. Many of them come from education, others we simply adopted unconsciously along the way, as a response to life’s challenges. Here are just a few of the most common limiting beliefs I have heard of or have or had myself: – I am not good enough – This is how things MUST be – Life is unfair and there’s nothing you can do about it – Every good thing in life comes with suffering and hardship – you can never separate them – I simply am not as lucky as other people – It’s too late to change anything And, my favourite one: I don’t have time! The list could go on and on. We all have limiting beliefs and most of us are seldom aware of them consciously. They distort our view of reality and what is truly possible, making our...

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Man’s Search for Meaning

This is the title of one of my favourite books of all time, written by Viktor Frankl, a great mind and a remarkable human being, who survived the worst of the Holocaust only to come to the conclusion that, even in the worst of circumstances, we are still free to choose our destiny. Frankl was an Austrian Jew, a professor with a more than promising career in psychiatry, who refused an offer to emigrate to the US when the Second World War broke out because his parents had not been granted permission to leave Austria and he felt he couldn’t abandon them. This brave choice led him to a gruelling 3 year journey in the Nazi death camps, where he sat next to his father as he died and then lost both his wife and mother. He survived through a combination of unique attitude and a series of fortunate circumstances, or, as some may say, dumb luck – although I believe there was nothing dumb about his luck. He witnessed people becoming noting more than animals in their fierce struggle for survival in the camps. Inmates torturing inmates or robbing them of their last piece of bread only to prolong their own existence a little while more. But, amazingly, he also witnessed people becoming heroes, creating a meaning for themselves in that meaningless circumstance by helping others, often at a risk or even at the cost of their own lives. What is the difference between them? Between the brutes and the heroes?  His answer to this was that we, humans, have both these potentials in us. We can become brutes or heroes and the only thing that creates this difference is our own free will. We have a choice. Even when all other freedoms have been taken away from us, he said, we can still choose our attitude in front of those circumstances.  Frankl’s legacy to mankind, which he built in his very long life post death-camps (he lived to be 92 years old)...

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