Feeding Your Demons

woman and white swans painting
Painting from 1928 by Arthur Joseph Gaskin (Birmingham Museums Trust)

We all have our “demons” whether they’re overeating, alcohol or cigarettes, anger, worry, anxiety, panic, depression, powerlessness, self-loathing, insomnia, procrastination, obsession, illness… The list is endless. 

“Demons” can also include outer problems such as unhealthy patterns in relationships or patterns in relation to the world, e.g. “they’re out to get me”, “they don’t care”, “they’re dangerous”, “they’re inferior”, etc. These negative forces in our minds are the disowned shadow parts of ourselves, the isolated unhappy parts projected into the world.

Considered within a wider scope, on a world level, this “get rid of/ kill the enemy” state of mind is not only counterproductive but dangerous when we project it onto others. The good news is that we can easily access these parts of ourselves, bring them to light and transform them, changing our experience, inner and outer, for the better.

We usually just want the problems to go away, of course, because then we’ll be happy! But as any dieter knows, the more you fight the desire for food, the more the emotional energy backs up and eventually bingeing takes over. An endless cycle. This is just how our minds habitually react. Willpower might work short term but the “demon” often reappears with a vengeance when determination wanes.

I learned an amazingly effective method to transform these problems from Lama Tsultrim Allione, author of Women of Wisdom and Feeding Your Demons. This method is based on ancient Buddhist insight into the mind’s operating system, and is called just that: “Feeding Your Demons”. These demons are simply split off parts of ourselves that respond to being heard and offered compassion instead of rejection.

It’s a five-step process that anyone can do (with some caveats – see below) which quickly transforms the “demon” from harmful to harmless and then into an ally. Then the energy that used to be tied up in the endless inner battle with the demon/problem instead becomes a powerful beneficial force that is our ally – supportive, protective and wise. We can take this nourishing, enlivening energy into our day, our life, our body, instead of suffering and negativity.

gray bird eating on person's hand
Photo: Lane Jackman

I love this process, feeding one’s demons. It got me through having cancer in the head, with considerable grace and ease.

I was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour in 2009, which was removed surgically and then treated with radiotherapy. The tumour was in the brainstem where all the basic functions of life are. As you can imagine, this had all the potential to be a very big deal for my mind as well as my body. Every headache, every funny feeling, every one of the three monthly brain scans to see if it was back could have driven me crazy with anxiety and depression – but it didn’t (much). Very fortunately, I had bought Lama Tsultrim’s book a few months before I was diagnosed so I was already familiar with the demon-feeding process. I had read that some people with serious illnesses had surprisingly good health outcomes doing this. Cancer in the head was most certainly an enemy, my demon, so I decided to deal with it directly instead of wishing it away.

The first time I did the demon-feeding process with my cancer, I felt, as a physical sensation, what it was like having that problem, then projected the feeling out in front of me as a being that I could relate to. That’s the “demon”. In the process I talked to it, asked it what it wanted, needed, and how it would feel if it was satisfied by getting all that it needed. When I gave it that, my demon melted and transformed spontaneously into a powerful loving protector figure, my ally. There’s no truly-existing demon or ally, of course, but as a result of this compassion-based process, there was an immediate sense of ease, softening, fluidity, movement, spaciousness and sanity, especially in my head. I felt really strongly that I was going to be OK, not a hope but a knowing. There’s a big difference. You don’t need to believe something if you can feel it.

black and white bird on brown rock
Photo: Victor He

In twenty minutes I had faced my cancer enemy, transformed it into a beneficial protector, taken that energy into myself, and felt wonderful. This was the way forward for me. Everything I encountered after that felt workable, doable. I continued to feed the demon of cancer in the head each day, having quite blissful experiences, and it became more and more wispy, small, benign and transparent. After a while there was no longer a sense of having to get rid of cancer in my head. Instead there was just a feeling of wholeness, flow and ease. On the 33rd and final day of radiotherapy I fed the cancer in the head demon, now very wispy, and had a deep sense of certainty that there was no need to have cancer in the head again, ever. I’d like to stress, again, that this has nothing to do with positive thinking or hope. It’s a deep confidence and a sense of agency.

Please note caveats mentioned above: Don’t attempt to use this process if you have had a psychotic episode, are feeling suicidal, or tend to disassociate/ get spacy. It’s too provocative. If this is you, I encourage you to please get proper psychological support. There are many other ways to deal with the suffering in your mind when you have cancer.

 

Find out more about Dr. Julie Kidd and sign up to receive an excerpt of her new book, The Mind of Healing, by visiting her website — MindofHealing.com.au

Dr. Julie Kidd is a GP and hypnotherapist in Canberra, Australia. For over forty years, she has been practicing medicine in public hospitals, as a country GP, holistic GP, in heart disease prevention and in medical hypnosis. For the past twenty of those years, she’s been helping people with their minds – breaking the cycles of anxiety, fears, depression, insomnia, addictive behaviors, and weight problems. Just over ten years ago, she was diagnosed with a hemorrhaging malignant brain tumor that required drastic surgery and caused severe disabilities. She has recovered and rebuilt her mind and body so that she now lives a happy, healthy life.