Befriending Demons Begins with Naming

Stay watchful of gluttony and desire, and the demons of irritation and fear as well.

The noonday demon of laziness and sleep will come after lunch each day, and the demon of pride will sneak up only when you have vanquished the other demons.

(Evagerius as quoted in A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfield)

Hiding Mashes Sands 1013I have avoided putting a name to my “demons,” those every day “physical energies, emotions, and thought patterns [that I meet] within my relatively ordinary state of consciousness.” (Kornfield). My resistance was that I confused naming or recognizing these demons with attaching to them.

Mine is not to disassociate but to experience, or in the wise words of Rosanne Rosannadanna, “It’s always something.”  I might as well name my emotions so I can recognize them immediately.

This recognition both “honors and nurtures” the demons as I look beneath these emotional states for the pure energy that is at their core (Kornfield). In that energy is the experience they offer me. The emotional states are familiar but every occurrence is a new experience of them.

The naming of the familiar whether it is mental anguish or bodily pain opens us to the experience without attaching to the drama of it. Rather, we recognize the feeling and face the sensation as it occurs.

Upside down 0414

We might say to ourselves, “I know that feeling,” and we do. If we recognize that naming the feeling is the first step in freeing ourselves from its drama, we are more apt to open ourselves to the experience at hand. We face the familiar with a fresh being.

All of the spiritual traditions have a practice for facing the demons in our lives. For the Sufis they are the Nafs; some 2000 years ago, there were the Christian Desert Fathers, of which Evagerius was one; Buddhism knows these difficult forces as either Mara (God of Darkness) or the Hindrances to Clarity.

Naming our demons allows us to explore our body’s reaction to our emotions. Recognizing a familiar emotion without its drama allows our body a fresh and new experience of the familiar without the baggage.

As long as you have all sorts of ideas about yourself, 
you know yourself through the mist of these ideas. To know yourself as you are, give up all ideas. 
You cannot imagine the taste of pure water, 
you can only discover it by abandoning all flavourings.

~ Nisargadatta Maharaj ~

Pure emotion is pure energy. Naming it gives us the green light for a familiar yet fresh experience. Our Posing 0813emotions are our greatest allies, if we recognize them as a yet another way to experience any moment.

We feel our emotions with all of our being, in every cell of our body.  When we are mindful of these sensations, and as Pema Chodron says, “make friends with them,” we come to recognize that mindfulness opens us to options.

Blind determination walls in what we want and walls out what we fear. It digs a ready rut. In mindfulness, we name the feeling so that we may experience it anew. We do not experience the same scenario or emotional state twice, similar maybe but not exactly.

Whether we open to life as it is or whether we try to confine life to our way is the measure of our peace of mind. In every grain of sand there is yet another view.

8 thoughts on “Befriending Demons Begins with Naming

  1. I’ve noticed that at times of great stress my mind and emotions act quite independently. My mind goes into “I can handle this” mode, and my emotions jump my heart and I begin to shake. In those moments my mind reels, understanding that it has been trumped. There are times when the body knows, in its unanalytical way, far more accurately than the mind what is going on. Sometimes it pays to listen with the heart, not the cool voice that thinks it captains the ship.


    1. I do believe that to lead with one’s heart tempers the mind’s reaction and thus, the body is better able to process the stress. For me, naming the emotion or feeling gives my heart time to settle the mind for as you say, the mind’s default response seems to be “I can handle this [no matter the cost].”


  2. Another wonderful and insightful post – and, of course, you run to the heart of the matter; for by naming our demons, we can take them down to size. They do not own us, still less can they control us. And so they can be accepted, for it is an impossible task to vanquish them utterly. And yet our western upbringing so often drives us to waste time, energy – and resource – trying to do so.

    Jack Kornfield is a name familiar in our household; my wife keeps adding his books to the growing pile of my reading list.


    1. It really is true that western culture implies that we can vanquish our emotions. Just in accepting that I cannot provides a great freedom for me. As for Jack Kornfield, should you read him, I think you will find him fascinating and practical. As always, thanks so much for a thoughtful comment, Matthew.


  3. Love this Karen! I am definitely examining my life at the moment and all of the emotions that go with it. I found myself going through old posts and comments today all the way back to the beginning of when I became serious about my writing and there you were in the comments of that post. Thank you for being there at a crucial time in my life and supporting and encouraging me along the way.

    If there is anything in particular I can do to help support you in your writing goals I hope you will let me know.

    Peace to You,
    Morgan Dragonwillow


  4. very thoughtful. by examining thoughts and emotions in this way, it can help us figure out who we really are, and emancipate us from the blind bondage to our feelings. it is similar to some of the lessons in “A Course in Miracles” which I read daily. when you follow this line of thought back to its origin, whichever path you take, they all trace back to that same ineffable point of light.


    1. Thanks, Craig. I continue to explore Pema Chodron’s idea about making our emotions our greatest allies. Certainly, I know the power of emotion. Perhaps in being one with that power we really do free ourselves from “blind bondage.” Wonderful comment, Craig.


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