Obscured by Demons
I’ve written before that our perceptions are a version of reality that’s filtered through thought. This is simply a fact or a principle underlying human experience. Here’s a diagram to illustrate it that I’ve shared before:
Thought is one of humanity’s greatest assets. It’s led to our survival, it’s led to our thriving, and it’s one of the strongest outlets of our creative genius.
Thought is also the source of most of our demons. Shame, guilt, fear, anxiety, regret, nightmares, and addiction. Each of those is infused with thought. There’s also a physiological component to these demons, but our physiological reactions and responses are typically guided by our thinking. (I don’t mean to diminish the impact of pain and abuse here - those are a different type of demon.)
Take the stick that looks like a snake. When we’re hiking in the woods and catch a snake shape out of the corner of our eye, we jump back, our heart rate quickens, and our body tenses. We thought the stick was a snake, and all of these physical reactions ensue. The same is true of our demons. Through the filter of thought, we perceive something about others, about ourselves, or about life itself, and we think it’s a snake.
A friend of mine refers to our demons as our shadow side. In our men’s group, he wanted us to do more “shadow work.” Shadows, however, are just blocked light. For example, shadows from trees happen when a tree blocks the light of the sun.
Our demons, our shadows, arise when we allow our thinking to eclipse the light of an authentic experience of ourselves and our lives. In other words, our darkest moments are when the thought filter is so thick that we don't see the light that’s always there.
Even when we’re not in the throes of battling our demons, our view of life is obscured by the thinking of our mood. When our mood is low (a bad mood), our thought filter is thicker. When our mood is high (a good mood), our thought filter is thinner.
So what’s our access to freedom? How do we loosen our demons’ grip on us? How do we get access to love even when we’re in a low mood?
Step 1: Trust We are innately well, inherently wise and perfect, and life is a gift and a phenomenal experience. Our thinking will not often let us see ourselves and others this way, but it’s true. Especially in a low mood, our thinking shows us versions of ourselves and others quite far from the truth. Until we trust that this is the case, we’ll keep trying to solve our problems with more thinking.
Step 2: Ride it out More thinking in a low mood doesn’t clear the waters, it keeps them cloudy. Ride the low mood out without acting from that low mood's thinking. Redirect your attention away from your thinking. Then do it again. And again. When lake water is cloudy, you can’t force the mud back down to the bottom; you’ve got to wait it out and the water will clear on its own. Same is true with your thinking: more thinking from a low mood will just keep swirling the waters. Yes, this depends on trust that your system will right itself, the storm will end, and the waters will clear. Trust it.
Step 3: Foster good feelings There are simple things we can do in any moment to foster a feeling of well-being. It doesn’t take meditating in silence for decades, and it doesn’t take perfect physical health. Get grounded. Practice getting grounded. It’s a physiological and mental practice, and getting grounded also brings a feeling of well-being. Practice this in high moods as well as low moods. Practice it in the middle moods. Fostering this feeling of well-being evens out the dark moments and gives us physical and psychological anchors in those moments when the turbulence is high and the mood is low.
Here are two audio files I created to guide you through a grounding exercise. They're my first go and not too developed, but I hope you find them helpful:
12 minute guided meditation. Eyes closed for most of it. Link to recording here.
7 minute guided grounding exercise. Eyes open. Link to recording here.
Thanks so much for reading. ❤️
“You’ve seen my descent, now watch my rising.” - Rumi
All of the diagrams above, particularly the mood diagram, are inspired by diagrams Joe Bailey shares in The Serenity Principle. I'm grateful to my friend Pete for turning me onto Joe's work.