Shining Light on Our Demons

Photo by Shawna Donaldson, Halloween 2023

Shining Light on Our Demons

Discussion date: Thu, Nov 02, 2023 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

What we celebrate in modern times as Halloween likely originated from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (Gaelic term pronounced “SAH-win”), which was a pagan religious holiday to celebrate the harvest at the end of year just before winter. During the festival, people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts, ghouls, and demons to ensure prosperity and safety in the dark season of winter. This whole notion of using frightening images and avoidance to scare away demons feels very familiar to us.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a demon as a source or agent of evil, harm, distress, or ruin. In modern vernacular, demons are often associated with personal hang-ups or inner conflict that a person struggles with throughout their lifetime. We have known many demons in our family and have spent a great deal of time working through some of them. However, getting to the roots and causes of the demons and finding relief from the suffering that they cause, has been a lifelong task that often feels futile. The practice of mindfulness has really helped.

In a Lion’s Roar post from May 19, 2021, our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) discusses the healing that can occur when we shine the lamp of mindfulness upon our demons:

We have a lamp inside us, the lamp of mindfulness, which we can light anytime. The oil of that lamp is our breathing, our steps, and our peaceful smile. We have to light up that lamp of mindfulness so the light will shine out and the darkness will dissipate and cease. Our practice is to light up the lamp.

When we become aware that we’ve forgotten the wounded child in ourselves, we feel great compassion for that child and we begin to generate the energy of mindfulness. The practices of mindful walking, mindful sitting, and mindful breathing are our foundation. With our mindful breath and mindful steps, we can produce the energy of mindfulness and return to the awakened wisdom lying in each cell of our body. That energy will embrace us and heal us, and will heal the wounded child in us.

Shawna and I both came from chaotic and dysfunctional childhoods and brought a lot of our own demons with us into our marriage. The fact that each of us has a mindfulness practice has enabled us to help one another shine the lamp of mindfulness and reduce suffering caused by old demons.

For example, Shawna came from a childhood home where her father was very strict about turning off the lights to save energy. We can all agree that conserving energy is good, but her father was very mean-spirited and demanding about turning off the lights. For Shawna, energy conservation became secondary to the anxiety and fear produced by her father’s enforcement of it. I inadvertently came face-to-face with the demon created by Shawna’s experience with her father when making improvements to our new home in North Carolina. As a surprise, I replaced a normal light switch in the walk-in closet with a switch that automatically turns the light on when motion is detected and off after a few minutes, thinking that this would be very helpful. I was surprised by Shawna’s anger when she noticed the switch for the first time. It triggered for her old fears about how she must be too incompetent to turn off a light. Fortunately, we were able to shine the lamp of mindfulness on this situation and discuss it in detail. Recognizing this demon using mindfulness allowed us to put the whole experience into proper perspective. We now both enjoy the automatic light switch.

This Thursday evening after our sitting and walking meditations, in our Dharma sharing we will talk about our demons and how we can use the lamp of mindfulness to shed light on and heal our suffering. Here are some questions to guide our conversation:

  • What are the demons you struggle with?
  • How has your mindfulness practice helped you face your demons?
  • How has healing your demons transformed your relationships?

We hope you will be able to join us and we look forward to a wonderful Dharma sharing.

Three more paragraphs from Thay’s Lion’s Roar article are below.

Warm regards,​

Eric and Shawna Donaldson


The Function of Mindfulness, from Thich Nhat Hanh on Healing the Child Within

The first function of mindfulness is to recognize and not to fight. We can stop at any time and become aware of the child within us. When we recognize the wounded child for the first time, all we need to do is be aware of him or her and say hello. That’s all. Perhaps this child is sad. If we notice this we can just breathe in and say to ourselves, “Breathing in, I know that sorrow has manifested in me. Hello, my sorrow. Breathing out, I will take good care of you.”

Once we have recognized our inner child, the second function of mindfulness is to embrace him or her. This is a very pleasant practice. Instead of fighting our emotions, we are taking good care of ourselves. Mindfulness brings with her an ally—concentration. The first few minutes of recognizing and embracing our inner child with tenderness will bring some relief. The difficult emotions will still be there, but we won’t suffer as much anymore.

After recognizing and embracing our inner child, the third function of mindfulness is to soothe and relieve our difficult emotions. Just by holding this child gently, we are soothing our difficult emotions and we can begin to feel at ease. When we embrace our strong emotions with mindfulness and concentration, we’ll be able to see the roots of these mental formations. We’ll know where our suffering has come from. When we see the roots of things, our suffering will lessen. So mindfulness recognizes, embraces, and relieves.

The energy of mindfulness contains the energy of concentration as well as the energy of insight. Concentration helps us focus on just one thing. With concentration, the energy of looking becomes more powerful and insight is possible. Insight always has the power of liberating us. If mindfulness is there, and we know how to keep mindfulness alive, concentration will be there, too. And if we know how to keep concentration alive, insight will also come. The energy of mindfulness enables us to look deeply and gain the insight we need so that transformation is possible.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Nov 02, 2023


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