It began in the 11th century, but visualising your inner demon is still widely used.
The concept of ‘feeding your demon’ was inspired by the teachings of pioneering Tibetan female monk Machig Labdrön. She believed: ‘That which is a demon is not some great black thing that petrifies whoever sees it. A demon is anything that obstructs the achievement of freedoms.’ Be it illness, jealousy, fear or obsession.
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This focus on inner demons made huge waves back in the 11th century at a time when the word ‘demon’ meant purely outer entities and the supernatural. Machig also followed the spiritual practice of ‘Chöd’ meaning to ‘cut through’. It enshrined the belief that the true way to inner peace was to focus on meditation and ritual to cut through the ego and the over-focus on the ‘self’. Her teachings soon spread across Tibet, especially when people started to see real, tangible improvement to their lives. In modern times those beliefs have been championed by another female visionary, Lama Tsultrim Allione, the first American woman to become a Tibetan nun, who used Machig’s philosophy, and the practice of Chöd to release her own inner demons.
‘Because I myself was able to find such enormous relevance in Machig’s teachings I was motivated to find a way to make her approach accessible in a Western context,’ she says. Tsultrim Allione eventually developed her now renowned five-step process. While personifying a fear was not a new concept in Western philosophy, what was new was the idea of actually nurturing it, as well as ‘dissolving the self’ in the process. In 1993, Tsultrim Allione founded the Tara Mandala Buddhist retreat in Colorado, which continues to teach the process. From this a web of practitioners has grown. Tsultrim’s book, Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict shows how you can face the most ‘modern’ of demons – be that illness, divorce, job insecurity or eating disorders.