Welcoming in the Demons

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The story goes that the night the Buddha became enlightened, while sitting under the Bodhi tree, he was visited by the god Mora, who tried to provoke his anger, lust, jealousy, hatred and fear.

In the mythical scene, Mara’s evil forces rain down stones and arrows, trying to disturb his peace. But the Buddha had built such inner strength that the he was able to turn the missiles into petals, which fell to the floor around him.

Even after enlightenment, he continued to be visited by Mora.

One day he was sitting in a field, preparing for a discourse, when one of his followers saw Mora approaching. Grabbing the Buddha’s arm in fear, he exclaimed, “It’s Mora! What shall we do?!”

The Buddha stayed calm and replied, “We say, ‘I see you Mora’, and we invite him in for tea.”

I think this story beautifully captures how, as hard as we might try, we never get rid of those emotions that can be uncomfortable to feel. What we can do is build our resilience to them so that they are no longer destabilising or debilitating, by welcoming them in.

We can say “I see you, tension… I see you fear… I see you stress… come in! Sit down. Thank you for your message.”

A poem that illustrates this beautifully is The Guest House, by Rumi:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

What a radical attitude. To be grateful for depression, meanness, dark thoughts, shame, malice and losing everything. How can that be possible?

All these emotions are impermanent and all of them have something to teach us, if we’ll only pay attention and listen.

Anger can teach us of a deeper vulnerability that lies beneath. Tension can teach us that there’s something we’re resisting, and it’s very fruitful to question what that might be. Stress can teach us that we feel under too much pressure, and we need to find space and balance again.

So next time you realise that you’re cursing, suppressing or avoiding difficult emotions, why not play with the idea of welcoming Mara in and seeing what he’s got to say.

Milk or sugar?

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