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High Five Our "Demons"?

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

"Let terror then be turned into a treat..." Nicholas Gordon, poet

In a conversation with a few others last night, we tossed back and forth ideas of how to effectively deal with our “demons” – our “negative emotions.” (We know many not so good ways. The perfect Halloween subject!)

My husband, John, has a counter-intuitive opinion of what works well. His approach is to be hospitable to the demons. To not see them as negative at all.

The idea is to greet our anger, our fear, our aching wound not just with an acknowledgment but a genuine, respectful, validating, sawubona-inspired, “I-see-you-buddy-and-by-seeing-you-I bring-you-into-being." A self-compassionate version of the Zulu hello.

That may seem a bit weird for me to use a sawubona-type greeting for myself. We think of sawubona as a relationship greeting. Something we say to others, not one we would direct to parts of ourselves, like our emotions.

But I am experimenting with the idea. How would it be to have a hospitable relationship with myself? Really see myself. See all of myself including those emotions I want to push away. Could I better bring myself into being? How might being kinder to my demons help the world be a better place?

John says it helps him to greet his uninvited guests with a warm, “Hello, my friend. What gift have you brought me today?”

I sort of get the sense of that. Perhaps we can best work with our “demons” by not demonizing them at all. Think of them as friends. Friends, who if we take a little time to understand them, have our best interests at heart despite how they might be showing up. (Actually, wild as it might sound, if you are familiar with Internal Family Systems psychotherapy, you’ll see some parallel).

The person who gives the most informed, humorous, authentic, useful, less than 14-minute TED talk on this is Dan Harris. Dan was a news anchorman for ABC for 21 years when he had a panic attack on the air.

Dan tried all sorts of approaches to de-stress, deal with his anxiety and depression and…become a better human being. Less rude, less of a diva, less authoritarian. AND… help the whole species out.

Worst of all Dan had to face up to the things in himself he disliked the most. Anger and self-centeredness.

Eventually he found a type of heart-based…well… love for himself which was not narcissism, but rather it was the capability to really see himself, be present to himself, and to care for himself.

Dan says that all kinds of bad behavior have been on the rise. Reckless driving, unruly airline passengers, violent crime, online bullying, general snippy self-centeredness. He began to believe if he could successfully work with his demons, it would help the world.

Here’s how. When we don’t work well with ourselves, we create a sort of “toilet vortex” he says. We start by picking on ourselves, then we feel miserable, and start taking it out on others. Down we all go into the toilet.

The other alternative is to be friendly, kind, validating, and understanding to the various, generally, unwelcome parts of ourselves. This starts us on what he calls “the cheesy upward spiral.”

As our inner weather becomes balmier, it shows up in our relationship with others. And, Dan reminds us, probably the most important variable in human flourishing is how we are doing with our relationships.

Dan thinks that understanding the mechanisms behind the toilet vortex and the cheesy upward spiral, can boost our wisdom of what he both humorously and seriously calls an “amateur field theory of love.” He claims he’s comfortable embracing love which he believes includes caring, cooperating, collaborating – all that stuff that has allowed our species to thrive. Then he hits his main points.

All that violence, all our pressing problems are at their roots, a problem with loving. The good news. Love is like a muscle. We can learn to love, care for others, shrink our egos.

Dan then quickly teaches what is called the "loving-kindness-meditation" (LKM). The one Dan uses is traditional and quite similar to the one that our compassion circle uses each week to build our love muscles. It involves an active, intentional warming of the heart and "sending" messages of love to others and to self.

It's not unusual for people to weep when sending loving thoughts to themselves. The loving-kindness-meditation has strong research support not only in building our capacity to love, but widely benefits us psychologically and physiologically.

We can learn from Dan Harris. (He’s also written a couple of books which I have ordered, but not yet received.)

Halloween is the perfect time to experiment with a different approach to our “demons.” Give them a sawubona-ish hello, a high five.

And though I have pulled out several tidbits of Dan’s talk, consider munching on the full-meal deal. Take 14 minutes on this spook-filled day to turn your terror into a treat as you watch how this all unfolds. (I have watched more than once, still learn, and laugh out loud at least once).

It's useful, engaging, slightly irreverent. You'll see original art depicting the deep philosophical dimensions of the toilet vortex, the cheesy upward spiral, and the unified field theory of love.

How might we journey together to the Good Life by learn how to high-five our demons?


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