Facing your demons for Halloween
Halloween is one of the few times a year where we willingly seek out being freaked out. We enthusiastically enter haunted houses and open our front door for ghosts and gremlins. The rest of the year we run from what haunts us and avoid scary situations at all costs.
But perhaps, like at Halloween, we can learn to face our fears everyday. This teaching is beautifully illustrated in the story of Mara, a demon from the Buddhist tradition.
On the night before his enlightenment, the demon Mara came to visit Gautama Siddhartha. Mara's weapons were that of anger, hatred, jealousy and fear. Yet everything that Mara attacked him with, Siddhartha transformed into a flower petal, and by the morning a pile of flower petals lay in front of him and Mara left, defeated.
Yet even after his enlightenment, every once in a while Mara continued to visit the Buddha. Buddha had an assistant, Ananda, who would warn the Buddha of danger and announce that: "the evil one is here". The Buddha would reply, "hi Mara, I see you. Come, have some tea". And like he would with any guest, the Buddha would invite him inside, pour him some tea and politely serve him.
The moral of the story is two-fold. The first, acknowledgement of our shadow side is the first weapon we have against it. Awareness is the precursor to change. If we can be honest about our fear and name it when it arises, we gain some perspective and become less identified with it. We can simply be present with the fear without running away or ignoring it.
When a trick or treater visits us we answer the door.
The second moral is radical acceptance. Buddha not only acknowledged Mara: "hi Mara, I see you", but he treated him like an honored guest: "come, have some tea". Anger, jealousy, fear and hatred are parts of the human experience. No matter how "enlightened" we become or how long we've been on the spiritual path, they will still visit us from time to time. They might even dress up in the form of procrastination or resistance to change. But our power to defeat these forces lies in our ability to fully accept them with open arms, like we would for a respected guest.
In Halloween we open the door to the scary creatures that visit us and we kindly offer them treats.
Can we learn to be present with whatever arises, be it scary or not with pure presence? And then greet it with tenderness and compassion? Can we learn to accept every part of our experience and respond to it like a dear friend who has come to visit?
When you're faced with procrastination you can say: "hi Mara, I see you. Come, have some tea".
When you're resisting making an important change you can say: "hi Mara, I see you. Come, have some tea".
When you're tempted with old habits that you're trying to break you can say: "hi Mara, I see you. Come, have some tea".
Strength and courage doesn't come from an absence of fear. The way to fearlessness is to fully experience fear. I experience a tinge of fear every time I put myself out there with a message, but I press send anyway. How can youface your demons everyday?