Tsultrim Allione is an American woman from the New England area, who became involved at a young age in Tibetan Buddhism. As part of her journey, she spent time as a Tibetan nun, but returned to worldly life to raise a family. She, however, did not give up on her Buddhist practice, but continued to use the foundations of practice that she was given during her period of intense study to make progress in her own spiritual development and get a Master’s degree in religion.
She had a particular affinity to the Tibetan woman saint Machig Labdrön, a connection that was affirmed when she travelled to Tibet and two lamas independently stated that she was an emanation of Machig herself. While being an emanation isn’t exactly like being a reincarnation, its fairly close and shows an intense connection to the teachings, life and history of Machig.
Centuries ago, Machig had developed a spiritual method known as Chöd, a practice which is at once a technique for advancing oneself spiritually and for dealing with both outer and inner demons. The technique calls for, at the same time, singing, visualizing and using a bell and drum. The Chödpa (Chöd practitioner) is able to use an unusual spiritual perspective to make friends with a demon, whether it’s an internal urge, an external person or even an entity such as a plague.
Lama Tsultrim (she was declared a lama due to her spiritual attainment) adapted the traditional technique for westerners and wrote about it in her book “Feeding Your Demons” and continues to teach it in workshops and retreats. While it’s too much to go into here (I highly recommend the book and the workshops), it can briefly be described.
Once the person settles on a particular problem, either internally (a part of you wants something but you don’t) or externally (a disease, or even a mean boss), you gain a sense of the bodily feeling connected to the thoughts about the problem or demon.
Once a definite feeling is described and stabilized, it is imagined outside the body as a creature or person capable of speaking. Ultimately, dialog ensues in which you find out what the demon really is seeking in an emotional goal. Often this goal is positive, with even the most destructive demons ending up wanting peace, acceptance, safety or love.
The final stage is when the practitioner imagines himself or herself, as being changed into the essence of that needed feeling and is then “fed” to the demon. Three things typically happen: the demon becomes relaxed and slumbers, it winks out of existence or is transformed into a helper “ally” with a whole new form and an ability to assist in a whole new way.
Essentially, this is a “mental judo” in which, instead of engaging in a struggle with the difficult part, one unexpectedly resolves the inner conflict by finding the ultimate positive good and giving it to the part in the imagination.
While this technique may seem unique, its interesting to note that it has similar elements to the Core Transformation process of NLP, Dr. Eugene Gendlin’s Experiential Focusing technique and has implications for being used with other parts work models such as Internal Family Systems work. It appears that the idea of working directly on difficult parts, instead of analyzing them forever in dialog, is starting to come to the fore in the helping professions. As this happens, people can get more and better (and more rapid) change as a result.