Category Archives: religion

Tibetan Parts Work: Feeding Your Demons (part two)

Lama Tsultrim, Tsultrim Allione

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.

Tibetan Parts Work: Feeding Your Demons (part one)

As more ties are made between east and west, anthropologists, students of religion and psychologists have been studying what concepts and pieces of wisdom can be gleaned from those traditions.  While modern psychology is arguably only 150 years old or so, these traditions have been studying the mind in various ways for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  Asian traditions are, of course, highly imbued with their cultures and especially religious and philosophical views (just like the west!) and have to be seen in those contexts.

Tibet had a long history of an indigenous religion before Buddhism even reached its borders, this was known as the Bön tradition.  Although scholars debate as to whether this was actually a pre-Buddhist tradition, it differs quite a bit from the others streams of Buddhism and has a strong presence of methods of divination and elements of folk religion in it.  It’s obvious that whatever the case, the belief in “demons” has had a long history in Tibet and that belief intermixed with Buddhism when that stream of thought was imported into the country.

Demons were typically seen as outer phenomena: illnesses, plagues, etc. and were dealt with by exorcists who would battle with the demons in various ways.  While that is still done in some traditions in Tibet, one figure changed the Tibetan religious landscape forever after: an 11th century woman saint named Machig Labdrön.
Machig Labdrön studied with a number of masters, but was unique in being a strong exponent of a practice called Chöd which later became integrated into all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism.  There are many stories of her miracles and, like many important Tibetan figures, she was considered an emanation (rebirth) of someone important, in this case she was Yeshe Tsogyal, arguably, the most important historical woman figure in Tibet.

Machig developed a unique practice that combined singing, playing a drum and bell at the same time and practicing a complex inner visualization.  There are several lineages of her teachings, many with totally different visualizations and songs depending on which student they appear to have come from.  Now, what does this have to do with demons and how is this relevant to working with our internal parts?

In brief, the Tibetan belief is that anything that interferes with your enlightenment is a demon.  That means things that we are attached to, illnesses that take our focus off our spiritual practices, even the impression left in our mind from an abusive boss or relative.  Machig had categories that she developed for these demons, but the biggest demon of all was the attachment to our own body!

The legend has it that she knew some demons were coming for her and, in the midst of a flurry of miracles such as walking through walls or flying to the top of a tree, she hit upon the idea of offering her own body up to the demons to feed upon!  Since she was enlightened and no longer attached to it and was full of compassion, even for the demons, this was no problem to her!  The demons themselves were so impressed with this act of generosity that they turned into protectors and allies.

Thus we have the idea of “feeding your demons” that came from this practice.  I will go into more depth on this next posting.