Naming the Demons, adapted from the work of Jack Kornfield
“In ancient cultures shamans learned that to name that which you feared was a practical way to begin to have power over it.”
Getting Comfortable With the Enemy.
We have words and rituals for many of our great outer world events, birth and death, war and peace, marriage, adventure, illness, but often we are ignorant of the names of the inner world forces that move so powerfully through our hearts and lives.
Naming and acknowledging our experience allows us to investigate our life, to inquire into whatever aspect or problem life presents to us. Give each problem or experience a simple name, and note; “This is a mind filled with joy,” or “This is a mind filled with anger,” acknowledging each state as it would arise and pass away. In the space of such awareness, understanding grows naturally. Then, as we clearly sense and name our experience, we can notice what brings it about and how we can respond to it more fully and skilfully.
How To Begin Naming
Begin by sitting comfortably, focusing awareness on your breathing. As you feel each breath, carefully acknowledge it with a simple name: “in breath, out-breath,” saying the words silently and softly in the back of your mind. This will help you keep track of the breathing, which gives your thinking mind a way to support awareness rather than wandering off in some other direction. Then as you get quiet and as your skill grows, you can notice and name more precisely, “long breath,” “short breath,” “tight breath,” or “relaxed breath.” Let every kind of breath show itself to you.
As you continue to develop your meditation, the process of naming can be extended to other experiences as they arise in your awareness. You can name the bodily energies and sensations that come up, such as “tingling,” “itching,” “hot,” or “cold.” You can name feelings, such as “fear” or “delight ‘. ” You can then extend the naming to sounds and sights, and to thoughts such as “planning” or “remembering.”
In developing the naming practice, stay focused on your breathing unless a stronger experience arises to interrupt your attention. Then include this stronger experience in the meditation, feeling it fully and naming it softly for as long as it persists-“hearing, hearing, hearing” or sad, sad, sad.” When it passes, return to naming the breath until another strong experience arises. Keep the meditation simple, focusing on one thing at a time. Continue to name whatever is most prominent in each moment, being aware of the ever-changing stream of your life.
At first, sitting still and naming may seem awkward or loud, as if it interferes with your awareness. You must practice naming very softly, giving ninety-five percent of your energy to sensing each experience, and five percent to a soft name in the background. When you misuse naming, it will feel like a club, a way to judge and push away an undesirable experience, like shouting at “thinking” or “pain” to make it go away. Sometimes, in the beginning, you may also feel confused about what name to use; looking through your inner dictionary instead of being aware of what is actually present. Remember, the practice of naming is much simpler than that; it is just a simple acknowledgment of what is present.
Soon you will be ready to bring the practice of naming and inquiry directly to the difficulties and hindrances that arise in your life. The five most common difficulties that the Buddha described as the chief hindrances to awareness and clarity are grasping and anger, sleepiness and restlessness, and doubt. Of course, you will inevitably encounter many other hindrances and demons, and will even create new ones of your own. Sometimes they will besiege you in combinations, which one Student called “a multiple hindrance attack.” Whatever comes, you will need to begin to see these basic difficulties clearly as they arise.
Naming the Wanting Mind
As we work to observe the wanting and grasping without condemning it, we can learn to be aware of this aspect of our nature without being caught up in it. When it arises we can feel it fully, naming our experience “hunger,” “wanting,” “longing,” or whatever it is. Name it softly the whole time it is present, repeating the name every few seconds, five, ten, twenty times until it ends. As you note it, be conscious of what happens:
o How long does this kind of desire last?
o Does it intensify first or just fade away?
o How does it feel in the body?
o What parts of the body are affected by it … the gut, the breath, and the eyes?
o What does it feel like in the heart, in the mind?
o When it is present, are you happy or agitated, open or closed?
As you name it, see how it moves and changes. If wanting comes as the demon hunger, name that. Where do you notice hunger in the belly, the tongue, and the throat?
When we look, we see that wanting creates tension, that it is actually painful. We see how it arises out of our sense of longing and incompleteness, a feeling that we are separate and not whole. Observing more closely we notice that it is also fleeting, without essence. This aspect of desire is actually a form of imagination and accompanying feeling that comes and goes in our body and mind. Of course, at other times it seems very real.
o Painful desire involves greed, grasping, inadequacy, and longing.
o Skilful desire is born of this same Will to Do but directed by love, vitality, compassion, creativity, and wisdom.
With the development of awareness, we begin to distinguish unhealthy desire from skilful motivation. We can sense which states are free from unskilful desire and enjoy a more spontaneous and natural way of being without struggle or ambition.
When we are no longer as caught by unskilful desires, our understanding grows, and both healthy passion and compassion will more naturally direct our life.
Understanding, freedom, and joy are the treasures that Naming the Demon of desire brings us.
We discover that underneath unskilful desire is a deep spiritual longing for beauty, for abundance and completeness.
Naming desire can lead us to discover this truest desire. One old teacher said,
“The problem with desire is that you do not desire deeply enough! Why not desire it all? You don’t like what you have and want what you don’t have. Simply reverse this. Want what you have and don’t want what you don’t have. Here you will find true fulfillment.”
By studying desire, we begin to include all of its possibilities in our spiritual life.
If I can understand what I am up against then and only can I begin to doing something about … even if I am afraid …
Adapted by, G Ross Clark