I’LL SIT WITH YOUR DARKNESS: COMPASSION FOR DEMONS
Updated: Jun 3, 2020
*Originally posted on Living Madly Abreast December 4, 2016
DO I MAKE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE?
I make people uncomfortable. Not all the time. Eventually though, there will be at least one moment when it seems that every person who comes in contact with me will not enjoy it. I don’t like that. Who would?
Being the introspectively obsessive person that I am, I have spent a lot of time either actively or passively watching for signs as to why this happens. There are, of course, the standard assortment of reasons. I’m not perfect and have days where I’m rude, condescending, a downer, etc. I’m human and as such have very human shortcomings. That’s not what I’m referring to. It’s something entirely different that I can visibly see in the person I’m talking to when I know I’m not being a jerk.
I’ve been immersed in Brené Brown’s work recently. I’ve dabbled for years but decided it was time to dive in. While reading I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough“, a passage smacked me right in the face. Brené Brown quotes American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön:
“When we practice generating compassion, we can expect to experience the fear of our pain. Compassion practice is daring. It involves learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently toward what scares us. The trick to doing this is to stay with emotional distress without tightening into aversion, to let fear soften us rather than harden into resistance.”
I write “practice” because I believe compassion is a commitment and takes constant practice. Chödrön teaches that we must be honest and forgiving about when and how we shut down.
“Without justifying or condemning ourselves, we do the courageous work of opening to suffering. This can be the pain that comes when we put up barriers or the pain of opening our heart to our own sorrow or that of another being. We learn as much about doing this from our failures as we do from our successes. In cultivating compassion we draw from the wholeness of our experience—our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
FACING, LOVING, ACCEPTING
The last several years have been spent focusing on healing the dark parts of my life. Rather than running, hiding, and evading, I’ve been facing, loving, and accepting. As a survivor of multiple forms and instances of sexual violence and domestic violence, I had some vile pits, swamps, and caves that needed to be cleared. It’s been a difficult journey. I still have a ways to go but for the most part I’m doing maintenance and rebuilding the breakage rather than being stuck in the hazardous waste portion of the renovations. There were times I thought that part would kill me. It didn’t. In fact, I’m stronger and more compassionate for working through it.
BEAUTY IN THE SWAMP
I did not just clear out the horrors of my past, I embraced them and turned them into spectacular works of art and gorgeous dark landscapes. I can never erase the past. Thanks to PTSD, I can’t forget it either. While I certainly still wish I had never had to experience such depravity, I did. So, rather than trembling when I walk through a swamp of anguish, I took the time to look around and find the beauty and truth in it.
“EVIL” IN RELIGION
I’ve always found beauty in the things in life that my family and some previous religious friends found “evil.” Even the LDS church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormon) version of Satan confused me. He sounded like a good guy to me. I love the ability I have to choose (agency) but it seemed a little harsh to throw him and 1/3 of our brothers and sisters out of heaven just because Satan wanted to guarantee that all of us got to come back. Why couldn’t an all-knowing and powerful God have found a way to persuade his son, and a bunch of his other kids, to go along with his plan? I manage to get my kids to do chores without casting them into outer darkness, you know?
BEAUTY IN DARKNESS
I still have family members who wont let “The Nightmare Before Christmas” be viewed in their home because someone at church mentioned it was evil. Dark? Yes! Evil? Not so much. Are there evil deeds in the world? Beyond a shadow of a doubt. Does something being dark equate to evil? Nope. I’ve never understood that either. Tim Burton does a fantastic job taking the darkness of life and showing the beauty in it.
I only mention this because I think it makes it easier for me to walk in my darkness and not equate it with evil or disgust. It’s just dark. There’s pain there but pain isn’t evil. Pain needs love and compassion. Then it turns from a raging demon into a demon who comes to brunch on Sunday. Sure she still looks like a demon but aren’t we past the point in our lives where we judge people/demons by their appearance?
FRIENDS WITH DEMONS
I guess you could say I’ve made friends with my demons. As I mentioned previously, they’re not going anywhere. I can’t change that, so if we’re going to be brain mates we might as well get along.
That’s where I think I can make others uncomfortable. I see the beauty in my darkness, and embrace it. By doing so, my eyes are opened to the darkness in others. I see it and embrace it. The masks we all wear to seem perfect and good don’t last long, and I see them melting away on those around me.
Without realizing I’m doing it, others pick up on it quickly. I’ll ask a question that’s a little too deep. I’ll make a remark that hits a little too close to home. I’m not magic or psychic. I don’t hide my scars and mistakes so I don’t play on the surface where all the pretty masks dwell. I don’t keep to the flowered meadows and sunlit conversations. I stray from the path. I guess you could say I’m not so great with small talk. I can see why this can make others uncomfortable. They want to hide their flaws—from themselves and everyone else. They are not quite ready to accept and love those parts of themselves, and here I am— inviting their demons to come karaoke with me.
EVIL VS. PAIN
I’ve had people tell me the things I say, do, and find beauty in “hurt their spirit.” More than a few family members and friends have distanced themselves from me since I decided to take a walk on the dark side of my life. I’m not scared of the dark or the pain that lurks there. Not anymore. I’ve found compassion for my pain, and it turns out, all the spooks, gremlins, and things that go bump in the night just needed some love. What’s even more compelling to me to keep excavating and exploring is that those dark parts are me. They’re not separate. They’re not an evil that needs to be exorcised. They’re my pain. My memories. My anguish. By finding compassion for them, I find compassion for myself. I heal and become whole. I find beauty in all of me, not just the pretty parts.
What’s nice is that when others are ready, I can sit with them in their darkness. I don’t run away and scream when the horrors come out to play. Usually. Remember when I mentioned that I’m human and not perfect? Maybe that’s my super power. I see the difference between pain and evil. Though I sincerely wish my super power was flight. What I would give to be able to fly… I guess I’ll take what I can get. Let me know if you and your demons want to come play. Demons love Sunday brunch, and so do I.
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