Many years ago, rather early in my practice, a 45 year old white woman named Freya came in to see me. She was a teacher, musician and singer, mother of 3 young girls, and had recently been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. She'd been referred to me by my classical Indian raga singing teacher, which created an instant bond between us. Our first consultation ranged from the physical/physiological to medical history, to her relationship with her mother, to the metaphysical layers of classical Indian music and what we enjoyed about it. We connected on many levels, favorite poet (Alice Walker), favorite jazz musician (Alice Coltrane), favorite color (green).
She was seeking naturopathic and Chinese medicine support while undergoing conventional treatments for breast cancer (in this case, chemotherapy, then radiation, then surgery.) We decided that my role for her would be to educate her in all the options and possibilities in the world of supportive therapies, make specific recommendations to her based on her constitution, while coaching her through her conventional treatments and addressing the environmental factors that had contributed to the growth of the cancer. Our work together ranged from supporting her physical body, enhancing the effectiveness of her conventional treatments while keeping her body healthy enough to stay on track with her treatments and tackling some of the deeper emotional challenges she was facing as a result of her recent diagnosis.
Our work was flowing quite well, she was seeing me weekly for acupuncture sessions, and on an intensive naturopathic medical protocol. She came in one day, several weeks into our time together, paralyzed by fear and anger. She told me that the fear, in moments, was so crippling that she couldn't get out of bed and be with her young children. She told me that the anger she was experiencing, in moments, was so fierce it was getting in the way of enjoying her relationship with her husband and her life. She wanted to feel gratitude, to appreciate each moment as she was facing her mortality so directly.
It was time to face her fear.
My recent readings included a book called Feeding Your Demons, by Lama Tsultrim Allione. There was a guided meditation in there I had used on myself with success, I had this feeling that it could be very helpful for Freya. I had her lie on the table and I placed a couple of acupuncture points to support the process. Then I began. Here's the outline of the meditation I used with Freya. You can use this on yourself, sitting in a chair, or do this with a friend or colleague. I've used this now in hundreds of settings, and continue to be amazed at the realizations people receive.
Setting the Stage
1) Take 9 relaxation breaths, long, slow, deep and even. Settle into your body and become aware of any tension being held on any level or in any part. With your breath and your focus invite yourself to release the tension, physical, emotional or mental, with each exhale.
2) I invite you (invite yourself) to generate a heartfelt motivation to do this practice for the benefit of yourself, your family, and all human beings.
1) Decide which emotion you'd like to focus on - the emotion that you feel gets most in the way of what you want. Perhaps it's an emotion that paralyzes you - perhaps it's this fear. Locate where you hold this most strongly in your body and intensify the sensation by really being IN it. Breath it in, surround yourself in it. Become aware of the qualities of sensation in your body related to this emotion including any colors, textures, perhaps even a temperature you feel.
2) Personify this sensation as a being with arms, legs and eyes - see it facing you. If an inanimate object appears, imagine what it would look like if it were personified as some kind of animate being. Notice its color, its skin surface. Does it have a gender? What size is it? What is its character, its emotional state, the look in its eyes. Is there something about this 'demon' that you didn't see before?
Ask this being/demon:
What do you want from me?
What do you need from me?
How will you feel if you get what you need?
*Having asked the questions, immediately change places with the demon.
3) Become the Demon
Face the chair you were seated on (or the table you're lying on) and become the demon, allowing yourself a little time to sit in its vessel. Notice how your normal self appears from the demon's point of view. Now answer the three questions to yourself above.
I want.... I need....I will feel......
4) Feed the Demon and Meet the Ally
Come back to your original position. Take a moment to settle in and see the demon in front of you. Dissolve your body into the nectar the demon is asking for, send this nectar to the demon. Feed the demon to its complete satisfaction, imagining the nectar entering the demon in any way that you wish - keep feeding until complete satisfaction is reached (if the demon seems to be insatiable, imagine how it would look if it were completely satisfied).
Meeting the Ally
If there is now a being present in place of the demon when you end the fourth step, ask this being if it is your ally. If not, invite an ally to appear. If the demon has dissolved completely, then simply invite an ally to appear. Notice all the details of the ally: color, size, texture, the look in its eyes.
Ask it one or all of these questions
How will you help me?
How will you protect me?
What pledge or commitment do you make to me?
How can I gain access to you?
Change places, become the ally, and answer the question(s) above, speaking as the ally to yourself.
I will help you by.....
I will protect you by....
I pledge I will.....
You can gain access to me by....
Return to your original position, then take a moment and feel the help and protection coming from the ally to you, and then imagine that the ally is dissolving into you. You can allow the ally dissolve into emptiness.
5) Rest in Awareness
REST - rest in the state that is present when the ally dissolves into you and you dissolve into emptiness. Let your mind relax without creating any particular experience. Rest as long as you like without filling the space, not trying to make anything happen or rushing to finish.
When Freya and I finished, we had about 15 minutes left to connect and share about what happened during this guided meditation. I wasn't sure if it had worked for her, or if she'd been able to tap into a breakthrough with her emotions. When she got up, she looked at me for a long time and then took a big deep breath.
In her words,"I tapped into the two emotions of fear and anger. As I breathed into personifying these emotions, I met the demon. It happened very quickly. He was a large red sand crab, facing away from me so I couldn't see his face. I could tell he was stuffing his mouth full of sand, he was hungry, insatiable. He didn't want to turn around and face me, he was looking at me through the side of eyes, but I asked him the three questions and then I became him.
I had this feeling, as the crab, of incredible emptiness and when I saw my self I saw joy, radiance, life. I wanted all of that. I wanted the life force, I wanted to fill that emptiness, I wanted to stuff myself full of it. As I returned to my body, I turned myself into the nectar of vitality and aliveness and dissolved my being into feeding this crab. It was insatiable, it couldn't get enough, the feeding lasted what felt like a long time, like it would never end. When I finally imagined the crab looking satisfied, its belly burst open and butterflies poured out. The crab completely dissolved into a multitude of butterflies flying out in all directions, all colors, all shapes. They flew into my face, around me, promising me delight, transformation, freedom and liberation. It was the most exquisite experience of my life, and somehow it felt even more real than this room, more real than this conversation, more real than you and this waking reality."
Freya carried this sense of liberation throughout her treatment process, in fact this meditation was the crux of a complete shift in her relationship to not just her cancer, but her entire life. She became the fulcrum of the family for the last year of her life, healing her relationship with her mother and helping to heal a family split that had occurred before she was born. She did die, but she died with a radiance and peace that she had never known previously. The card she gave me, thanking me for our time together and specifically for the gift of sharing this meditation, is still on my shelf. In her words,
"Thank you for turning me around to face my fear, for opening up my being and helping me to trust the transformation that is turning me into a butterfly."
Feeding Your Demons, Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict by Lama Tsultrim Allione.