22: Singing to Monsters

As Milarepa sang to the monsters he found in his cave, “It is wonderful you demons came today. You must come again tomorrow. From time to time, we should converse.”

– Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart : Heart Advice for Difficult Times

I was talking with B recently, and they were lamenting how their ex hurt them. B feels wounded by their ex’s behaviors. They feel damaged and alone every day. B feels their ex abandoned their life together. 

That is the emotional narrative of B’s experience. Pain lashes B to a life of rigidity and narrowness. 

Among other things, B made the statement they will not go to therapy because it won’t make a difference. Nearly a decade later, my friend still believes all of their pain is someone else’s fault. They resist taking responsibility for how they got here or what can change. They cannot imagine anything beyond the experience. As such, they fall back to the theory, canceling their ex out will cancel out the problem.

In asking questions and offering encouragement, I realized they aren’t trying to cancel the person out; they are trying to cancel their discomfort. As a result, they are struggling with reconciling their role with their identity. Of course, what we resist persists and grows. In this way, B’s life is stuck in the past as they replay the trauma. They find themselves projecting pain into the future. The moment doesn’t exist.

What if the opposite is true?

What if the path to healing is found by going to the places that scare us at the moment? What if the reason we suffer is that it feeds our ego and pride to make ourselves the center of someone else’s story? What if the rigid responses to pain are the poison keeping us in pain?

That doesn’t mean we invite those living without awareness and resistant to growth back into our lives. Boundaries matter.

Instead, Chodron implores her audience to “start by working with the monsters in our mind. In this process we develop the wisdom and compassion to communicate sanely with the threats and fears of our daily life.”

Truthfully, I’ve discovered the many traumas I project forward into my life are ghost stories of my past revisited. Virtually all the spooks I feel live only in my unconfronted anxieties. Therapy shines a light into the dark corners of my mind where the monsters lie in hiding. Therapy guides me, not into confrontation, but rather a conversation with myself.

Works Cited

Pema Chödrön. When Things Fall Apart : Heart Advice for Difficult Times. 1997. Boulder, Colorado, Shambhala, 2016, p. 121.

“Who Is Milarepa?” Shambhala, 22 Sept. 2017, http://www.shambhala.com/who-is-milarepa/. Accessed 18 Jan. 2021.