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The Demon Dialogues

Posted by on Jul 31, 2017 in Featured Writing, Lifeletters & Articles | 5 comments

The Demon Dialogues

Nearly two years ago I embarked on a project which would turn out to be one of the biggest adventures of my life. It was not an outer adventure. The mountains I was scaling, the deserts I got stranded in, the rivers I nearly drowned in, were all part of my inner terrain. I was on a wild adventure I had postponed for a very long time: learning how to love.

It all began with needing. Through the inner work and the training I was doing, I realized that I needed more contact, more presence and more connection with my partner. For the very first time, I was able to fully acknowledge this need as something that belonged to me as a human being, as an adult, not as a needy or dysfunctional child. I was shocked to discover that I had not really acknowledged this need before–I had been dodging it, like a bullet that might take me out.

During the last seventeen years, in my work with couples and communities, I have helped hundreds of people honour and acknowledge this deep need for real intimacy. When I began my love adventure two years ago, I had to face the painful truth: what I had done for so many others I needed to do now, for myself.

Learning to feel our essential needs, to stay with them and respect them, and then to reach out and express them, is a foundational part of our human development. There is a lot of knowledge and information available now, about this aspect of becoming fully adult. That we can so freely access all of these teachings is a wonderful thing; and it can be very easy to learn it all conceptually, without knowing anything about how to actually embody this capacity. In my case, this is how it was. I think I’ve always been quite good at teaching others what I don’t know how to do myself.

So my adventure was scary. That’s what made it an adventure: no fear, no adventure. When I felt into the actual energy of my needing, I felt a dark empty space, a shakiness, and a lot of vulnerability. I wanted to pull myself back into the position I was habituated to: strong, independent, competent. But I’d already passed the road that would take me safely back home. I was much too far gone for any kind of safe retreat, and I knew it.

The more I acknowledged the depth of my longing, my need for intimacy, connection and presence, the more I realized that I didn’t know how to express this to my partner. Whenever I tried to do so, I ended up making him wrong, speaking as if he should be different than he is. It was an adventure of falling flat on my face, again and again, as I tried to find another way to speak to him of my longing. It was not easy, this adventure. It was an ongoing, very distressing practice that I could not give up on, because I knew that I had to find a way to grow into this capacity, this new way of expressing what I wanted and needed.

I was caught in what Dr. Sue Johnson calls ‘The Demon Dialogues.’ I didn’t know anything about this description at the time—I was simply immersed in my half of the demon dialogues: pointing my finger, criticizing, feeling more and more frustrated and resentful, and hating myself for the way I was being with a man for whom I care a great deal. His part, as my partner demon, was to close down and become more and more defensive and unavailable as I criticized and attacked him.

Demon Dialogues Lifeletter

When I call us demons, I don’t mean that we were bad or terrible. We just got lost in our suffering, in our habitual ways of being, and in the imprints of our traumas. We couldn’t get connected to the energy of our evolution, or the tenderness of our hearts, at least not for long enough to really transform the pattern. Undoing a pattern like this requires fierce commitment, unending compassion, and raw, naked honesty. The demons know just how to dance together, and the dance can go on and on. I believe now that it is a dance that gets passed down through the generations–I learned the demon dialogues in the house of my parents, as they learned theirs from their parents.

I finally started to wake up, a few months ago. I felt like I was giving birth, at last, to a bigger awareness in my heart. I could finally see the whole pattern, and take responsibility for my part in it. I had to soften a lot, deep inside, and allow myself to ask for what I wanted from a place of deep tenderness and vulnerability, knowing that my partner was a free being and might choose to say no. Or that he might not even be able to hear me, receive me, at all. On the way to this clarity I have passed through chasms of anger, wells of grief, secret pockets of shame and resentment.

I still regress. Especially when my partner goes off on his own little trip and disconnects from me completely. But I know, in my deepest heart, that the demon dialogues are obsolete. Not bad, not wrong, they have simply outlived themselves. It’s time for something new, our whole planet is waiting for it.

Awake awhile
It does not have to be
forever,
right now.

Awake awhile
Just one true moment of love
will last for days.
~Hafiz

 

with love,
Shayla

 

art credit: Oleg Oprisco

5 Comments

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  1. Michelle Wilsdon

    my partner is longing
    expressed in words and paint
    no one single being has dared
    to dance with my demon
    I’ve not softened in embrace

  2. Eileen Delehanty Pearkes

    Really wonderful, Shayla. Bravo for your courage and your honesty.

  3. Regis

    I bow to you Shayla–

    As another veil falls,

    As a sacrifice,

    To our Shared humanity–

  4. Laverne

    How I admire your honesty, Shayla. This gives me the courage to face the demons, I am right with you, thanks for leading the way. Laverne

  5. Ross

    “I cannot take on your longing”, she said.
    am I that needy? I thought, as her declaration of independence landed up against me and once again turned me back into myself.
    she doesn’t want you dude…

    Isn’t it beautiful I ponder.? I mean, this is what all the great love poems are about. Sure, Rumi longs achingly for the beloved with a capital B, but hey, I am human too and is it a crime to long? To be-long, to belong, to be with my longing sure gets me in touch with a raw core of wants, needs and desires. To be stoic about these seems crazy, and
    counter intuitive to health and fullness of life…..no?
    John O’donahue speaks most eloquently of our longing, giving us fell permission to be that and honor it.
    I suspect that as children, so many of us were burdened with the unmet longings of our parents that somehow got loaded into our hearts and that became a weight. Emotional survival was made doable if we pushed that away, and we’re still doing it with our partners.
    oh well

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