Adventures in the Night – Feeding the Demon of Insomnia

As a 40 year veteran of insomnia, I have a lot of experience to share. For details, see my previous blog. My current approach is to reframe my perspective from seeing insomnia as a problem to seeing the positives. The Buddhist practice of feeding your demons is my latest reframing attempt. It has certainly lifted my spirits but may need to be repeated several times before it beds in.

The practice is described in a book by the Buddhist nun, Tsultrim Allione – Feeding your Demons – Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict. Allione uses the word demon to mean our dark side or what Jung labelled ‘the shadow’. It’s those parts of ourselves that the conscious mind represses, such as our obsessions, fears and chronic problems like insomnia or depression. They are inner enemies that we tend to do battle with and struggle against, intending to eradicate or cure them. The Feeding the Demon practice is designed to bring the shadow into consciousness and access the treasures it holds.

Feeding my insomnia demon – let’s begin.

You start by finding a private space where you won’t be disturbed. Either record the instructions, have someone read them to you or read them yourself.

First relax. Then set your intention to do this practice for your highest good and for the benefit of all beings.

Step 1. Find the demon.

I found the insomnia demon in my head, particularly behind my eyes. He was gritty and grey.

Step 2. Personify the demon.

In a chair facing me, I imagined my insomnia demon as a thin man, dressed in a formal dark suit and tie. He was sitting upright in the chair, stiff and tense, gazing at me with a disapproving frown.

I asked him, ‘what do you want from me?’

He answered, ‘I want you to get your act together, stop going wrong, stop drifting off into fantasy.’

I scowled. I don’t like being told off but I didn’t argue. I asked the next question. ‘What do you need from me?’

Instantly, he replied, ‘I need your clear, focussed attention.’

Still scowling, I read out the final question. ‘How will you feel if you get what you need?’

His frown softened and he actually smiled. ‘I’ll feel relaxed, at peace, happy. I won’t need to be so vigilant.’

Step 3. Become the demon.

I sat on the demon’s chair and looked over at me stepping into the demon’s shoes. From his point of view, I appeared scatty and restless. I noticed that my eyes were wandering about. The demon spoke to me, saying gently but firmly, ‘What I want from you is your trust. I want you to let go, to surrender your desire for control, to relax and know, really know, that everything is all right. What I need from you is your joyful curiosity. When my need is met, I will feel joyful.’

Step 4. Feed the demon.

The palate of hate departs, Anger as soon as fed is dead; Tis starving makes it fat.

Emily Dickinson

I moved back to my chair and gazed thoughtfully at the demon sitting across from me. He kept eye contact. I was impressed by his ability to stick to his boundaries. The instruction was to dissolve my body into a nectar that has the quality of joy. I imagined melting my body, shaking it until it became a thick, dark liquid.

As my body dissolved, it became a lake high in the mountains in the depths of night. The water was dark but the lights of the stars and the full moon were reflected in its surface. A small waterfall fell from the edge of the lake. Here the demon cupped his hands and filled them with water, drinking slowly and savouring each sip. Water dripped down his chin, drenching his tie and suit jacket. He took his clothes off and stepped carefully into the lake. His white skin gleamed in the moonlight as he disappeared under the surface.

A sleek, silver-grey dolphin appeared in his place. The dolphin jumped out of the water, splashing as he dived back in. He swam round the lake in a playful way, chirping and leaping, bobbing his head. I was the lake. He made me laugh.

Photo by Paul Orford on Unsplash
Photo by Paul Orford on Unsplash

I asked the dolphin if he was my ally and he said he was.

‘How will you help me?’ I asked, looking forward to his reply.

He swam quickly around the lake before replying, ‘by inviting you to play.’

‘How will you protect me?’ I asked.

Again he swam round the lake as if taking time to consider his answer. ‘I will entice you away from the looping thoughts and pointless doings that you get stuck in.’

‘How?’ I asked.

‘I will give you a playful nudge when you get stuck in. You will feel my nose bumping you. You will pause and look for me. I will be there, inviting you to play.’

I sat very still, basking in the sense of protection that the dolphin, my ally, was offering me. Then he dissolved into me and we both dissolved into emptiness.

Step 5. Rest in awareness.

For a long time, I sat in stillness and peace, just resting, expecting nothing. It was enough.

Perhaps everything terrible in us is, in its deepest being, something helpless needing our help.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Since I did this practice, I haven’t slept much better but I have felt better in myself and I have been aware of the dolphin nudging me from time to time. And just at the back of my mind, I’m getting glimpses of what I need to do in the way of play.


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