I recently attended a play, “Beowulf”, which highlights the Hero-Monster continuum. The most important concepts in the play were the ideas that we need the monster in order to have heroes, and that we create our monsters by labeling them “other.”
Some Buddhist teachings say that all suffering is caused by our own reactions, by our judgments of good and bad, preferred vs. abhorred, desirable vs. undesirable. Suffering is not inherent in that thing or person or event outside of us, it is only caused by our internal assessment of that thing or person or event. If it is raining, it causes suffering if we view the rain as keeping us from our picnic. But we view it as joyful if we are ending a drought with the rain. It is not the rain that causes suffering: it is our assessment of it.
Is this also true with our monsters? Could it be that the thing or person or event that we deem monstrous is really only monstrous because of our affect, our judgment around it?
Granted there are events or things or people for which it would be hard to claim it is only in our assessment that they become monstrous. If someone sexual abuses another, is that person evil or monstrous? And what about the Holocaust? What about wars? What about people who shoot others?
OK, let’s agree that there may be extreme cases. Let’s not address them in this blog. Let’s address only those things that we have formed a judgment about, a judgment that we can actually look at, assess, and perhaps change.
I believe that it is necessary to accept our inner monsters. How to do so depends on the kind of inner monster we are looking at.
If our inner monster is part of our own shadow side, we can learn to accept that part of ourselves. Take that part, look it in the eye, and say, “You are a part of me.” Ask it what it wants most of all. The answer will usually be love and compassion. Can you give that inner monster, that inner shadow, the love and compassion it needs? Can you accept that inner monster as a frightened little child who needs your help?
If your inner monster has strong ties to things, people, or events outside of you, then bring to mind that person, thing or event, and ask it why it is being monstrous to you. It is again likely looking for love (in all the wrong ways), and acceptance. If you can come to understand what drives that person, thing or event, or why they are acting the way they do, perhaps you can come to a place of love and compassion for that person, thing or event, without condoning the monstrous behavior. Once again, can you look at the person, thing or event and see it as a broken little child in need of your help to become whole again?
One of the keys here is to stop thinking of the monstrous as “other” and to think of it as “part of me” or as “like me”.
- We can celebrate our dark sides, get to know them, and thus bring light to them. Halloween is a good example.
- Plays, movies or books can also elucidate our inner monsters.
- Our dark sides may come to us in dreams. Pay attention to your dreams: consciously accept the material you find in them.
- Psychotherapy can help us recognize and accept our own inner monsters, to stop treating them as “other.”
Make no mistake: bringing consciousness and acceptance to our dark sides, to our inner monsters, is heroic work. It is not easy. But it enables us to more fully understand our own inner selves, and bring self-acceptance to who we are.
As long as we are at war with our monsters, we will not be at peace in our hearts, or in the world.
“When you fight something, you’re tied to it forever. As long as you’re fighting it, you’re giving it power.” – Anthony de Mello