David Atkins on November 2, 2008
If you would have told me a couple of years ago that I would ever preach about demon possession and casting out demons, I would have laughed and said, "No way." Those of you who sat through 14 years of my sermons in this sanctuary may have noticed that there were several subjects that I simply ignored. One was the subject of hell. I still see little value in preaching about hell. I always thought that it was much more practical to talk about where we want to be than where we don't want to be. It is sort of like going on a trip. If I am planning a trip to England it is much more practical to talk about how to get to England than how to get to Guatemala.
The other subject was demons. This morning you heard two of the stories in the Gospels about Jesus casting out demons or spirits. Jesus also gave his disciples authority over evil spirits and instructed them to cast them out. I always discounted this by telling myself that the people of Jesus' time were just superstitious, telling myself that these were probably undiagnosed mental illnesses that were misunderstood at the time, assuming, of course, that we are much more enlightened now than the people of Jesus' time. Taken to its logical conclusion, that would suggest we are more enlightened than Jesus. Just a tad bit of arrogance.
Now, however, partially because of experiences with my clients; partially because of the influence of the writing and lectures of Eckhart Tolle; and partially because of the information given to me by my friend, Dr. Stafford Betty, I have come to realize that Jesus really did know what he was doing. What a thought!
So, a sermon on casting out demons. However, I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew. It is sort of like the first time I ate raw, dried coconut. I took a big bite and started chewing, only to discover in a few minutes that it did not dissolve in my mouth. On the contrary, it seemed to expand, and not only that, it absorbed all of the juices in my mouth so that I could not swallow what I had bitten off. That is kind of the way I feel about dealing with the issue of demons. Nevertheless, I committed myself to the topic and to this topic I will attend.
I have come to believe that there are demons, and it is possible to be possessed by them. However, not everyone agrees on what it means to be possessed by a demon. Some believe these are the spirits of those persons who have lived here on the earth, those people who have died, but whose spirits have not moved on and are looking for a dwelling place. They need a host, a person whose energy they can use because they have lost their body. These are "earth bound" spirits. Stafford Betty, in an article on the subject, states that some of these spirits are more attached to the loved ones they have left behind than to the Light of the Afterworld, where they belong. Others are addicted to earth's vices and look for a host. And some are just confused, not sure that they have died.
A second view of demon or spirit possession, the one found in Wikipedia, states: "In religion, folklore, and mythology a demon is a supernatural being that is generally described as a malevolent spirit. In Christian terms, demons are generally understood as fallen angels formerly of God." M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled and People of the Lie asserts that some people are possessed by forces of evil, or "dark force entities." Stafford Betty describes these entities as "intent on evil doing" and "attach themselves to unsuspecting mortals." "They are belligerent, disruptive, threatening, and thoroughly unpleasant. They claim they belong to a Satanic Intelligence that rules them."
It is these entities that spiritual and secular healers address with exorcism. Some use traditional rituals of exorcism while others, like Dr. William Baldwin, more gently invite the attached spirit to move on toward the Light.
More recently I have come to a third and somewhat unusual understanding of demon possession. It comes from the spiritual writings of Eckhart Tolle. In seeking to synthesize his teachings I may have placed the whole coconut in my mouth.
This idea starts with the understanding that you are not your body, and you are not your mind. You have a body. Your spirit or essence is in your body, but there is a you that is other than the body. Likewise, you have a mind, but you are not your mind. The problem, Tolle suggests, is when we identify with our mind and body and forget that our very essence is just Being. Paul Tillich, a theologian of the mid 20th century, liked to speak of God as the Ground of Being. Tolle suggests that our natural state is that of felt oneness with Being.
Let me read from The Power of Now, p. 12.
"felt oneness with being" is a state of connectedness with something immeasurable and indestructible, something that, almost paradoxically, is essentially you and yet is much greater than you. It is finding your true nature beyond name and form. The inability to feel this connectedness gives rise to the illusion of separation, from yourself and from the world around you. You then perceive yourself, consciously or unconsciously, as an isolated fragment. Fear arises, and conflict within and without becomes the norm.
He further states (p. 13) that "Being is the eternal, ever-present One Life beyond the myriad forms of life that are subject to birth and death. However, Being is not only beyond but also deep within every form as its innermost invisible and indestructible essence." I like to think of Being as the Life Within, the core, creative energy from which life is manifested. The Quakers call it "The Light Within."
Now, the problem for most of us, and this is where demon possession comes in, is that rather than living in consciousness of that Being, that essence of life, we are ruled by our minds, we identify with our minds, taking our identity from who they tells us we are and experiencing the emotions connected with our minds. When we are connected with our essence, we are in the now, in this very moment, but when we are connected with and identifying with our minds, we are either in the memories of the past, or the fears and hopes of the future, neither of which actually exist in this moment!
Tolle suggests that we create pain for ourselves when we are disconnected from this moment and resist what is. I plan an outdoor party. It rains. I become upset and angry and create emotional pain for myself because I say, "It isn't supposed to be this way." Did you hear what the choir sang this morning? "Amen, So be it!" That's what it is all about. Affirmation. Acceptance. Tolle suggests that the intensity of the pain depends on the degree of resistance to the present moment, and this in turn depends on how intensely I am identified with my mind, because the mind always seeks to deny the now and to escape from it.
That is the foundation for understanding demon possession, which Eckhart Tolle would name the "pain body." He states that every experience of the body leaves behind a residue of pain that lives on in you. It accumulates in us when we are not in the now, and this accumulated pain is a negative energy field that occupies the body and mind. He calls it the "emotional pain body," an invisible entity in its own right. It can be dormant or active. It can be weak or strong. It can be relatively harmless or deeply vicious and destructive monsters, true demons. Some will attack people around you or close to you, while others may attack you, the host. He states that some pain bodies drive their hosts to suicide.
The pain body wants to survive, just like every other entity in existence, and it survives, it gets its food, from any form of negativity in the mind: anger, hatred, greed, fear, resentment. It helps to create situations in our life that create more pain. As Tolle puts it, "Pain can only feed on pain. Pain can not feed on joy. It finds it quite indigestible." Once the pain body takes over, our thinking and behavior are designed to keep the pain going.
I can not tell you how many times I have been sitting with a client who is suffering greatly, who has invasive, painful thoughts, and when I say, "It is like you are possessed," they say, "Yes, I don't feel like I am myself." Right. They have become the host to the pain body. The true self is within, but the person is not conscious of it, is not connected to it.
So, having said that, is there a way to be free of this demon possession? Yes there is. The pain body, this demon, appears like a dangerous monster, but it is an unsubstantial phantom that can not prevail against the power of your joy. The scriptures remind us that "he who is within us is greater than he who is in the world."
The power of the pain body is broken when we dare to look at it as an entity outside of ourselves, when we no longer identify with it. We become the observer, the watcher. We observe the pain but are not part of it. I notice the thought, but I am not the thought. By doing this we are breaking identity with it. We no longer let disappointments, losses, failures of the past determine our identity or our experience in this moment. We become present. We are in the now. We are not in the memories of the pain of the past, but in this life filled moment. The truth is that at this moment, right now, we have everything we need.
Tolle says that the pain body is an energy field, almost like an entity. It has become temporarily lodged in your inner space. It is life energy that has become trapped, energy that is no longer flowing. It is the living past in you, and if you identify with it, you identify with the past.
You have the power of this moment, being yourself in this moment. Nobody else is responsible for your inner space right now. The past can not prevail against the power of the now. You can not fight the pain body, for it will only become stronger. Remember, anything that we resist becomes stronger, and resistance to what is creates the emotional pain. The invitation is to become aware of it, to observe it, to bring it into the light and thus dispel the darkness. St. Paul put it beautifully: "Everything is shown up by being exposed to the light and whatever is exposed to the light, itself becomes the light."
We do not have to go to a monastery, a cave, or into the desert to experience this. You can experience it right here by becoming aware of the life within you.
Let me conclude with the first paragraph in Thomas R. Kelly's amazing and enlightening book, A Testament of Devotion.
DISSOLVING THE PAIN BODY (Chapter 6)
Practicing the Power of Now.
The greater part of human pain is unnecessary. It is self created as long as the unobserved mind runs your life. The pain you create now is some form of non acceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is. On the level of thought the resistance is some form of judgment. On the emotional level, it is some form of negativity. The intensity of the pain depends on the degree of resistance to the present moment, and this in turn depends on how intensely you are identified with your mind. The mind always seeks to deny the now and to escape from it. The more you are identified with your mind, the more you suffer. The more you are able to honor and accept the now, the more you are free of pain or suffering, and free of the egoic mind.
Pain is inevitable as long as you are identified with your mind, which is to say as long as you are unconscious, spiritually speaking. Talking primarily of emotional pain, which is the main cause of physical pain and physical disease. Resentment, hatred, self pity, guilt, anger, depression, jealousy, even the slightest irritation are all forms of pain. And every pleasure or emotional high contains within it the seeds of pain, its inseparable opposite which manifests in time.
Two levels to your pain. The pain that you create now and the pain from the past that still lives on in your mind and body. As long as you are unable to access the power of now, every experience of the body leaves behind a residue of pain that lives on in you. It merges from the pain of the past which was already there, and becomes lodged in your mind and body. This, of course, includes the suffering you experienced as a child, caused by the unconsciousness of the world into which you were born. This accumulated pain is a negative energy field that occupies your body and mind. If you look at it as an invisible entity in its own right, you are getting quite close to the truth. It is the emotional pain body. The pain body has two modes of being: dormant and active. It may be dormant 90 % of the time. In a deeply unhappy person, though, it may be active up to 100% of the time. Some people live almost entirely through their pain body, while others may only experience it in certain situations, such as in intimate relationships, or situations linked with past loss or abandonment, physical or emotional hurt, etc. Anything can trigger it, especially if it resonates with the pain pattern from your past. When it is ready to awaken from its dormant state, even an innocent thought or act by a person close to you can activate it.
BREAKING IDENTIFICATION WITH THE PAIN BODY
The pain body doesn't want you to observe it directly and see it for what it is. The moment you observe the pain body, observe its energy within you, and take your attention to it, the identification is broken. The higher dimension of consciousness has come in. I call it presence. You are now the witness or the watcher of the pain body. This means that it can not use you any more by depending on you and it can no longer replenish itself through you. You have found your own inner most strength.
Some pain bodies are obnoxious, but relatively harmless. Eg. Like a child that won't stop whining. Others are vicious and destructive monsters, true demons. Some are physically violent. Many more are emotionally violent. Some will attack people around you or close to you, while others may attack you, the host. Thoughts and feelings you have about yourself may become deeply negative and destructive. Illnesses and accidents are often created in this way. Some pain bodies drive their hosts to suicide. When you thought you knew a person and you are confronted with this nasty and alien creature for the first time, you are in for quite a shock. It is more important, however, to observe it in yourself than in someone else.
Watch out for any sign of unhappiness in yourself in any form. It may be the awakening pain body. This can take the form of irritation, impatience, ... , the desire to hurt, anger, rage, depression, the need to have some drama in your relationship, etc. Catch it the moment it awakens from its dormant state.
The pain body wants to survive, just like every other entity in existence. And it can only survive if it can get you to unconsciously identify with it. It can then rise up, take you over, become you, and live through you. It needs to get its food through you. It will feed on any experience that resonates with its own kind of energy. Anything that creates further pain in any form. Anger, destructiveness, hatred, greed, emotional drama, violence, and even illness. So the pain body, when it has taken you over, will create a situation in your life that reflects back its own energy frequency for it to feed on. Pain can only feed on pain. Pain can not feed on joy. It finds it quite indigestible. Once the pain body has taken you over, you want more pain. You become a victim or a perpetrator. You want to inflict pain or you want to suffer pain, or both. There isn't really much difference between the two. You are not conscious of this, of course, and will vehemently declare that you do not want pain. But look closely and you will discover that your thinking and behavior are designed to keep the pain going, for yourself and others.
If you were truly conscious of it, the pattern would resolve, for to want more pain is insanity, and know body is consciously insane. The pain body, which is the dark shadow cast by the ego, is actually afraid of the light of your consciousness. It is afraid of being found out. Its survival depends on your unconsciousness identification with it, as well as your conscious fear of facing the pain that lives in you. But if you don't face it, if you don't address it, you will be forced to live it again and again.
The pain body may appear to you like a dangerous monster you can not bear to look at, but I assure, you that it is an unsubstantial phantom that can not prevail against the power of your presence.
When you become the watcher and start to misidentify, the pain body will continue to operate for awhile, and will try to trick you to identifying with it again, although you are no longer energizing it through your identification, it has a certain momentum just like a spinning wheel that will keep turning for awhile, even when it is no longer being propelled.
Stay present. Stay conscious. Be the ever alert guardian of your inner space. You need to be present enough to watch the pain body directly and feel its energy. It then can not control your thinking. The moment your thinking is aligned with the energy field of the pain body, you are identified with it and again feeding it with your thoughts. Eg. If anger is the primary energy vibration of the pain body, and you think angry thoughts, dwelling on what somebody did to you or what you are going to do to him or her, then you have become unconscious and the pain body has become you. Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath. Or when a dark mood comes to you and you start getting into a negative pain pattern, thinking how dreadful your life is, your thinking has become aligned with the pain body. And you have become unconscious and vulnerable to the pain body's attack.
Unconscious, means, to be identified with some mental or emotional pattern. It implies a complete absence of the watcher.
Consciousness severs the link between the pain body and your thought process, and brings about the process of transmutation. It is as if the pain becomes fuel for the flame of your consciousness, which then burns more brightly as a result. Transformation of suffering into consciousness. The split within is healed and you become whole again.
Focus attention on the feeling inside of you. Know that it is the pain body. Accept that it is there. Don't think about it. Don't let the feeling turn into thinking. Don't judge it or analyze it. Stay present, and still be the observer of what is happening inside of you.
Become aware, not only of the emotional pain, but also of the one who observes, the silent watcher. This is the power of the now, the power of your own conscious presence. Then see what happens.
EGO IDENTIFICATION WITH THE PAIN BODY.
Once you learn the basic principle of being the watcher of what happens inside you, and you understand it by experiencing it, you have at your disposal the most potent transformational tool. May be resistance to dies-identifying with your pain. This will be especially difficult if you have lived closely related to your pain body for most of your life, and a large or whole part of your sense of self is invested in it. What this means is that you have made an unhappy self out of your pain body, and believe that this mind made fiction is who you are. In this case, strong identity with it as who you are will encounter strong resistance to dis-identification. In other words, you would rather be in pain, be the pain body, than take a leap into the unknown and risk losing the familiar, unhappy self.
Observe the resistance within yourself. Observe the attachment to your pain. Be very alert. Observe the peculiar pleasure you derive from being unhappy. Observe the compulsion to talk or think about it. The resistance will cease if you make it conscious. You can then take your attention into the pain body, stay present as the witness, and so initiate its transmutation. Only you can do this. Nobody can do it for you. But if you are fortunate enough to find someone who is intensely conscious, if you can be with them and join them in the state of presence, it will accelerate things. In this way your own light will quickly grow stronger.
The first thing to remember is this: As long as you make an identity of yourself out of the pain, you can not become free of it. As long as part of your sense of self is invested in your emotional pain, you will unconsciously resist or sabotage every attempt that you make to heal that pain. Why? Because you want to keep yourself intact, and your pain has become an essential part of you. This is an unconscious process, and the only way to overcome it is to make it conscious.
THE POWER OF YOUR PRESENCE
To suddenly seek that you are or have been attached to your pain can be quite a shocking realization. The moment you realize this, you have broken the attachment. The pain body is an energy field, almost like an entity. It has become temporarily lodged in your inner space. It is life energy that has become trapped, energy that is no longer flowing. Of course, the pain body is there because of certain things that happened in the past. It is the living past in you, and if you identify with it, you identify with the past.
The victim identity is the belief that the past is more powerful than the present, which is the opposite of the truth. It is the belief that other people and what they did to you are responsible for who you are now, for your emotional pain or your inability to be a true self. The truth is that the only power that is contained within this moment. It is the power of your presence. Once you know that, you also realize that you are responsible for your inner space now. Nobody else is. And that the past can not prevail against the power of the now. Unconsciousness creates it. Consciousness transmutes it into itself. \
St. Paul presented this universal principle beautifully: Everything is shown up by being exposed to the light and whatever is exposed to the light, itself becomes the light.
Just as you can not fight the darkness, you can not fight the pain body. Trying to do so would produce inner conflict and thus further pain. Watching it is enough. Watching it implies accepting it as part of what is at that moment.