Imagine that you’re steering a ship far out at sea. Below the deck, totally out of your sight, live a group of enormously clawed and sharp-teethed demons. These demons have various forms, such as guilt, anger, fear, or hopelessness.
Some are the memories of you being hurt or you failing. Some are limiting thoughts like, ‘It’s too hard’, ‘I’ll make a fool of myself’ or ‘I’ll fail.’ Some are mental images of you performing badly in near future or getting rejected. And others are unpleasant sensations like knots in your stomach or tightness in your chest.
Now, as long as you keep sailing in the sea, the demons are content and would stay below the deck. As soon as you start drifting the boat towards the land, they all get up and start marching towards you from below the deck and threaten to destroy and harm you.
Obviously, you don’t like that so you make a deal. You agree to keep the boat sailing in the sea as long as the demons stay out of sight below the deck. Seems like a fair deal, so everything returns back to normal, but not for long though!
Eventually, you start getting fed up with the sea. You get bored, anxious, lonely, and miserable. You see all the other ships heading towards the shore but not yours and you ask yourself if this is the life that you wanted to live, and that you really want now to get to the land!
But the DEMONS! they don’t give a fuck about what you want, they just want you to stay in the sea forever. So the moment you turn your boat towards the land, they all come up again and start threatening you.
Can the Demons really hurt us?
But here’s the interesting part, they do threaten you, but they never actually cause any physical harm! They can only cause physical harm if we engage with and try to fight them. But other than that, all they can do is growl, wave their claws, and look terrifying.
What does it mean to us? It means that we can take our ship wherever we want! All we have to do is to accept the presence of demons. We can just keep steering our ship towards the shore, the demons might growl and howl but they’re powerless unless we consciously choose to engage with them and believe them.
But, if we are not willing to face the demons, we can just keep drifting in the sea so that all the demons stay below the deck forever. Also, you can try to throw the demons offboard but then who will be steering the ship? You will crash into some rock or end up capsizing! Plus, the demons are wayyyy too much and it is gonna be a struggle that you may not ever win.
Now let’s end this analogy and talk for real. No one wants to live with the demons, but the truth is that we all are living with them, all day, each moment! And these demons show up every time you decide to take your life in a valued direction.
But Why the Fuck do they show up??
Well Well Well.. It all goes back to Evolution. The minds of our primitive homosapiens only had one goal, Not to get killed. Now if we know our environment around us fully, then the chance of getting killed is reduced significantly. The better you know the surroundings, the terrain, the wildlife, the shortcuts, the safer you are. But when you try to venture into new and unknown territory, your mind goes, “LOOK OUT”, “BE CAREFUL”, there could be a crocodile in that pond or a leopard in the bushes!
Thanks to evolution, our modern minds do the same, only far more extensively. Whenever we try to do something new or different like public speaking or maybe changing careers, our minds will start warning us with thoughts like ‘You might fail’, ‘You might get rejected’, ‘You might make a mistake’, ‘Everyone will hate you’. It will bombard us with negative images and uncomfortable sensations just so that we don’t do that NEW thing. All too often, we let these feelings stop us from taking control of our lives and moving it in the direction that we want. Rather than sailing towards the shore, we keep drifting in the sea.
Some people call this, ‘staying in your comfort zone’ and I really don’t think that is where you always want to be. It might be comfortable but it isn’t gonna help you grow. Now, depending on the nature of your current problems or you may want to change careers, make new friends, get out of an existing relationship, or maybe pursue a new one, or maybe engage in something challenging like going for higher education, or writing a novel. Whatever possible meaningful changes you start making in your life, those demons will get back and start to haunt you.
WTF to do then..??
The demons will always come and haunt you whenever you venture into something new, that’s the bad news.
But, here’s the good news. If you keep on steering your boat towards the land (no matter how much the demons threaten you) many of them will realize after a certain point of time that they’re having no effect on you and they’ll give up and leave you alone. As for the ones that remain, after a while, you’ll get used to their presence. And if you take a good long look at them, you will realize that they are not as scary as they first appeared. With time you will become comfortable even in their presence.
So, in a nutshell, keep moving in the right direction, irrespective of the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings and you will be just fine.
Whenever such feelings bother me, I just take a step back, acknowledge their presence, thank my mind for showing me these uncomfortable pictures and feelings, and then I just keep doing what I have to do (i.e, steering towards the land).
I read this boat and demon analogy in the book “The Happiness Trap” by Dr, Russ Harris. It is a wonderful book and I will keep gonna write posts about the things that I learn from it. Do give it a read!!
If you have any thoughts, feel free to comment below!