Shortly after I tore my ankle tendon, I read Shaman by Kim Robinson. In it, the main character also wounded his ankle – he named his affliction Growl. So I named mine Growl too, then later changed it to Crouch.
In the following months, I formed a relationship with Crouch. At first, it seemed like he went through moods quite distinct from me. But I understood better as I learned what made him angry.
In objective terms, Crouch is now an inflammatory response that appears first in my healed ankle. He’s angered by milk derivatives, some nuts, and meat. While working with him, I returned to full veganism.
I knew I should return to veganism long before I hurt my ankle, but that didn’t translate into action until our collaboration. Crouch and I know the objective description is crap. If I consume animals that suffered for human use, I’m eating pain and then feeling it. That’s all it is.
More recently, I decided to name my chest Thumper. Like the rabbit from Bambi, right? Because he knocks on my chest when I overdo salt, and he’s appeased by fresh vegetables. I knew that the processed boxes and cans of food aren’t good for me, but when it was expedient I went for them anyway. Working with Thumper, I’m slowly but surely abandoning all processed foods.
Even more recently, I’ve begun naming my ancient addiction and other mental afflictions as well. By naming afflictions, I find that I gain mental and emotional distance from them. It gives me the interior space to come to terms and actually befriend those parts of myself. Through their names, I’ve come to see that this private little pantheon is not actually composed of afflictions at all. They all mean well, they’re all trying to communicate my own wrong attachment and incorrect approaches to me.
By naming them, I can hear them better.
Our afflictions are never cleanly bound to the arenas of physical, mental, or emotional. That’s because those arenas are false – there is no such separation, not really. All injuries and compulsions arise first from poor emotional health, which translates into poor mental health and finally poor physical health. Even sudden, unexpected accidents arise this way.
There’s no difference between a physical ailment, an emotional ailment, and a mental ailment. They are just ailments, and they’re not even that in the final analysis. They’re communications from the world – communications from ourselves to ourselves, specters of those parts of ourselves that we aren’t directly aware of. Usually, the parts that we’ve done our absolute best to avoid.
When you name your afflictions, you intentionally bring them into your awareness. Don’t name them with the names of people you detest, demons, or other negatively-empowering characterizations. They’re not evil. They’re even only burdens when they have no rhyme or reason, when we observe them from our little walled-off egos. Qualified from some strange gracious halfway-ascended state of mind, they’re simply our companions through this life journey. Give them names that help you know them this way.
As any person in recovery can tell you, these companions never leave us. They may become quiet for long periods, when we are participating in life rightly, but they’ll start yelling angrily if we revert back to our wrong attachments and incorrect approaches. Not as punishment, but as warnings – our afflictions guard us. Understood as companions, they are protectors. When they speak to you, they’re nudging you back into mindfulness and the Serenity Prayer.
Moving Beyond Suffering
Suffering is inevitable in samsara. You wouldn’t be here, and neither would I, if we didn’t have some grasping desire away from God. Yet, all these little cycles aren’t themselves inevitable. The cycles arise from afflictions. Not the pain of the mental, emotional, and physical wounds – no, rather they arise from the attachments that the afflictions come to protect us from.
So work with them – learn what makes them mad, learn what makes them happy. Learn to get along with yourself and be happy. Leave angry self-disgust and weeping self-pity aside for a moment and discover what it is in you that causes your suffering. Then correct it, because it’s just a mistake – you never did sin.
If I let the pressure of work or relationships get to me – if I let my expectations cause me to overwork or become upset – then my old cycle of addiction kicks in. What are your triggers? What makes your affliction start making itself known in your consciousness? And after it becomes known, what is the negative cycle of behavior that starts it barking at you? How do you end up in these low valleys of death?
Just as it’s useful to separate out your teachers – the voices of spirit and ego within you – for mindfulness, naming afflictions is helpful for becoming wholly self-aware. Expose everything in your ego, all those base little habits and compulsions, to the light of accepting, kind awareness – and you’ll be free, whole, and holy.
Sure, people might think you a little mad. Just tell them you’re a certified weirdo.
And smile as you find your way back home to the right side of God.
Blessings, dear hearts, and may all beings find peace and enlightenment.