Once I went to a lecture by a Buddhist nun at the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Bangkok. Many of the things she said that day really struck me, and I have thought of them often since. One was that, “The mind is a vicious beast.” While I was meditating the other day, I started thinking about that. Sitting on the empty floor of my new home, I tried to quiet my mind, but instead it swam with all the things I had to do and buy and organize. I was distracted and stressed; this was not what I came to the floor for. But then another thought popped into my mind, something Thich Naht Hahn wrote in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings about embracing our anxiety, fear, anger, and loneliness. He calls these kinds of emotions “habit energies,” and advises that when we see a habit energy arising, we should not push it away or be annoyed or feel guilty at our failure to maintain composure. Instead, we should pull our habit energies close to us and hug them (metaphorically), saying “Hello, anxiety. I see you, my old friend.” “Oh, there you are again, despair. I know you, my friend.” In other words, Hahn encourages us to treat the vicious beast that is our mind as though it were a sweet, purring kitten. I think the idea is that by changing our perception of emotions, we will change our experience of them too.
This got me thinking about daemons. In The Golden Compass, the external animal spirits take on the emotions felt by their human. If you are sad, your daemon comforts you, but he feels, and acts, sad too. Is Pullman playing on an image of the mind as an animal – wild or domesticated depending on our ability to control it? Those who have read all three books probably have a better idea of whether or not that’s a possibility, but I’ve only read the first, and all I know is that the daemons seem crucially important, as is the question of whether or not they are “souls,” and thus, what is a soul and what does it mean to be human. I guess I’m not necessarily closer to knowing what Pullman is getting at with the daemon thing, but the image keeps coming back to me again and again. And now, it’s going to be a helpful image for me. Next time I feel a strong emotion, I’m going to cuddle it close to my heart, like Lyra snuggling Pan.