“How do you fight your demons, sage?” asked a man with a tired face, as he stopped by the house of the world famous sage Puram Bam.
Puram Bam, busy at writing something that looked like a letter, looked up.
“What makes you think I have demons to fight?” he asked.
His visitor had a strange face, a face that seemed young–yet beaten by life, fresh–yet old. It was the face of a young man who woke up one morning to discover in the mirror that he had suddenly aged overnight.
“Everyone has demons,” he said, his voice full of conviction. “If you don’t have demons to fight you are dead.”
“Or free,” said Puram Bam.
“It’s the same thing,” said the man.
“For many,” answered Puram Bam. “But not for everyone. Which one of your demons did you want to talk about?”
“The one that sucks the life out of me,” replied the man, his voice hard. “He’s been haunting me ever since I was a child.”
“Demons rarely haunt us uninvited,” said Puram Bam, moving his unfinished letter aside. “Tell me more.”
“He attacks suddenly,” said the man, his face going dark. “I can never see him coming. One minute I’m busy doing something — and the next moment he’s there and my will is gone. No one can see demons, and yet I can almost sense the presence of this one. I can feel him sneaking into my room. I’ve never caught a glimpse of him, but somehow I know what he looks like. He is a large gray limp mass that moves silently and swiftly. Gray and cold. Very cold. And when his coldness touches my forehead, I am no longer me. No one can notice a difference, for I still act the same way I always do.
“In fact, when he takes over me I get very busy. I read wonderful books, I make plans, I do things I’ve been postponing for ages, I write letters to people I have not spoken to for years, I feed my dog, I sharpen my sword. But when I do this I know that my sword is already sharp, my dog is not hungry and the people I write to would scratch their heads trying to recall my name. But I still do it. When this demon takes over me I do anything — anything except that thing I was about to do when he sneaked into my room. And I don’t know how to fight him. I don’t know how to fight the Demon of Procrastination!”
“You can’t fight a demon,” said Puram Bam, “unless you call him by his proper name. And the name you’ve just said is not the true name of this demon.”
“What is it then?” asked the man, his face brightened by sudden hope. “Tell me! Please!”
“You have to guess it yourself, if you want to have a chance against him.”
“Guess it? How? Everyone knows him by this name!”
“What do you feel when he takes over you?”
“I feel as if I’m slowly drowning in a cold swamp and have no power to struggle. All my senses work as usual, my hands are are strong as ever, but my mind goes numb. It feels like it’s being wrapped in some thick soft fabric, layer after layer, thicker and thicker. And it’s so comforting, so lulling, so calm. It feels like there is no way out, that I will drown completely, my mind wrapped in that fabric and my will gone, but somehow this doesn’t frighten me. The the worst thing is, I don’t even want to get out. When this demon takes over me, I don’t want anything.”
“But you do come back, eventually.”
“Yes. I get out of that swamp every time, but it’s becoming harder and harder. It used to take minutes. Now it takes hours. But I do come back.”
“And the first thing you do is finish whatever you were doing when the demon came?”
“Yes. Always. All of a sudden everything seems so easy. Somehow just being back makes me powerful. And that’s what I just can’t understand. People say that this demon takes us away from things we don’t want to do. That he snatches us at the moment of weakness. But I don’t believe them. Yes, he comes to me when I have to do something I don’t like. But he also comes to me when I do something I love! And I find myself just as drowning in that swamp. I don’t believe people when they say that he is not that bad, that he helps us escape. They say that he helps us escape our fears. Fear of failure, fear of success… But why in the world would I want to escape from something that makes me feel alive?”
“You are asking wrong questions,” said Puram Bam. “Ask the right one.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You do. People avoid asking a right question, when they don’t want to face the answer. But you–you want it. Tell me, do you enjoy doing things you do once he takes over?”
“Enjoy? I hate doing them! And I hate myself for being so weak, for not being able to stop. But you see… it’s not actually me who’s doing all these things. It’s almost like someone else is moving my hands, opening my mouth to speak, making my eyes to read. It’s the demon.”
“Our demons are not as powerful as we think. They cannot move our hands. Only we can.”
“But this is what it feels like. And if it’s not me moving my hand then who?”
“I knew a man once,” said Puram Bam, “who used to ask this question. He doesn’t ask it anymore. It’s another wrong question to ask. Do you know what you are escaping from?”
The man shrugged.
“You can’t escape fear, without taking it with you.”
“Doing something unpleasant? Or . . . pleasant. Pleasant, but difficult.”
“Do you still think about that difficulty, while drowning in that swamp,?”
“No! I know it’s somewhere out there, but I don’t think about it. I don’t think about anything. I simply don’t think.”
“And when you don’t think you don’t exist,” said Puram Bam. “You may think you’re escaping a difficulty. But you’re escaping life itself.”
“Life…” the men repeated after Puram Ban. “Where does one escape life?”
“Now you’ve asked the right question,” sad Puram Bam. “And this means you are ready to face the answer.”
“In death,” said the man slowly.”This demon… he is the Demon of Death himself.”
“He has many names,” said Puram Bam. “But you’ve just named the only one that matters. He comes to you when you secretly wish that you’d rather not exist than face life with its choices and their consequences. He offers you sweet escape of his swamp, where your mind will slowly drown while your body is busy doing meaningless things. But what’s a body without mind? When your mind doesn’t think, you’re dead.”
“But why…” said the man, “why do I come back then? Every time. Why?”
“You know this answer too, “said Puram Bam, smiling.
The man smiled back.
“Because I want to live,” he said, his face younger and filled with wonder.
“Yes,” said Puram Bam. “And once you fully realize what this means you won’t need to fight demons anymore. You simply won’t be inviting them.”