A pocket for Mara: quiet your doubts

It might be the gentle nagging in your head while you’re out for a run, or the vicious critic you hear when you look at your work. Self-doubt is very much part of you. Just like it is part of me and everyone else here on earth. Often, we try and stifle our doubts. We shout them down, cut them off, tell them they’re stupid, get mad and sulk at them. What we don’t realise is that it’s this negative reaction that feeds our doubting demons, and gives them power to stop us dead.

There is a story of the Buddha that I read in Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance (certainly worth a read), of the demon Mara – a powerful force of malevolence that we can easily parallel with our own mental demons. Here’s an excerpt from the story in Tara’s book:

“The night before his enlightenment, the Buddha fought a great battle with the Demon God Mara, who attacked the then bodhisattva Siddhartha Guatama with everything he had: lust, greed, anger, doubt, etc. Having failed, Mara left in disarray on the morning of the Buddha’s enlightenment.

Yet, it seems Mara was only temporarily discouraged. Even after the Buddha had become deeply revered throughout India, Mara continued to make unexpected appearances. The Buddha’s loyal attendant, Ananda, always on the lookout for any harm that might come to his teacher, would report with dismay that the “Evil One” had again returned.

Instead of ignoring Mara or driving him away, the Buddha would calmly acknowledge his presence, saying, “I see you, Mara.”

He would then invite him for tea and serve him as an honoured guest. Offering Mara a cushion so that he could sit comfortably, the Buddha would fill two earthen cups with tea, place them on the low table between them, and only then take his own seat. Mara would stay for a while and then go, but throughout the Buddha remained free and undisturbed.

When Mara visits us, in the form of troubling emotions or fearsome stories, we can say, “I see you, Mara,” and clearly recognize the reality of craving and fear that lives in each human heart. By accepting these experiences with the warmth of compassion, we can offer Mara tea rather than fearfully driving him away. Seeing what is true, we hold what is seen with kindness. We express such wakefulness of heart each time we recognize and embrace our hurts and fears.

Our habit of being a fair weather friend to ourselves—of pushing away or ignoring whatever darkness we can—is deeply entrenched. But just as a relationship with a good friend is marked by understanding and compassion, we can learn to bring these same qualities to our own inner life.

Pema Chödron says that through spiritual practice “We are learning to make friends with ourselves, our life, at the most profound level possible.” We befriend ourselves when, rather than resisting our experience, we open our hearts and willingly invite Mara to tea.”

For more information go to: www.tarabrach.com


It’s a creative inevitability, to doubt. In her TED Talk, and essentially throughout her brilliant book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert explains that the mental Mara is coming along whatever you do, so you might as well give him a comfy seat to save extra complaints.

Elizabeth, on her fear demon in Big Magic:

“… I don’t try and kill off my fear. I don’t go to war against it. Instead, I make all that space for it. Heaps of space. Every single day. I’m making space for fear right this moment. I allow my fear to live and breathe and stretch out its legs comfortably. It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes, too. In fact, I cordially invite fear to come along with me everywhere I go. I even have a welcoming speech prepared for fear, which I deliver right before embarking upon any new project or big adventure…”

I highly recommend you watch the TED Talk or listen to the TED Podcast. Perhaps you can invite your Mara along, too.

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