Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fighting Demons with Compassion

Goddess Durga
18th Century, Author Unknown
Fighting Demons With Compassion
By Gaye Sutton © 2012

It was autumn; the time of year that one of my favourite poets calls the ‘sacred, sensual, significant time of the year’ 1 The trees were blazing colour, the sky grey and the harvest almost over.  I’d been telling stories at the Addictions Centre for three weeks, encouraging the women to paint and draw afterwards.  Some of them loved to paint and some struggled with their confidence.  But they all loved hearing stories.  The mornings were fun; they were an upbeat bunch, the women the Addiction Centre staff called their ‘chronics.’

But that fourth week; the atmosphere was dull and flat, everyone looked morose especially Janie and her mates.   The morning check-in took a long time.  Janie had ‘relapsed’ at work over the weekend. She sat with her blonde head bowed; her small frame huddled into the corner of the couch, her voice almost a whisper as she told us about the temptation, her attempts to resist and the caving in. 

During morning tea in the kitchen, talk turned to the hopelessness they all felt about ever losing the label chronic.

 “They [the staff], don’t expect that we’ll ever leave this group and I’m not sure I believe we will either,” one said and several heads nodded.  I leaned against the bench, remembering my despair about what I thought of as the impending end of the world and our apathy about it. I’d begun collecting re-creation stories, stories of hope to sustain myself and it seemed to me, that this was a moment for one of these.

Once everyone was seated on couches and chairs again I stood and began my story…”The world stood poised on the brink of destruction once before.

Rivers dried up, plants refused to grow. People starved. There was war everywhere.  Slaughter prevailed.  Dancing stopped, even singing was forgotten.  The asuras, the demons, were loose, raging unchecked across the world, drunk with destruction…”2

It’s a myth about the cosmic battle between Durga, who rode a lion out of a column of fire that stretched from the sky down to the top of the Himalayas, and the many, many demons she had to fight to save the world.  A battle so fierce ; “…oceans boiled, the sky stretched thin, the mountains shook…”

A powerhouse tale of an alliance between many of the Hindu goddesses and a reminder that the last fight is one we must win alone.  The atmosphere, when I finished, was electric and the women moved eagerly towards the art materials on the table and worked in deep silence. 

Afterwards, I asked each woman to tell us the story of her images, as I held them up and responded to each story by personalising the image.  Janie’s painting was of black mountains, covered in snow. A huge column of fire stretched from green foothills to the heavens. Durga stood in the flames, but her feet were planted firmly in the green earth.

“She’s got her feet on the ground and she’s in the flames, but fighting her way through, to save her world.” Janie said.  

I held the painting up to her and said, “This is you Janie, grounded in the earth and fighting the fire to save your world.”  It was a powerful moment and one that Janie referred to often in the weeks that followed. 

We moved back to the couches where I told a personal story about my discovery of  Kuan Yin, the Mother of Compassion in Buddhism, which begins with a powerful meditation recorded in Jon Blofield’s book: In Search Of The Goddess of Compassion’.

As the story ended, a discussion began; about spirituality as opposed to religiosity, their antipathy to the Twelve Step Programme because of finding a male God unacceptable.  It was a turning point.  Several of the women joined their local AA groups, taking feminine representations of the divine with them to meetings. It helped them stop resisting notions of the divine.   Some of them adopted Kuan Yin as a mother archetype and used her to make contact with their compassion for themselves.   When my stint at the service finished some had been sober longer than ever before. 

1.  Dinah Hawken.   Writing Home
2.   China Galland, The Bond Between Women :A Journey to Fierce Compassion

Gaye Sutton is a storyteller, Child & Family Therapist and Celebrant living under mountains in New Zealand on a small organic farm with her beloved Michael.  She likes to weave and spend time with her delightful children and grandchildren   She is currently the Convenor of Glistening Waters Festival of Storytelling Inc. and seeking committee members and willing souls to make another festival in New Zealand in the future.

She loves the way mythology; “informs and enlivens our daily lives,” and is always looking ‘for the links. Gaye can be found at  or on her blog .

Gaye Sutton is a guest blogger for Karen Chace and Catch the Storybug blog. All rights to this article belong to Gaye. Distribution, either electronically or on paper is prohibited without her expressed, written permission. Of course, if you wish to link to the article Facebook or Twitter please feel free to do so. If you would like to be a Guest Blogger contact Karen at for the details.


storyspace said...

What a lovely article about transformation! Thank You!

storyspace said...

Lovely article on transformation and fighting the inner demons . Thank you Gaye!

storydevi said...

beautiful article. great endeavor that we can all learn from. Keep up the marvelous work. Do you know the tapes by Pema Chodron on Facing our Demons.. retelling the story of Milarepa. If not, I will try to send a link for you. thank you so much

Barra the Bard said...


Thanks for your guest post on Karen's blog! Lots of food for thought in it, which I will be mulling over for a long time. Visited your site, and was struck by your weaving--both with fibres (hope you'll post pictures sometime) and with words from and to others' lives.

Robin Bady said...

I am very moved to read of the work you are doing as well as your description of the process. You have described the process of addiction and recovery in words that beautifully make clear the mythic experience people have to go through, and the tools you are giving are ones we can all use in our own lives.

Thank you.

Mary Buckner said...

Gaye,What a beautiful reminder of your rich, layered stories. I've often wonderfully felt the effect of your stories, I always feel myself go deeper each time I hear them. If anyone has an oportunity to hear Gaye tell sieze the opportunity for a treat!

Addie Hirschten said...

Yes! Stories can be such a powerful tool of healing.
Question- I am interested in the book you mentioned by about the Goddess of Compassion. Is it the same as "Bodhisattva of Compassion: The Mystical Tradition of Kuan Yin"?
I couldn't find the exact title you listed- maybe it is out of print?

regina ress said...

What a beautiful and moving article. There is such food for our spirits and souls in those stories and in working that way. What a blessing to those women! At one point in my life, before I found storytelling actually (or before it found me), I led women's groups, councils we called them, working with goddess stories...we told the stores, we made masks, we created rituals, we danced. Many ways to explore our relationship to the themes as they touched our own lives. Thank you for reminding me.. reminding us.. of the power that the deep stories, the enduring stories hold to touch us and heal us. I want to come play with you!!!!

Mary Grace Ketner said...

I am joyful that these images of powerful and brave female goddess seem to have turned the trick for your group and excited that their new image of "God" enabled them to enter a program with a history of good results that had not been accessible to them before.

Storyteller said...

Thank you all for your great interest and affirming comments. I am blown away. The power of old spiritual figures never ceases to delight and amaze me. Gaye

Sue said...

fascinating article! I'm sharing it with my daughter, finishing her masters degree in counseling


Jai Joshi said...

Karen, wow, what a beautiful post! How wonderful that Durga's story and Kuan Yin's story felt so powerful to them and also gave them more of an idea of a feminine divine. Beautiful. You did a great job.


Karen Chace said...

Hi Jai,

Thank you for the wonderful comment but the article is not mine. Gaye Sutton, an amazing storyteller from New Zealand is the author of the article.

I have opened up my blog to Guest Bloggers and she is number six in a terrific lineup so far.

As always, I appreciate your support for me, and now for my contributors. I hope all is well in your world.


Juliet Bruce, Ph.D. said...

Wonderful post, Gaye. I love how you used the Durga story in relation to addiction and identity, and gave the women the opportunity to "retell" it in their own images. And thank you, Karen, for inviting Gaye to be a guest blogger.


Madeleine Marie Slavick said...

yes to compassion, spirit, confidence, person,
love, word.


Granny Sue said...

archethe Excellent--and now I want to hear you tell the story :)

Jai Joshi said...

Karen, hey! Yes, I realised that right after I posted my last comment so I went to Gaye's site and became a follower. Thanks for introducing me to her great work!