“This book helps free you, helps you be free — and it is free,” notes Karuna Alan Kistler, the author of Driving Your Demons Sane (Before They Drive You Crazy!). An unusual marketing strategy, to be sure, but no more so than the book’s exotic subject: do-it-yourself exorcism.
For most folks, the word “exorcism” evokes lurid images of spinning heads and assorted other Hollywood-induced horrors. But that’s not exactly what we’re dealing with here. As its subtitle explains, Driving Your Demons Sane is about “healing the hell of inner abuse” — or what Karuna (as he prefers to be known) calls “those nasty little voices that wound us from within.”
In other words, painful messages from parents, siblings or others that, over time, get unconsciously assimilated until we begin inflicting them on ourselves, over and over again — without even realizing we’re doing it. As the author puts it, “Imagine discovering one day that someone had been putting daily doses of rat poison in your food — and then discovering that someone was you!”
Karuna’s own remarkable odyssey, he writes, started early, when his father abruptly told him, “You have a lousy personality.” Those words, says the author, “were acid splashed on my soul. He was my father: He must be right. I was a child: I must be wrong.” And so began a lifelong quest for healing — both for himself and for anyone in need.
A tall order. But over the course of more than 40 years, the author — a psychotherapist and self-described “universal monk” — has blazed a unique trail through the bogs and thickets of the human psyche. Along the way, he’s forged a refreshingly multicultural approach to confronting the challenges all human beings face, and it’s laid out for all to taste in Demons, in vivid prose that’s speckled with tales from Karuna’s own extensive travels and with trenchant tidbits gleaned from his encyclopedic knowledge of the great spiritual traditions.
The basic program sounds straightforward enough: learning to recognize one’s demons, unmasking the lies they tell, and using fundamental spiritual truths to counteract those lies. As the author describes it: “Do-it-yourself exorcism is an inner spiritual dance. Its four simple steps, drawn from all the world’s spiritualities and cultures, constitute the core of stopping — and healing — inner abuse.”
To help readers find their way, the book includes a “tool kit” of specific techniques (healing breath, vision quest, the hurricane’s eye, the inner diamond and others) that can be adapted to a daily meditation practice that’s best suited to each individual’s unique needs.
The author’s many years of counseling experience shine through in the way he gently and supportively encourages his readers: “I give you the deepest credit for reaching out for healing in the midst of the sick spiritual emptiness that is all around us, an emptiness that spawns addiction and violence, including abuse. … When it comes to inner abuse … we’re all teachers for one another.”
And for those who find the whole idea of scheming demons secretly devouring their soul a bit hard to swallow, Karuna has an answer: “Demons love haunting those who think they don’t exist! Is it any wonder, then, that so many today suffer the hell of inner abuse — and don’t know how to heal?”
That said, however, he is quick to explain what his use of the term doesn’t mean. “Inspired by science, we know that demons can’t possibly be taken literally, the way some fundamentalists do. But we may not know that, as symbols, they point to a reality that has enormous power to harm us.” And the concept of demons, he notes, “has been a way of naming the destructive urge all over the world since time began.”
Sympathy for the devil
Despite the daunting prospect of grappling with evil beings, however, it’s not all gloom and doom. From its lurid cover to the parting injunction to “have fun — and … give this book away,” Demons reflects its author’s deliciously twisted sense of humor, beginning with his byline: The Irrev. Karuna Alan Kistler. And then there’s AUM (Awakening Universal Monks), a loose association of kindred souls that he calls his “monastic disorder.”
Remarkably, that humor even extends to the demons themselves. “Laughing at their accusations,” the book notes, “protects us from their poison — and helps us heal.” A powerful weapon indeed. As the author observes, “Life’s miraculous Mystery makes even their slickest lies ultimately silly.”
Even laughing at one’s demons, however, isn’t enough. Citing Jesus’ injunction to love your enemies, Karuna calls on us to love the very parts of ourselves that are torturing us. No mean feat, as he is quick to concede: “How can we possibly love our demons in spite of their incredibly vicious attacks?” But he answers that question with a string of others: “How can we heal without loving all of ourselves, including our demons? How can we heal without honoring the spiritual center in everyone — even as we hate unjust behavior? And how can we heal without living out the deepest love story of all: Beauty and the Beast?”
Demons, writes the author, is designed to help readers discover “the deepest magic of do-it-yourself exorcism: freedom.” But it doesn’t stop there. Because the book’s deeper message transcends the personal, presenting an overarching vision of universal healing. As the back cover explains, “At the heart of this wisdom is the truth that no one can be saved or enlightened apart from everyone else.”
From this perspective, “Every act of healing service, like a stone in a pond, sends a ripple throughout the universe, helping everyone heal.” And while we can never hope to exterminate our innate destructive urge, he writes, “Perhaps it’s there to produce an inner creative tension that helps us continue to awaken.”
Demons, then, is part of the author’s own way of walking the talk. The self-published volume is a project of Universal Sanctuaries, a healing ministry based just across the mountains in Chuckey, Tenn. “We practice our own form of universal right livelihood by offering our gifts — including this book — free of charge. We gratefully receive love offerings that help us cover our costs — and serve more souls,” the author reveals. But for those who, for whatever reason, feel they’re unable to give, “We thank you for knowing you deserve to receive this book anyway, as your spiritual birthright.”
Now there’s an offer you won’t find on The Shopping Channel.
[Freelance writer J. Grasworth is based in Asheville.]
To obtain a copy of Driving Your Demons Sane (Before They Drive You Crazy!), e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, call (423) 257-4692 or write to: Universal Sanctuaries, 300 Old Forge Road, Chuckey, TN 37641.