The Medusa

Healing & Meditation

Avikal talks about the monster of Greek mythology, in modern times also called ‘the inner judge’, and how through inquiry and alertness we can tackle the Medusa.

In Greek mythology, Medusa is a monster with snakes growing from her head. She is the monster of judgment and prejudice, who prevents the possibility of experiencing oneself, and reality, directly. She uses things like guilt, shame, opinions, standards of behavior, comparison, and more.

I remember when I was 12 or 13, and I first felt the presence of the monster in me. I was just walking in the streets of Venice when I sensed something like a wall surrounding me: a wall that was creating an invisible barrier between me and all the others, and a torment within its boundaries. I later came to understand that that wall was just a symptom of the presence of Medusa.

Caravaggio by Medusa

Many years later I had developed enough skill and understanding to be able to recognize the presence of the Inner Judge: its attacks, its strategies, its function, and more than anything else, all the pain and separation it creates.

How does this monster – also known as the Superego, the Judge, the Inner Critic, or the Top Dog – keep control?

We can experience the monster by just watching this moment and noticing what we are experiencing. You can try it now: Perhaps it is the way you are sitting, or the feeling of the mouse under your hand, or the letters you see on the screen, or the light, or the sounds around you. Whatever it is, you might notice that there is a comment attached to your experience: I like it, I don’t, it’s nice, it’s not, it feels good…or any other judgment, evaluation, or comparison. The monster is in action: It never leaves us alone. It is always there to elaborate on “what is.”

We do all that we can
to not take notice
of the judge.
Survival is
the simple answer.

We deal with one judgment and make some space, and then another comes up. We erase one prejudice and then a new comparison arises. In the myth of Medusa, when the hero cuts one snake from the head, another one immediately grows back. Perhaps, like in the myth, we can only be free if we cut off the head. And yet, we don’t do it. Actually, we do all that we can to not take notice of the judge. Why? Survival is the simple answer. We are convinced, in our deepest core, that we cannot survive without it.

So then, Medusa’s head needs to be cut. We need a sword. Luckily enough we don’t have to look very far, as we already have it: our awareness. But having a sword is useless if you don’t know how to use it, so you need to practice. This practice is Inquiry.

What inquiry gives us is understanding – understanding not about the rightness or wrongness of judgments and comments, but about the mechanism in our psyche that manifests and supports the Medusa and its functioning. Through inquiry comes the recognition that every time that we are “our true selves” the mechanism turns on. Through various forms of punishment (guilt, shame, self-deprecation, etc.) it pulls us back to what we are “supposed to be” (good, beautiful, intelligent, successful, spiritual, skinny, loving, enlightened, and all the rest).

Once we really understand how the mechanism works, and how we get attached to it, we can stop wasting time with all those judgments. We are now ready to swing the sword and cut off Medusa’s head.

We need alertness,
so that we can
see the Medusa
when it is attacking.

The last thing that we need is alertness, so that we can see the Medusa when it is attacking. To be alert you need to be present, and the easiest way to be present is by being in your body. Again, we can use inquiry to learn “embodiment” by simply asking ourselves as often as possible: “What is my experience in the body right now?” Every thought, every emotion, every feeling or perception will be recognized in its physical experience, in the famous here-now.

And then, one day, it happens: I am here, present in my body, alert, holding the sword of my awareness, shining and sharp, and I feel grounded and confident because I have trained with love and dedication. I see Medusa approaching with fire in her eyes, and everything
s l o w s d o w n w i t h m y b r e a t h. Then everything becomes so clear and defined, like a clear morning in the mountains, and I can sense all of me – my determination, my fear, my compassion, my surrender to this moment, and that well-known passion to be myself – and I swing my sword, and stop in midair…

Zen Masters call
The Barking Dog.

Medusa then becomes just an excuse to practice presence. The very practice of coming back to this moment, the very cultivating of alertness, takes us to the place where we do not even need to swing the sword. Zen Masters call Medusa The Barking Dog. When we are present and alert, the dog can bark, but no ripples appear in us or any need to interact with the dog. Barking is its nature, just as judging and prejudice are the nature of the Superego. We do not need to change it, and we do not need to listen either. A relaxed presence takes the place of denial, and alertness the place of reactivity. We transcend by integrating.

“There is no need to develop a conscience at all. What is needed is consciousness, not conscience. Conscience is a pseudo thing. Conscience is created in you by the society. It is a subtle method of slavery. The society teaches you what is right and what is wrong. And it starts teaching the child before the child is aware, before the child can decide on his own what is right and what is wrong, before the child is even conscious of what is happening to him, before the child is even awake….

[…] All these ideas – from parents, from priests, teachers, politicians, saints – all these ideas jumble together inside him. They become his conscience.

And because of this conscience he will never be able to grow consciousness – because conscience is a pseudo consciousness. And if you are satisfied with that pseudo you will never even think of the real.

[…] Whenever you do something that your conscience says is wrong, you feel guilty, you suffer, you feel inner pain. You are afraid, you are trembling… it creates anxiety. And the fear about heaven, that you may lose heaven, and the fear of hell, that you may fall into hell… and with great inventiveness your saints have painted the joys of heaven and the miseries of hell. This is conscience. Conscience is artificial, arbitrary. Conscience is needed because the society does not want you to be intelligent. Hence, rather that making you intelligent it gives you fixed rules of behavior: do this don’t do that.

[…] Yes, in the beginning it will be difficult because you won’t have any map. The map is contained by the conscience. You will have to move without map, you will have to move into the uncharted, with no guidelines. Cowards cannot move without guidelines, cowards cannot move without maps. And when you move with maps and guidelines, you are not really entering into new territory, into new realms – you are going in circles. You go on moving into the known, you never take a jump into the unknown. It is only courage that can drop conscience.

Conscience means all the knowledge that you have. And consciousness means being empty, being utterly empty, and moving into life with that emptiness, seeing through that emptiness and acting out of that emptiness – then action has tremendous grace. And then whatsoever you do is right.

Osho, The Fish in the Sea is not Thirsty, Ch 11, Q 2 (excerpts)

Every seeker has to deal with the Inner Judge if he wants to find true freedom.

In all my years as a seeker, I have never come across a workshop or course that deals directly with the Medusa, the Superego. It is certainly present in therapeutic approaches like Primal or Fisher-Hoffmann, and it is always one of the main obstacles to be overcome in radical processes like Satori and the Path of Love, but in not one of these groups is the presence of the Judge addressed, investigated, and uncovered directly.

The medusa is always
there to elaborate
on “what is.”

Superego, or as Osho calls it, conscience, is the internalized combination of our parents and all the authority figures in our past, including the Master. It serves us well in guaranteeing our survival and the basic sanity of our minds, but – as we know – surviving and living are not the same. The experience of “space” that we can have at times is the breaking down of a specific boundary and a momentary disappearance of the Judge. In that experience of space and emptiness, Existence, Being, the Absolute, God…rushes in and fills us up, and we reconnect momentarily with our true nature.

Working with people, and sharing with friends, I could see very clearly that even after years and years of meditation we were still imprisoned, weighed down, and reduced by the constant presence of this coercive and controlling agency inside. All this I also discovered slowly (very slowly) while looking at my fear and aggression when practicing Martial Arts, during many years of working with the hara, and finally after becoming involved with Faisal Muqaddam, who co-founded the Diamond Logos Teachings with A.H. Almaas.

The need to create a specific type of work to tackle the Superego became obvious to me. So, in 1997, I created a new type of therapy, done in groups and in sessions, in which the presence of the Judge can be unveiled, understood, and dealt with.

The four steps to this process are:

  1. Accepting that the judge is running our life by its judgments, standards, prejudices, and opinions. Becoming aware of the quality of the constricted environment we live in, and the strategies of control.
  2. Understanding why we have a Superego, how it came to be, what its functions are, and how, where, and when we need it.
  3. Learning skillful means to defend ourselves against the attacks and manipulation of the Superego, and to disidentify both with the Superego (the parent attacking) and the Little Child (the reactivity to the attack).
  4. Turning attention to the real guidance inside. Reconnecting with objective knowing. Reclaiming what the Sufis call our Diamond Body. As Osho puts it: moving from Conscience to Consciousness.

Article by Avikal

Further reading:
Interview with Avikal: Essence Work
Article: Don’t Let Your Understanding Become More Baggage!
Reviews of two of Avikal’s books: ‘Freedom to be Yourself’ and ‘Without a Mask’


AvikalAvikal is founder and director of the Integral Being Institute which is active in Europe, Asia and Australia. In his newest books published by O-Books – Freedom to be Yourself and Without a Mask – with the respective, revealing subtitles Mastering the inner judge and Discovering your authentic self – Avikal provides far-seeing insight into his world of training and personal development. Avikal lives in Sydney, Australia.

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