Even Angels Have Their Demons

From an early age, Marcus Aurelius seemed destined to become a philosopher-king.

The emperor Hadrian called him verissimus, meaning “most true and truthful.”

Adopted into the line of succession of the Roman Empire at the age of 17, Aurelius pursued knowledge of the truth with undying passion.

He’s often regarded as one of the wisest men to have ever lived, often ranking in second after Socrates, and one of the few virtuous and humble emperors of ancient Rome. Evidence of Aurelius’ pursuit of the truth lies in the image that is painted through a series of notes he wrote to himself, known by the name of Meditations.

Marcus Aurelius, the emperor, spent most of his rule trying to keep functional an enormous administrative apparatus, while also fighting numerous wars on the frontier lines of his empire.

Famous for his frugal lifestyle, an essential trait of the stoic lifestyle, at one point the emperor sold most of the imperial palace’s furniture to pay off the empire’s debts.

On the other hand, Marcus Aurelius, the father, played a complicated balancing act regarding his son, Commodus. Troubled in many regards, it was clear that he was not fit to be emperor of Rome, yet if Marcus would have choose to name another as successor to the throne that would have meant his son’s death.

Marcus Aurelius struggled with this, perhaps more than others. It is often true that the truth sets us free, but it often does so by breaking our hearts. For someone revered throughout the empire as a wise man, the most powerful man in the world must have had difficulties coming to grasp with this notion.

If there’s one thing we should internalize by this story, it ought to be this:

We know the choices we ought to make, the habits we should cultivate to live our best lives, the people who should surround ourselves with, and we earnestly intend to take all the steps required for a fulfilling life, but we often get lost on the way.

We want to lose weight, but we eat junk food on a daily basis. We want to get in shape, but we postpone going to the gym, over and over again. We want to save money, but we give in to the shiny toy syndrome and buy things we don’t need with money we have yet to earn.

Scientists can’t seem to agree why this is.

The most popular idea in psychology is that a part of our brain is rational and knows what’s good for us, while another part is impulsive and wants bad things. They struggle on and on until the rational part gets tired and gives in.

Even Angels Have Their Demons

Marcus Aurelius, the man, the emperor, spent his life in the pursuit of the most truthful and virtuous way of living. His Meditations are a testament to that.

But at the same time, the same notes he wrote as reminders to himself (the original title translates to “things to one’s self,”) show us the signs of an internal struggle to uphold the most sacred of virtues:

“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”

We’re all broken…

I’ve yet to meet someone who isn’t. Probably never will. We all have gone through hell and back, some maybe more, some less, but doesn’t it truly matter?

Our dual nature makes it so that we are constantly at battle with our own selves. After all, we are one step above the demons, and one below angels. There’s a bit of both within each and every single one of us.

That’s just the harsh reality of the world we live in.

And I believe that during our darkest nights, as we battle demons that appear to be immune to almost everything we think or say or do, we’d often wish to get rid of them.

But, I dare ask you, “How would your life look like if you were to get rid of your demons?”

If You’d Get Rid of Your Demons, You’d Lose Your Angels Too

The truth is that at some deep unconscious level we’re all broken. The sad truth of this world is that we’ve all been broken, lied to, cheated, or left behind. We’ve all lost something and we all miss people we’ve never even met. We all attach a certain melancholic beauty to memories that never even happened.

And, at the same time, we’ve all broken others, lied, cheated, or closed the door behind us, never to return to those who’d do anything for us.

There’s good and bad in every person you meet. There’s beauty in searching for the good parts, there’s something noble about pretending that their light is all you see.

But there’s a demon inside each and every one of us.

“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?”

Marcus Aurelius

The tired cliché of the world as a mirror is heartbreakingly true. What we see in the world, the chaos, the decay, is what resides within our own souls.

A Portrait of the Devil

Frontispiece to Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

In Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, the eponymous character’s sins are absorbed by a portrait of his.

While we do not have the luxury of such a visual representation of the demons that inhabit our lives, we can feel their influence during our most troubled times.

This constant battle can be felt, as we find ourselves at various crossroads throughout our lives.

You can choose love or you can choose hate. You can choose courage or you can choose cowardice. You can choose to be passionate, optimistic, full of life, or you can choose to be gloom and depressed and angry at all the people who hurt you in the past.

There’s great freedom in being aware of that, for people often spend their days feeling as if they don’t have a choice. Indeed, we don’t have a choice over what happens in our lives and when, but we do choose what we think about those events. We are the only ones who derive meaning or pleasure from an experience.

But, of course, it requires a tremendous amount of energy to battle with your demons.

The Paradox

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

Carl R. Rogers

The paradox lies in the fact that the more we pretend that we are not haunted by our own demons, the stronger their influence. The more we pursue virtue, the more attractive sin becomes.

A lot of mental energy is wasted because we refuse to accept this simple fact: there’s an angel and a demon within us, and we must first listen to both, and then decide on what is the correct course of action.

What should you do?

  1. Accept the negative thoughts, the limiting beliefs, the downright terrible visions of chaos as normal.
  2. Deconstruct them. View them not as the absolute truth, but merely as one side of the coin.
  3. Listen to your angel. What is the alternative? Can you focus on the good within you?

Lastly, we should carefully consider the implications of both possible courses of action.

Just as Marcus Aurelius struggled two millennia ago, we must consider that, at times, our inner angel can be a bit naïve in its pursuit of absolute truth and virtue. Sometimes, our inner demon can provide as us a more practical way of doing things or alert us to some unforeseen implications to pursuing virtue at all costs.

Abraham Maslow once wrote in his The Psychology of Science that, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

It is, indeed, tempting to pursue one or the other, to either listen to the inner angel and silence the inner demon or the other way around.

But it’s also worth considering the fact that if we were to try to get rid of our demons, we’d also lose our angels. And we can never know in what insidious ways our demons might return to haunt us.


The hardest battle we fight is with our own selves. With our own negative beliefs and self-imposed limits and what we perceive as being burdens of the past.

What should come out of such a battle? A better you; a person who is no longer focused on escaping chaos, but rather embraces it, listening to both their inner angel and their inner demon.

7 Comments

  1. Cristian,
    I am not sure that ii is correct to say that everyone’s soul contains demons and angels, but we all certainly all have to make regular decisions, sometimes very important ones. I personally am accused of thinking about the negatives first, but I think that is wisest of the two options. One can get carried away with the positives and forget all about even considering the negatives. Just as you say, one must consider both the demons and the angels, it is just as important to consider the positives and the negatives. Sometimes a compromise is in order.
    Cristian, keep up the good work, you makes us all think.
    Regards, Phil

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, there’s certainly good and bad in every person, situation, and so on. Like I said, I do believe it’s rather naive to only focus on the positives, or try to live like a saint.

      Like

  2. Some years ago, my mother once said, “We all have a Hitler inside of us.” I found this suggestion shocking and appalling, and my response, of course, was to deny this. But, I’ve thought about this over the years, and I have come to better understand the meaning of this. We all do indeed carry within ourselves the capacity to do evil things. This has been proven across time and in the history of humankind. A person who is considered good or virtuous – even by oneself – can be compelled to say and/or do some of the most awful things known to us given the right circumstances. And when these things occur, one of 2 things happens (that I can think of at the moment): either there is some sort of justification made by these people for the behavior in an effort to help them live with themselves after committing such an act contrary to their beliefs about themselves; or they will forever beat themselves up with guilt over having done something they would not normally see themselves as doing (which can result in a myriad of self-abusive thoughts and behaviors, including suicide).

    I would like to believe that all people seek the better choices in life and work to cooperate with each other for the betterment of all, but if I delude myself into believing such a thing, then I ignore that a great many people are actually self-serving and have no problems trampling over their fellow human beings in order to get ahead. I think this is most prevalent in Capitalistic societies, where we are taught that we live in a “dog eat dog” world, with limited resources, and “the winner takes all.” To move up through the ranks, one must be willing to be tough or ruthless. Since I live in a Capitalistic society, I was taught these types of lessons and have adopted alternative behaviors and ways of thinking – even believing – in order to stay on the “good” side of my moral code, such as “money breeds evil,” or “there are more important things to life than money,” and this way of thinking has kept me perpetually poor. I think many Americans want the good lives that money can bring them, but fail to seek that money out because it means giving up a part of their souls. Christianity even supports this way of thinking by promoting the idea that simple lifestyles are more virtuous than decadent lifestyles – the decadent falling into false idols.

    As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that some of these thoughts and behaviors can be true, but are not necessarily true. There are many wealthy people who donate large sums of money to support good causes, and they are people who listen to the angels. There are also many poor people who are far from virtuous and will act out with violence or poor choices. (And one thing I’ve learned for sure is that we live in an abundant world with limitless resources; one just has to know where to look.) There are many degrees to which people might fall on a scale of good or bad, and there are just as many reasons for those choices, so do not think I am simplifying this into easy categories or for easy to understand reasons because it is far more complicated than that. In addition, we all have a different concept of what equates to good or bad in this world, so that further complicates this idea of good versus evil.

    I have always sought out being a good, decent, moral person, who wants to cooperate with my fellow human beings and the Earth to live life in a way that supports the best for all. However, I am also quite aware of my tendency to think “bad” thoughts, such as committing the perfect crime or fantasizing about seriously doing harm to someone who has hurt me. I’ve occasionally been amused by my “bad” thoughts, but I’ve also been ashamed that my thoughts could even go to such a place. I’ve accepted that my thoughts are sometimes a way to release pressure, and then I find myself back in harmony with my better feelings and thoughts. I do not deliberately set out to hurt people, but I have inadvertently hurt people with a thoughtless or innocently-made comment – which was in turn taken badly. When I am made aware of such things, I am quick to apologize and work on mending the relationship and changing my behavior. But, more times than not, I find most people just feel frightened over the idea of possible confrontation, and they end up walking away forever feeling wounded. And this reaction would seem to be justified when so many people want to defend their behaviors rather than to accept responsibility for them.

    Liked by 1 person

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