Working With Your Gremlin Part 2

Gremlin is not bad. Gremlin is not good.

If you have not read Part 1 of this article series, I suggest you read it before proceeding.

If you have read Part 1, let us waste no time!

As you begin Gremlin Transformation work, there are two distinctions that are very important to begin working with. The first distinction is that Gremlin is not bad. The second distinction is that Gremlin is not good.

Gremlin is not bad. (Or, Gremlin cannot be fired, and he is pretty good at his job anyway.)

It is a common impulse to look at the part of you that is Gremlin, see the painful results that he or she is creating in your life, and think, “This asshole has to go.” The impulse is reasonable. If you were on a team and there was a team member who showed up late and left early, sabotaged all of your progress, smoked and drank on the job, criticized everything and never contributed anything, and compulsively lied to hide the fact that he actually didn’t do much around the office, there would be no hesitation. You would fire him.

Likewise, believing that he is bad through and through, you may have tried to fire your Gremlin. You may have done this by counting calories and going on diets. Or committing to serious exercise regimens. Or swearing off pornography, sex, cigarettes, coffee, salt, sugar, alcohol, drugs, et cetera. You may have tried to fire your Gremlin by engaging in spiritual practices, going on meditation retreats, buying a gym membership, committing to 30 days of yoga. You may have tried to fire your Gremlin by confessing your sins and promising that from here on out, you would finally be good, pure, and holy. Additionally, you may have tried to fire your Gremlin by speaking an ongoing stream of cruelty and self-abuse toward this part of yourself, bemoaning all the ways he has ruined your life.

But Gremlin cannot be fired. Nor can Gremlin be hated, shamed, or maimed out of existence. Your Gremlin is an inexorable fact of your life, and he is here to stay.

If you have spent a lifetime hating your Gremlin and believing he is bad, getting the “Gremlin is not bad” distinction is a priority for your early Gremlin Transformation work.

The hint is to begin recognizing a profound reality: That no matter how inane, problematic, or destructive your Gremlin’s actions have been, everything he has ever done, he has done in the service of protecting you. This job of protection started when you were very young, perhaps even when you were prenatal. Why? Because as an infant or a fetus, you were highly sensitive. You did not have defenses, walls, or numbness to guard your heart, soul, and mind from the harsh realities of the world you were entering. These harsh realities included a world at war, a world where money was prioritized over everything, a world of overpopulation, a world where some people drive Teslas and others live with malnourishment and starvation, a world where a person dies of suicide every 40 seconds, a world with a 24-hour news cycle, and most of that news ain’t pretty.

Alongside these harsh global realities were much more personal tragedies. Perhaps you were born into a family where there was never enough — never enough money, food, or love. Or a family where your mother and father no longer cared for or respected one other. Perhaps you were born into a family where one or both of your parents did not actually want you, where you were resented or treated as an afterthought or an inconvenience. Perhaps your arrival created jealousy for an older brother or sister who was no longer the sole center of your parent’s attention, and so you were born into an environment where you already had an enemy.

How were you to cope? How were you to survive?

The answer is that at some point during these early days of your life, you called on an extraordinary inner resource for help. This resource was your Gremlin. The moment you called on your Gremlin for help, he came without hesitation. This is your Gremlin’s devotion to serving you. At this moment, you gave your Gremlin a job. The job was to protect you, and to prioritize this mission above all else. Your Gremlin set to work doing this straightaway. He protected you by closing your heart and numbing your feelings so that you could function. He protected you by making you small and quiet so you would not upset the people you depended on for caretaking. He protected you by helping you scan people and spaces so you could quickly adapt to norms and behaviors and make yourself as undangerous and unthreatening as possible.

Since the day you gave your Gremlin the job of protecting you, he has not stopped. He has never called in sick or taken even a minute off. Loyally, lovingly, unceasingly, your Gremlin has been there for you. Day in. Day out. Think about that for a moment. Who in your life has been so committed to you? Who in your life has been so in love with you? The answer is no one. No one except your Gremlin.

As you begin to see this reality more clearly, the venom, hatred, and shame with which you have regarded your Gremlin will dissolve. What will remain is authentic appreciation — the natural response that comes when you discover that someone has devoted their life to saving yours.

Gremlin is not good. (Or, let the price you pay break your heart.)

It may be tempting to remain in the celebration of knowing that your Gremlin is not bad. But there is a danger to staying here. That danger is the glorification of Gremlin. Glorification of Gremlin is a kind of denial. It is being seduced by the quirkiness, the bizarreness, the nonlinearity, the ecstatic intensity, the psychopathic selfishness of Gremlin, without becoming intimately aware of the astronomically high price you pay to have an uninitiated Gremlin who does what it wants, when it wants, where it wants.

Therefore, it is essential to follow the discovery of ‘Gremlin is not bad’ with the discovery that Gremlin is also not good.

The Western Baul teacher Lee Lozowick said that you ‘Dig through the mud to get to the sky.’ This is exactly what is needed to begin grasping the ‘Gremlin is not good,’ distinction. What does digging in the mud look like practically? It looks like ruthlessly examining yourself, your actions and inactions, your relationships, especially those that did not or have not gone the way you supposedly wanted them to, and discovering exactly what your Gremlin has been up to.

This work is painful. It is intense. And it is best done on a team. It is too easy to fool oneself about what Gremlin is up to. It is not so easy to fool a team of sharp-sworded co-journeyers committed to helping each other discover their Underworlds. I offer an anecdote to illustrate the kind of work that is necessary

Several weeks ago, the men’s 3Cell I am part of met with a mediator. We asked the mediator to join us because there were things that we needed to put on the table with one another, and we wanted an impartial person to support us in creating that space.

At the beginning of the call, one of the men shared a resentment he had toward me. This resentment was about me not responding to messages in our message group, not communicating about schedule changes, and putting travel days on meeting days so that I was not able to join. What was going on with me that these were the ways I was interacting with the group?

I began responding, saying that in the beginning the group had been really powerful, but that it had changed, that our sessions had become less powerful, and that maybe it was time to celebrate what we had created and move on to the next thing, and besides I had lots of projects on my bench and lots of calls that I was focusing on, and I could have probably dropped out of the group a few weeks before, but that I didn’t want to because the other men had wanted to continue the group, so I had stayed even though I had wanted to leave and…

At this point, the mediator cut me off. “Devin, this stinks. It stinks like bad fish.” I saw the other men nod. Yes. It did stink. It was Bullshit. The spaceholder suggested that I start again, and this time, that I get in contact with my Gremlin and really put my shit on the table.

I looked inside, and began again. I shared my anger about the group. I shared my sadness about the group. I yelled and cried. Finally, I shared how I had not been taking a stand and speaking up for what I wanted in the group. “Why not?” the spaceholder asked. I looked inside again, and that is when I saw what my Gremlin was really up to.

“I — my Gremlin — is hooked on the story that there is no group in the world where I and the other people are truly committed to one another. The benefit of carrying this story is that if I believe it deeply enough, then I never have to take responsibility for creating the kind of group that I want. I can just go from group to group, collecting evidence that people just don’t care enough about each other. By keeping silent about the kind of caring that I really want, I ensure that it does not happen. Eventually, the space either fails, or I leave, justifying my departure by saying the group just wasn’t for me.”

I sobbed as I said this. The pain was not just about the role I had played in sabotaging this group. The pain was about the realization that I had been doing this all my life — that my hidden purpose for joining groups was to gather evidence for the sad-sap story that people just aren’t that committed to each other. That is what my Gremlin was really up to.

Accessing the Ability to Choose

From one angle, ruthlessly examining the happenings of your Underworld could look like an exercise in sado-masochism. But putting yourself through senseless suffering is not the point.

When you voluntarily pursue clarity about your Underworld, and then, come what may, you do not numb yourself to the emotions of rage, grief, or horror you experience, you receive two precious gifts. The first is consciousness — consciousness about your responsibility in what you create, consciousness about how you create it, consciousness about the benefit to your Gremlin, consciousness about the consequences, consciousness about the price you pay. The second gift is dependent on the first. With increased consciousness, you gain access to choice — the ability to either choose to continue creating what you have created, or to use your discoveries and your newfound pain to create something completely different. From this position, choosing to do something different is not about being righteous, pure, holy, or a good boy or good girl. It is about having increased consciousness about what you are up to, and if what you are up to does not align with what you want to create, consciously going in a different direction.

The first phase of Gremlin Work is mostly about the ongoing discovery of your own unconscious agency and complicity in creating misery, war, and heartbreak for yourself and others. In fact, this first phase never ends. There is always another layer to unfold, always another chamber to open, always another festering, burning heap of trash in the garbage dump that is your Underworld.

As you become more intimately acquainted with your Gremlin’s doings, another set of distinctions becomes relevant. First is that in your arsenal of parts, your Gremlin is your greatest ally for accessing nonlinear Possibility. As a child, you needed this nonlinear Possibility and endless creativity to protect you from whatever unnamable horrors you were faced with. As an Adult, you need it to be your Destiny in action and do the things that your rule-based Survival Strategy will never allow you to do.

This is the theme of the third installment of this article series.