They are in the places where you never go. I'm not talking about pocket-sized dragons. I mean the big ones. The ones that make you shudder, the ones that dry out your mouth, make your stomach go cold, wound up in a tangled knot. Several times a day. Those dragons.
If you want to face your dragons (or quite possibly you don't), you will find them in a place unfamiliar––in the underground caverns of the mind, the freezing, barren peaks where it seems nothing can live. A place where the familiar no longer surrounds you.
Boarding school might have been my first such place, but I was too young to know what I was facing. You have to be able to look straight at your own reflection in the dragon's eye, and that requires some life experience, an ability to step outside all the feelings and then stare them down.
In my mid-thirties I entered the dragon's cave at the Scandinavian Yoga and Meditation School, in the dead of the dark Swedish winter. There for three rigorous months––34 days of silence, up at 3 a.m. to meditate, living with people I would never choose, building stairs of stone, cutting the rot from mounds of carrots in the dank root cellar until I couldn't feel my fingers, no reading, no writing––and the dragons swooped in. The steel-gray one, thin as a snake named Utterly Alone; the great red one, Obsession that assails me still; the one with green eyes, one that maybe you've met. Deprived of words and instructed not to communicate with hands or eyes––this and all things unfamiliar brought forth the monsters.
The pandemic presented me with the most gargantuan dragon of all. Once again, it was a dearth of human communion that introduced the flapping wings, the scaly, slithering tail. Every morning the beast appeared when first I opened my eyes. It flooded me with rushes of intense anxiety. Throughout the day it attacked, flying up from deep in my belly, wave upon wave of fear. In the sixth month of COVID, I managed to look the dragon in the eye. I heard its name: You Have No Control. In that moment I came to the realization that control is possibly the thing I want most in this life, and I had none. No control over how others responded to the virus––whether or not they wore masks, how close they came in the supermarket, where they had been or what they'd been doing before crossing my path. With the dragon's snout in my face, I couldn't get away from seeing how desperately I want control. Of everything. All the time. Everything near me and most especially the behavior, the actions, even the emotions of others. I saw my urge to control had little to do with masks or social distancing. It was about everything in my life, and it had always been that. It was an illusion to think I ever have any power over others. And I felt sick inside at how ugly it is to want that.
Of course, I'd known for a long time that I like to be in control. And we need to control some things sometimes. But I never saw the pervasiveness of the desire for it so sharply as in this time of isolation. In this strange place where all of us are living these days. I hadn't seen so starkly the hideousness of my urge or smelled the stench of its hot breath. Deprivation of the familiar at the yoga school led to awareness. Awareness, the first step to letting go––and now, a strange, rare gift of the deprivation attending the time of Corona.
And the next step? I think it's simple but not easy. I think dear old Ram Dass had it: "Be here now." And let go.
Have you been to the place where the dragons are in this time of Corona? Have you looked them in the eye? Have the dragons borne you a gift?
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