I SLAY, no, UNDERSTAND the Dragon
There’s a lot of work that goes into growth, evolution, and transformation - the gifts we get from taking the Heroine’s Journey. The journey is not a “walk in the park.” We have to enter the Abyss every now and then.
Not on every journey but when “stuff” is ready to come up, then the Heroine goes into the Abyss - into the dark, into the shadow, into whatever you want to call it (within us) where we keep burying what we consider to be the ugly pieces of ourselves because we think they’re just too bad to deal with or too challenging or too scary - or even worse, we’re ashamed of them.
Sometimes it’s not until we get some clues and start to do some digging that we even become aware that there’s something that needs paying attention to. Luckily, Dragons make a lot of disruption in our lives (oh yeah!) so eventually, we’re forced to deal with them.
The Dragon On Your Heroine's Journey
We go on many Heroine’s Journeys in our lifetime and not everyone has a Dragon to deal with. I’ve met several of mine. And don’t confuse Dragons with the more surface, yet very annoying, Threshold Guardians. Dragons are deeply held beliefs about yourself that drive your actions and shape your life. They are more powerful than the negative thoughts of the Threshold Guardians.
They’ve been with you for a while and usually, they get buried inside of you during childhood. You hear something from the trusted voice of an adult and you believe it without question. As young children, we often misinterpret the messages we receive from those around us. Our adult selves would know better but the Dragon guards us deep within and she doesn’t get the memo that we’ve grown up and things are different for us.
You can rest assured, dear Heroines, that accepting a Call to write a book will bring out a Dragon - or two - every time! Here’s the Dragon I encountered while writing mine.
Encountering My Own Dragon
“All of these Dragon killings and threshold crossings have to do with getting past being stuck.” Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth
It’s February 2014. A Dragon’s around the corner and I can smell the acrid smoke. I shouldn’t be surprised. This is The Heroine’s Journey after all! For three months the writing of my book has been sporadic. My family visited from afar. I had grandchildren to play with; then Christmas to get through; then another grandchild is born and warrants a visit to Salt Lake City and then there’s the conference in New York...
Jack, my book writing coach, sends an email with the Subject: Hmmmmmmmmmm...
Contrite, I call him. I have what I think are good excuses - in reality, they’re huge distractions from my quest to write a book. Holiday, Family, Travel...Work....and then there’s the Band (I haven’t told you about the band. There can be great surprises that come up on The Road to Adventure, what Campbell calls “preliminary victories, unretainable ecstasies and momentary glimpses of the wonderful land.” I’ve joined a neighborhood band and have an incredible amount of fun playing the keyboard with them. I’ve never been in a band before. We’ve been playing out, having gigs. I’m singing in one tomorrow night. The band is a gift of my journey.)
Jack asks, “Is this book a priority or not?” Me, “Yes.”
“Then you need to look at what’s happening. This is the last third of the book. This is when things can go bad when people leave their books. You need to ask yourself what’s happening here. You need to dig deep.”
Being In The Abyss
He means it and I know he’s right. I know about digging deep and I’m not afraid of it. I know about the journey and that Dragons are expected. This is why I’ve come to this point. There is something I have to learn or acknowledge this time around the heroine’s journey. Like a mirror reflecting what you most need to see, the journey raises it, mirroring your “stuff” back to you.
I’m in the Abyss. (This doesn’t mean I’m depressed, just going deep, allowing buried stuff to surface.) This is the dark inner cave, the place where we all need to go if we want to grow. It’s where we meet what Jungian psychologists call the Shadow. In many ways, I was hoping I wouldn’t need to go here but of course, every journey, if it’s a meaningful and significant one, has its Abyss, the lair of the Dragon. The dragon in fairy tales sits on the treasure, guarding the priceless jewels. It is the perfect metaphor for what actually happens when our fear or shame causes us to withhold any part of ourselves.
What Do Dragons Represent?
So, what does my Dragon represent this time? What’s the pattern, the old belief, the stuck energy I have to address? These are the parts that have resisted all my best efforts to ignore or grow beyond them. These fears are my underground treasures. For me to access them, bring them to the light, disperse them for once and for all...I have to face them.
So, I do what I suggest to my clients. I draw a picture of my Dragon and I have my Dragon write me a letter. (Drawing, painting, finding a way to use the right side of your brain can get to a problem in a way that using your “logical” left brain, can’t.) I want to get to know this Dragon and understand it. Maybe then I can find a way, get a clue as to how to get her to (finally) let go of my treasure.
Summoned by my writing and drawing, my Dragon appears, rising up in my consciousness. It’s as though she knows it’s finally her time in the spotlight. “She’s” (meaning me) “ finally giving us a moment.”, she’s a bit sarcastic, my dragon.
We have our letter exchange and the bottom line is this - what I learned from her - it’s about me, being me...authentic.
Me, the coach, who wants everyone to be themselves? What? I’m not true to me?
“No, not always.” She tells me.
And even though I’ve done a lot of work in this area already, I realize it’s my old “good daughter of the matriarch” story.
My mother loved me deeply, unreservedly. She wanted the best for her daughter and was determined to get it for me. Her ideas for me weren’t always what I might have wanted, but at a point early on, I don’t even remember when, I lost the distinction between what I really wanted and what she wanted for me. I came to choose what she wanted, thinking it was what I wanted. And that worked most of the time, for her and me.
I deferred to her, accommodated her way. I leaned on her, waiting for her opinion to surface, and then adopted it. Her eyes perused my work (including my writing!) and me and once corrected, I felt ready. It was a strong dependency.
Our unspoken agreement-
Me — “I’m OK if you say I am.”
Mother — “I know what’s best and thankfully you’re doing it, my pliable daughter.”
But, in fact, in time, I wasn’t that pliable. Once I left home, I did what I wanted, all the things she didn’t approve of (drinking, smoking cigarettes, dating all the inappropriate guys) and I just didn’t tell her. There I was, in all appearances, being the good daughter and in fact, I wasn’t one at all. Well, I wasn’t what she considered to be a good daughter.
Is That Wrong?
I felt disloyal to her and to me. I knew I wasn’t being true to myself. Besides, who I thought was “me” — doing what I wanted behind my mother’s back — was more a rejection of my mother rather than me just being me.
And back then, if you had asked me to be me, I couldn’t have told you where my mother ended and I began. Who was “me”, anyway?
Obligingly, life, the journey, brings us the challenge (the Dragon) over and over again until we finally address it. What has to be healed won’t go away. For me, I’d keep meeting up with strong-willed women who wanted things to happen their way and I would clam up. I’d defer, accommodate and not speak up. I kept meeting my mother...in various forms. I began to see this pattern and question where it was coming from. (Note: this is “the work” of every heroine - uncovering what needs to be healed. Looking for patterns.)
I was clearly seeing my “mother stuff” better than ever before and now the remnants of my strong dependency was affecting the completion of my book. Who would read over what I had written and give me advice? (Did I mention my mom was an English teacher?) Could I complete something of this magnitude, a book, without her OK (and accompanying corrections)?
I could. Seeing this, writing about this, things began to shift within me. When you see what’s been buried and acknowledge it, slowly it begins to lose its power over you. I was shining a light on what I’d been hiding and was ashamed of. The healing had begun and with it came release and relief.
The Freedom To Live
Campbell called the next phase of the journey, the Freedom to Live. Yes! That is such a good name for reclaiming yourself from whatever has been holding you back and not allowing you to be yourself. The Freedom to Live fully as YOU.
Meet your dragons, Heroines. Get to know them and heal whatever it was that created them. This undoubtedly takes courage. Some people would rather go into physical battle (or overeat, or over-drink or anesthetize themselves in some way) than explore what’s going on within their own psyche. But this is the work that will ensure our actions are the right ones for us. Yes, you can always leave your Dragons alone in the dark, but the freedom you achieve by releasing them is one of the big gifts of the Heroine’s Journey.