I tend to enjoy thinking of my wilder emotional tendencies as dragons. They are like unruly pets that so far have been trained badly by my own interactions with them. They are the wildest kind of animal, but they use rationalized thought as a weapon, and if not understood might be allowed to destroy more than would allow for my most efficient growth. They are part of me, so hate or any kind of resistance isn't the best option for long-term friendliness to myself... So, because the idea makes sense to me, Dragons they are. Fear, Anger, Despair. Old friends.
Yesterday, in the desert, my fear dragon sat in the car seat next to me, closer than it usually gets. It was nervously breathing smoke and clouding my view. At one point its claws were digging into my shoulders and my heart beat loudly in my ears for a while.
These are the things it told me, and with each fearful assessment, what actually happened in each situation:
1. That cloud is dark and huge, I bet it might rain. Why did you decide to turn into this wash? If it floods you will be drowned, you should turn around now. This is a terrible idea, why didn't you buy a bigger car before we left? No! Don't drive up farther into the park! It looks like rain! No! Imagine the flood and the mud and what it would do to your car! You're feeling sick now aren't you, there's nowhere to go now, see, I was right all along, and it's all your fault.
**actual event: There was a cloud over a national park. There was blue sky over the other half. All gates were open, even to the washes. No rain storms were predicted for the day. A few other cars were around including some small passenger vehicles like mine. I drove the 10 mile stretch out and back and as I got back to the campground it was fully sunny with few clouds left in the sky.
2. Oh gosh that looks like it might be a storm cloud again, still to the south, I bet it's a front. I bet it will be lots of rain. I bet this happens all the time here, I wonder if these un-elevated highways are safe? I wonder if the whole thing gets slippery or washed out? Wait, why are you turning off the highway? No! Ok, fine, let's keep track of how long this drive to the park takes so we know how fast we have to go to leave fast if it starts to rain because the bigger road is probably a little safer with more people. Or should we just stay in the park if it rains? Oh gosh what if it floods too? And we don't have any food!! Oh gosh it's so windy that must be the storm coming!! Why are we HERE??
**actual event: There was a high cloud far to the south. Since it's high desert, even when it does rain it's usually dry almost as it hits the ground. There are plants all along the highways that have clearly not washed away any time recently, and most are slow growing. The flat land makes it really hard to tell how close something is and even if it's moving away or not. It was a beautiful day.
3. There's been no cell service. For hours. No other drivers to speak of. No one really knows where we are... Was that a sign that said no services for 75 miles? WHY didn't you get gas?? There is only a quarter tank left! You know the last quarter always surprises you and goes down fast! How will you even call for help? Let's stare at the odometer and see how many miles elapse before another bar drops. Keep watching it. What if something else happens? Ohmygosh why are we doing this?
**actual event: There were drivers occasionally, the sunset was beautiful, and I arrived at my hotel just fine and had enough gas to drive around for a half hour checking out the town, and got gas in the morning when the engine was cool.
I compare these with today, when, driving a steep downhill grade out of a tunnel, with barely any shoulder, my rear left tire blew. A number of things could have happened, and there are infinite ways it could have been worse. But as it was, I received immediate help, I was very lucky, and felt as if I had been protected from every worst case scenario there could have been in that situation. And although my fear dragon was there, the only time I felt it was when I thought I had to make a decision about how to react, but in reality, the people who rescued me made the best decisions and I let them, and I was safe.
There is such a chasm of difference between fear and real danger. Fear is about what might occur, whereas danger actually occurs in the present moment. Fear requires time to think and belief that somehow one can take charge of the moment by predicting its possible immediate outcomes. So, now, instead of trying to train the fear dragon, I train myself to respond differently. It seems to be able to learn- to ease its grip, to quiet its screaming- by me changing how I relate to it. By listening to it earlier, I learn to respond in positive ways to its warnings so I can be better prepared for situations, and perhaps save myself trouble. And then, if I haven't planned well, or prepared as adequately as my fear would like me to believe I need to, I listen to it, discern whether there is real danger, and if not, I practice letting go and gently say no to its tantrums.
Because I can never know what will happen, but rather, if I trust that I am protected and that whatever occurs is for my best growth, this is easier in the end than fighting a dragon that is much more skillful at combat than I. Practicing peaceful understanding of my own fear seems to be getting me farther than resisting it, shaming it, or denying its existence ever did.
Long live the dragon of my fear, one of my best and oldest teachers.
I thank you. I invite you to stay as long as I need you to train me.