Making Boundless Space for Your Emotional Dragons
In the past I have offered posts about radical acceptance and ways of dealing with your personal dragons or demons. Here I will offer a more advanced perspective on how directly engaging your emotional dragons is a very important part of your spiritual path – your spiritual journey no matter what form it may take. Those of us on a formal spiritual path are seeking some form of ultimate truth. Reaching this goal, just part of the path itself, is hampered when we take evasive actions regarding our emotional dragons, our emotional suffering. The human tendency is to avoid, deny, suppress all forms of suffering; we do not not to feel pain in any form. Such habitual behavior hinders your enlightened self-development. When Buddhism moved to China as Chan Buddhism, there was a need to figure out what to do with the “good” and “bad” dragons the Chinese had believed in for many years. Consider this: ALL your emotional dragons are good dragons, because they make you whole (an unavoidable part of you) and they teach you much about becoming enlightened, about gaining wisdom. The dragons, or shadows (C. Jung) provide a serious learning opportunity; when we open up our soft and tender heart to our suffering, we enhance the true inner self – we make the true self stronger and more complete. Clear seeing in the present moment of dragon engagement integrates the disavowed parts of self, and thus opens up deep, inner space and peace. Like the cave-living Milarepa’s dispute with his dragons, you too will find that once you let go of fear and engage your emotional dragons with an open submitting heart the emotional impact of the dragon/s will be reduced.
So what is your most important emotional dragon – unhelpful early attachment experience, depression, loss, mourning, anxiety, fear, trauma, substance misuse, eating problems, anger, resentment, self-hate, self-harm…? What are you self-medicating MOST to enjoy brief joy and avoid immediate suffering, only to discover long-term suffering even from the self-medication process itself? Perhaps it is the experience of greed, hate, resentment, impulsivity, loneliness – not fitting in – whatever ails you is a form of an emotional dragon. Dragons may also be the biopsychosocial-spiritual outcomes of long-term physical and psychological illness. You will find ultimate truth ONLY by sharing real-time space and experience with them. Your journey to ultimate truth is not simply experiencing “spiritual materialism” (Chogyam Trungpa) and taking part in the huge menu of enlightenment training or “student hood.” Your path must be fully integrated within yourself – even if you believe in no-self. Courageous engagement with your emotional dragons helps you to better understand why they exist, and to realize your reactions are more in your mind and body than in ultimate reality. You need to slowly cultivate fearless awareness (Pema Chodron) of the permeating feeling of personal unworthiness. Yes, you can do this! You must apply a large dose of self-compassion so you dare to welcome into your being the unwanted guests of your inner suffering. Part of the journey is to allow the unwanted visitors of emotional challenge into the home of your heart, mind and body (Rumi). The Buddha noted that all that happens to us begins in the mind; he noted that thoughts, words, and actions are the end-effects of our process. With the current knowledge of 21st century neuroscience, I dare to add to this formula for human behavior. The absolute root is based on thoughts, words and actions. However, we cannot forget the major impact on behavior caused by feeling/sensations, emotions and rewarding or punishing consequences of our behaviors. We are attached to outcomes that are pleasant; we hope to avoid those that are unpleasant; and, we become trapped in the cycles of the samsara treadmill when we pursue such goals.
Trying to avoid, deny, suppress, or self-medicate your emotional dragons will do nothing to soften your suffering; your dragons know how to find you no matter where you hide. Their roots may rest in your “seed consciousness” (Thich Nhat Hanh), so they are always with you – just not always so active. He offers additional advice on handling difficult emotions: imagine holding them lovingly in your arms as if a newborn baby, and bring them close to you with love and caring. Your spiritual development will not be complete until you carefully and lovingly make space inside your awareness for all of your emotional dragons. Are you ready to engage with one of your dragons? Best to begin with one that is least scary and work your way up in emotional energies.
Here is a way to prepare yourself. STOP fleeing! Have a strong intention to gently encounter the emotional dragon. If you think having a loved one or good friend present to witness this process, do that also. Breathe calmly, slowly, deeply. Loosen your body muscles, tendons, and joints. Imagine yourself a “fearless warrior” (Vajrayana) and welcome the specific dragon into your mind’s eye. With ample self-compassion witness it. Use radical acceptance and open up your loving heart to welcome in this disowned part of self. Remember that Prajna wisdom transcends all things – there is only ultimate emptiness. You may also wish to follow the example of Marcus Aurelius (The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius). In the first few pages of his meditations, he give great gratitude to the many positive things he has received from his ancestors, family, friends, teachers, etc. Without these many strengths, he would be helpless in pursuing self-improvement. You may also wish to utilize a First Nations tradition of imagining a long line of ancestors (many never known by you personally) standing directly behind you and each supporting the other by placing their hands behind the shoulders of the person in front of them. You have thousands of years of ancestors standing behind you as you open up to the wholeness of allowing in your dragon. Yes, thoughts, words and actions are very important – but the EXPERIENCE of doing this is what really counts. You need mindful willingness to achieve this action. Allow the dragon’s emotional self to enter you, even if it rides on your tears to do so. Fully open up your heart, mind, soul, inner-self to this experience. May your path bring you experience in happiness, wholeness, and enlightenment.
CAUTION –Since I have no idea what your psychological health is like, you may wish to consult your healthcare provider about doing this meditation. Although I believe we all have strengths to allow in our emotional dragons – slowly, one by one – sometimes we are not ready to BE in this powerful experience. You may wish to consult Aura Glaser’s A Call to Compassion or The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius before you begin this process. There are many other self-compassion resources that may be helpful to you (refer to works by Germer, Goldstein, Salzburg, Brach, etc.).
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness
CLICK HERE to Order!