Befriending Personal Demons

A mythically minded, theatrical ex beau of mine, during a particularly charged and tormented term of self-examination, confessed to having run out of excuses for facing needed changes in his life. Amidst the turbulence, he quipped that it was "time for Sir Lancelot to kiss the dragon," adding that he hoped he would "be able to stand the fragon's breath!" We managed a laugh, hoping the dragon could stand my friend's breath as well, recognizing that difficult relationships -as our own had been, are a two-way affair.

Dragon kissing, then, is about funding the courage to find, face, and conquer deeply rooted personal fears. Each of us who is motivated to seek fulfillment, a sense of wholeness, power or awakening must voyage into unfamiliar turf. Whether we're plummeting inner depths for private truths, or braving outer expansions, whether focused on the archetypal Human Journey or our own individual expression of that, the trip necessitates encounters with the Shadow side, the phantom Dark realm that lies beyond our immediate conscious knowing. And just as the Shadow beckons, so does our desire to have control over what might hurt, harm or destroy us. For many of us, just the thought of having our comfort zone cage rattled feels harming, and is enough to send us scampering off in the opposite direction.

Although encountering the Unknown is a universal possibility, there is more than one way to engage with it, and how we do so will depend upon how we define it. Our own cultural belief is that the Unknown, "the Shadow," is dangerous, foreboding -potentially evil. Further, it is believed that control over It is vital, and that this is best done by generally avoiding confrontation with experiencing/feeling It altogether. Control is achieved by dismissal, denial, -magic: If I pretend my Shadow side isn't there, maybe it will just go away! Unfortunately, the shady definition of unknowns drives and maintains the addictively patterned lifestyles so prevalent in today's world. This propensity for avoiding uncomfortable feelings, driving them underground, underscores and perpetuates the notion that the world is indeed an inhospitable, even hostile place, ensuring that our personal dark Shadow will forever wear a sinister mask.

How did the Shadow get such a bad rap?! What makes it so commonly feared? Is it the human necessity of having to deal with the spectre of death or loss in any of its myriad forms? It might be compelling to simply pass off our wariness of unknowns as a singular universal human trait. Yet, if we look around, we observe that some people do manage to get more 'adventure' into their mix and less apprehension; some are even downright enthusiastic about jumping into the abyss of uncertain outcomes, like those of us who court kissing dragons and befriending personal demons as a means to personal empowerment. Consider sorcerers, shamanic healers and spiritual aspirants who demonstrate fierce conviction that the Dark Void must be entered in order to discover life's ultimate secrets. These adventurers have faith that navigating the unknown can reap tremendous benefits. Where does their faith -or courage to fund the faith- come from? Is the risk worth the cultivation? Or, is it true, as my own father admonished me years ago, that the formula is "Shadow=Danger," and only a fool doesn't protect her/himself by avoiding It altogether.

After a myriad head-on collisions, unable to simply avoid confrontations with unknowns, my comfort zone has visible stretch marks. I am less resistant to life changes and their requirements of me. My own resolve to meet with Shadow demons continually arises, either on the wings of Curiosity or, more commonly, of desperate need to heal myself! As wiser persons than I have often counseled, the re-connection with Self inherent in the journeying is always worth the effort. I recently saw a local play about the youthful Greek goddess Psyche whose personal life journey descends her into the underworld where she is approached by an ugly old crone who shows her a large, tied, bulging sack. Psyche's curiosity takes over. Opening the bag, she cries out with unexpected horror and disgust, for it's heavy with the unholy bones and reeking bloody mess of her life. The gnarly witch tells beautiful Psyche that there are also amazing treasures in the bag; can this be true, Psyche wonders? Again her curiosity rules. She ventures a peek, spying a gorgeous, sparkling gemstone inside. Glimpsing rich Possibilities, she wisely takes on the challenge of combing the contents of the bag of her life, learning what's of lasting value to retain and what to discard.

Like Psyche, in order to trust the scary old crone and benefit from her wisdom, you'll need chutzpah and motivation, - an adventurous lust for life's fullness, stirred by having a Dream worth investing in. Include gut instinct for recognizing help along the way, and a hearty measure of courage for examining the slimy stuff encountered in order to gain handling experience. Like Lancelot preparing to encounter the inevitable dragons who'll try to thwart his winning of the Grail, you, I, Psyche must commit to our cherished goals. All heroes and heroines are put in danger's way before emerging victorious.

Behind the willpower and commitment to Shadow travel is a belief system allowing us to "feel the fear and do it anyway" (thanks, author Dr. Susan Jeffers). We must perceive facing fire breathing dragons and handling slimy, bloodied bones as manageable, and ultimately rewarding. Things that go bump in the night naturally inhabit unfamiliar places that challenge us to be of strong fiber, resilient persistence, keen presence. These 'forbidden zones,' seemingly taboo places are associated with pain, struggle, loss and separation from life's pleasures and fullness, separation ultimately from God-the-Mystery-benevolent Source. This is the root of the popular idea that e-v-i-l is merely l-i-v-e gotten backwards. Here our Shadow might be known as merely that which reflects our Light. This kind of thinking arms us for invading dragon-infested regions reasonably confident we can return home with the treasure.

Jungian psychology provides another way to cut the Demon dragon down to manageable size by acknowledging it as the frustrated, raging result of repressing native, spontaneous vital energies. Say authors/Ph.D.s Hal and Sidra Stone (Embracing Our Selves, New World Library, 1989), creators of Voice Dialogue, when instinctual energies are disowned over time, they tend to build in intensity and eventually turn against us and/or channel through us in destructive ways...We now call them demonic. Natural instincts may range from simple assertiveness to fairly primitive energy patterns and do not become demonic until they are repressed or disowned.

Here, kissing a dragon becomes a means to reclaim our God-given natural impulses, to reconnect with our wildish "Iron John or Jane," doing away with the propensity for reactive, potentially violent behaviors. Facing this demon's breath unlocks empowerment, vitality, and compassion as well. It helps us experience Life as a safe proposition, and to trust changes.

In short, french kissing Dragons is very intimate activity, including both the facing and the embracing of our total selves, inner and outer worlds, and the opportunity to learn that we can benefit from whatever we find. Avatars like the ancient Buddha come to their wisdom and unconditional love by thoroughly investigating what scares us most -pain, suffering, death. Smooching Demons is an art and a science; it entails surrendering to the Light/Dark truth of our natures in order to find Meaning. Finally, our personal Shadow demons become lovable players on the Grand Stage of our lives, reflecting the wonderful fact of our divinity, our magnificence.