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Battling Invisible Dragons

Dr Who was my favourite tv show as a kid. One of my earliest memories is watching the final story where Jon Pertwee played the main role. I sat on the seat where the arm sofa and the arm of the chair of the 3-piece suite met. The 2 cushioned arms together made the perfect perch for me to watch giant spiders possess the baddies, the Doctor’s companion and battle the Doctor. I was 3. And enthralled. While it might not have been every 3 year old’s idea of fun; I was hooked. And it gave my parents a bit of peace and quiet on a Saturday afternoon, away from my nagging and mischief-making. And contrary to the effect giant baddie spiders might have had on this kid – I always thought spiders were cool (and still do)!


When Dr Who came back after Jon Pertwee left, the Doctor looked like a different man. Because he was. With a big hat, a long, long scarf, and a different face, the Doctor had regenerated and was now played by an actor called Tom Baker. Within 10 minutes of his first episode, I’d forgotten anything about the past incarnation. This was THE Doctor.


The battles between good and evil, monsters, aliens, and human megalomaniacs from the past or the future kept me entertained for the rest of the 70s.


I’d take the inner cardboard tube from the kitchen roll or anything else that I could pretend was a weapon or a sonic screwdriver, and run around the garden fighting the imaginary monsters until the next instalment came on air the following Saturday.


One scene from an episode that stuck with me was from an otherwise non-memorable story. It was about a character on a distant planet explaining to the Doctor that the solution to all his people’s problems lay in ‘the citadel’. But it could not be reached because the citadel was protected by invisible dragons. Invisible dragons were the reason why the inhabitants of the planet could not reach the citadel and overthrow the evil overlords. The character said the invisible dragons had been there forever, and generation after generation of his people had relayed the story down, so the people had resigned themselves to their fate forever.


Spoiler alert. The dragons were not only invisible, they were never there. A clever (if evil) trick to keep the people of the planet subjugated into slavery.


I do that.


I have dragons in my mind that stop me from doing things. My own dragons I didn’t know I made up. And because I don’t always see the nature of these dragons, they impede me. I am their slave.


In my 18-month-long episode of insomnia during my mid-30s, my night’s mind was infested with a plague of dragons. One after another would come, each one more scary and realistic than the one before. And I was battling them. All night. Every night. Weeks into months into years. They plundered any semblance of peace, shrouded me in despair, and forced me to bow down to their poison and their flames.


The dragon that said “You’re a waste of space”


The next dragon said “You’re a waste of oxygen”


Followed by the next dragon that said “How dare you take up oxygen, how dare you exist!”


How I dared to fight, and how somehow I hung in there. More subtle dragons followed. More subtle is subjective though. They were still horrible…


“Who the hell do you think you are?” and a family of ‘Don’t dragons’


“Don’t have a birthday party, no one will come”


“Don’t contact that CEO, they’ll think you’re crazy and laugh at you”


“Don’t do it! If they say yes to this business proposal, think of what will happen if you let them down!”


“Don’t ask her out, she’ll only say no, and you couldn’t handle the rejection”


“Don’t ask her out. If she says yes, and it goes well, think of how awful the break-up will be. You know you don’t cope well when that happens”


“Don’t have ideas above your station, people will think bad things about you”


Yes, these dragons were frequent visitors.


One Sunday, not long after I’d come back from seeing my mentors in La Conner, Washington, I watched that ‘invisible dragons’ Dr Who story. And spat out my tea. I could see that the invisible dragons didn’t exist on that planet. And I saw the ones in my head were the same. They were made up, a story. And because the dragons were in my own head, they looked real.


I hadn’t realised how big a deal that was until a few years ago, while running a weekend retreat, right on the eastern coast of the U.S.


One of the participants was struggling with his feelings and his thoughts and asked me directly what he should do about them.


“What do you need to do about something that doesn’t exist?” I said.

He looked back confused, then angry at me.


“Bare with me,” I said “They feel real, they do, it doesn’t mean they are”


I went on to share my version of Dr Who and the ‘invisible dragons’ story as he and everyone in the room listened.


“You know, I hadn’t realised until this moment, how much of my time, energy and effort I spend battling things that don’t exist. And knowing that they don’t exist will release me from attending to feelings that require no attention. Thoughts that come and go that are not true. Thinking imaginary outcomes that are impossible for me to know. And I remember, I’ve overcome every obstacle I’ve ever faced. I mean, here I am, breathing, digesting my lunch, absorbing the water I’ve just sipped… living! I have no emotional scars from the dragons that have bitten me. I might feel like I do when I think about them. But only then. If those feelings are temporary and aren’t coming from real events in my life that are happening now, they must come from my very vivid imagination” I said.


I stopped. The room was quiet. I heard the waves on the rocks 40 meters from the window beside me. Some people smiled. Some welled up. Some looked out to sea, distant in their ponderings.


“Our inner dragons do not need battling,” I said.


I looked down to the floor, in peace.

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