Combatting the dragon

We can be heroes, just for one day.
— David Bowie

This voice in my head. The one that says I am ridiculous to even consider doing something, the one that doesn’t believe in me, the one that decides it is all not worth it. This voice is the enemy. It’s the voice of shame, of reproach, of disbelief, of fear.

I put a quote on the desktop of my laptop, inspired by Steven Pressfield:

“You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon.”

It reminds me that when I want to do something and that voice instantly brings up fear or guilt or shame, that voice is not ME. It’s the dragon. It’s also a big fat liar. None of the horrible things it warns me about ever come true. Even if some did come true, they are not insurmountable. I think it was Tim Ferriss who said that 90 percent of what we fear never happens.

I have not been blogging as much as I promised myself I would.

And there was that voice again: “You loser. You lazy bum, get off your ass and write. And you call yourself a writer. Huh!”

The voice is trying to shame me into silence. But I don’t have to listen to it, do I?

I am reading Dani Shapiro’s book “Still Writing.” She talks about the inner censor, the voice that comes up whenever she’s beginning something new: “My inner censor wants to shut me down. She wants me to close up shop... and so I have learned how to live with my censor. It doesn’t happen by fighting her. It happens first by recognizing her--oh, hello, it’s you again--and accepting her coexistence.”

I like the idea of not fighting the censor, or the voice I prefer to call the dragon. Because without the dragon, I wouldn’t be the knight. You need your enemy there to remind you of why you do what you do. Not to stop you, but to make you stronger. To build your skills.

How do you get past the dragon’s messages, the ones it seems to be telling you for your own good? You go ahead and start on the thing you want to do anyway. After all, the dragon is preying on your weakness and vulnerability, and disappears as soon as you display your strengths of self-belief, acting in the face of fear (courage), and dipping into that place of creativity that is yearning to be expressed.

It’s not just writers who have this voice. We all have it. As Steven Pressfield points out in “The War of Art,” it doesn’t matter what field you’re in.

He lists these examples of activities where the dragon shows up:

  • the pursuit of any calling in the arts
  • the launching of an entrepreneurial venture
  • starting a diet or health regimen or anything to get you tighter abdominals
  • spiritual advancement
  • education
  • any act of political, ethical or moral courage
  • a pursuit aimed to help others
  • any commitment of the heart
  • taking a stand in the face of adversity.

Any activity that will challenge your fears, put you in the spotlight, invite criticism, or is bound to make you grow, calls forth the dragon of resistance. “Don’t do it,” it whispers. Sometimes it growls loudly. Or screams in your ear.

Don’t listen to it. Don’t heed its warning. If you want to write, write. If you want to change your career, do that. If you want to move across country or to one where you don’t speak the language, do that.

Taking a chance is never something to be regretted. Doing NOTHING, now that’s the thing to fear, because in the end, it’s the things we didn’t do yet wanted to, that hurt us and the people we could have impacted the most.

I often think of the scene in "The Lord of the Rings" movie trilogy, where Gandalf confronts the Balrog on the bridge, staying behind as his friends run ahead, and yells: “You shall not pass!” 

In that scene, Gandalf shows the kind of fury that I sometimes need to muster to keep my dragon at bay. As exhausted as I am and as hopeless as the situation may seem. 

Remember, although Gandalf was pulled into the abyss along with the falling monster, he was able to save the mission of the ring-bearer. Later on, Gandalf appears reborn, even stronger than before.

 Image courtesy of New Line Cinema/Warner Bros.

Image courtesy of New Line Cinema/Warner Bros.

It’s worth checking out that scene if you haven’t yet. It’s quite powerful. You have the same ability to keep your demons from destroying your mission, whatever it may be.

“Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”
— Steven Pressfield

[Cover photo by Dave Contreras on Unsplash]