I sat out on my back porch and read from the very first journal that I kept regularly as a young adult. In all capital letters, I wrote this at the top of a page with a heart next to it:
“You cannot find happiness by switching and changing external things. It’s inside and can always remain there if you work at it.”
I wrote that 31 years ago. Today, I might replace the word happiness for something a little more defined, like sustained inner security or equanimity. But after decades now, these words still speak deeply to the heart of what I seek to live and teach every day. Strengthen within to live more clearly and compassionately in this world.
I took a Hebrew class once, and the Rabbi told an old Tibetan story about a dragon that lives inside of us. If we take care of it, it will protect us and guide us. If we don’t, it can really lead us down a path of decline. There are a lot of ancient wisdom stories like this – where we learn that the life that emerges from the dragon who is cared for is very different from the life that comes from the untended dragon.
The statement I wrote when I was twenty is the fruit of a cared for dragon. I started caring for my dragon (or the development of my life) after a pretty intense wake-up call. After that, insights like these arose. I would not have written that statement when I was 19. At that time, I was not caring for my life, and the inner dragon was spinning scary stories that gave rise to a life that was not sustainable at all. After I woke up to the power of taking care of my dragon, my life began to look very different. With years of practice, my self-esteem increased; I began to create a community that supported the deepest places in me; and my connection to the Earth began to grow. I learned firsthand that when the dragon is continually cared for (because development doesn’t stop), it creates a very different life than when it wasn’t cared for. This can be true for a community and a culture, too.
When a person tends to their own development (or when they take care of their life in the unique ways it moves through them) and when people do this together, a community that is oriented around caring for the dragon evolves. When a community tends to its development, new ways of being together emerge (the living system principles of interdependence and emergence). These new ways align with the other-than-human world because we are orienting around taking care of Life – as the Earth is. Slowly over time, we begin to remember that we are not separate from this Earth but belong very much to it and to this life. Collectively we behave differently, new opportunities arise, and our priorities change. New fruits are born culturally from that collective dragon.
The collective dominant story is faltering. I think it’s obvious that we are living in a story that is not sustainable and, therefore, not regenerative. We need a new story – one that is really not actually new, but ancient. One that is already being practiced by those who are marginalized by our faltering dominant story. These days, I am paying attention to who is taking care of the dragon amidst dire circumstances, societally and ecologically, and learning from them.