Monastic Strategies: Setting Free the Dragons Within Us

Monastic Strategies: Setting Free the Dragons Within Us April 11, 2019

Setting Free the Dragons Within Us

Some of us think spiritual life is about holding onto the dragons within us as tightly as possible.

We seem to believe we need to hold onto our dragons as strongly as we can. It is as if the dragons within us are likely to escape and cause damage if we do not contain or control them. Some people need to know clearly and concretely which dragons belong to them and which do not. We seem to think it is important to understand who is responsible and who is not.

Some of us choose a particular dragon and hold on as tightly as possible for as long as possible. They do not want to lose it.

Many of us fear what would happen if one, or several, of the dragons within us were able to escape. We see them running away to leave nothing but scorched earth in their wake.

For me, spiritual life is more about letting go than about holding on as tightly as we can.

My understanding of spiritual life is more about being open than about controlling the dragons within us. When we are holding on tightly with both hands it is hard for us to receive anything new.

It may come down to how we each experience the depth and power of sacred spiritual life.

We might see spiritual life as a test we must pass or an obstacle we must overcome. Spiritual life is about not allowing the dragons within us to get out of our control.

Or we may see spiritual life as overwhelmingly abundant and generous. We do not need to live in fear of what might happen.

Each moment surrounds and fills us with the wealth of spiritual life. It will be us, not the dragons within us, who will soar.

Monastic Life and the Dragons Within Us

Some of us see monastic life as being all about following rules.

Benedictine monks are Benedictine because they follow Benedict’s Rule. They make lifelong vows to renounce certain actions and ways of behaving. We may think monastic life is all about giving things up and committing ourselves not to do things. It almost looks like monastic life is about annihilating any dragons within us.

The monks I know are not about keeping the dragons within them under control. They are among the people with the most freedom I have ever met.

It is easy for us to assume spiritual life grows in us as we keep the dragons within us constrained.

Monastic life is intended to give people the freedom they need to focus on becoming their true selves. Commitments some of us might see as restricting allow them to focus on their core values. The vows people take are not ultimately about repression or social control. They can serve as guard rails and sign posts to keep people on the paths they have chosen. People are free to pay attention and stay focused on exploring their higher priorities. What may sound like rules to us help people avoid being distracted by less essential concerns.

People who follow monastic life are committed to discovering what fruit it will bear in them. They listen and reflect, seeking the deep freedom within themselves.

Many of the monks I know have become friends with the dragons within them. Dragons which used to be frightening or intimidating have demonstrated they are qualities intended to help.

Becoming Friends With the Dragons Within Us

How we experience the dragons within us is often shaped by our background and experience.

In general, Western cultures often view dragons as threatening or intimidating. Eastern cultures, particularly Chinese culture, often vies dragons as benevolent.

Some of us experience the dragons within us as sources of fear. We may have been taught some of our qualities are weaknesses and need to be kept under control.

Others of us experience the dragons within us as blessings to be embraced.

Our test for the dragons within us is not whether they are good or bad, benevolent or threatening. The questions we need to ask are about how these dragons help us understand and appreciate who we are.

There are parts of me, qualities I have, which other people do not necessarily appreciate. Some people have been particularly willing to inform me about what in me should be changed.

Fortunately spiritual life guides me on a path of understanding, both of myself and of other people.

I do not believe people who seem to have a clear picture of the dragons within me are evil. At the same time, I do not need to accept their understanding of who I am.

Spiritual life is at work in me helping me become friends with the dragons within me.

The Dragons Within Me Help Me Recognize My True Self

For example, justice is one of my core values. I believe in the significance and power of justice. Few things ignite my passion as much as someone being treated unfairly.

Like may other people, my passion for justice can wake up some of the dragons within me. Anger and frustration can be dragons which frighten some people. They can also be dragons which help me persist in pursuing justice.

Some people have seen my dragons roaming the earth out of control.

Other people have experienced my dragons as weaknesses in my personality.

I understand how powerful these particular dragons can be. Their power can have destructive as well as constructive uses.

As I become friends with the dragons within me I spend time reflecting and getting to know them.

There are probably different dragons within me than the dragons within everyone else. Each of us has a choice about how we will live with our dragons.

Will we keep the dragons with in us chained or will we set them free to become friends with them?

How will we set free the dragons within us today?

What do the dragons within us have to teach us this week?

[Image by moonlightbulb]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is, and his email address is

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