How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.
Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
What if that were actually true? Would my life be the same? Would it change? Would yours? Do you have thoughts about this? If so, I hope you’ll share them.
“Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.”
Here be dragons! There must be some truth to the above thought since modern psychology seems to support the notion that our deepest fears emerge as some of our most destructive emotions unless we face those fears and learn to make peace with them. The dragon as a universal symbol has been referred to as the oldest, the first, and the most basic monster, so perhaps that’s what lurks in the hearts of men…
Interestingly, the Eastern world views dragons as essential forces of nature. Tibetan Buddhism holds dragons as symbols of wisdom with the power of communication that help awaken us from our delusions. The Chinese dragon is a positive and benevolent force, representing power, excellence and goodwill. Conversely, in the Western world dragons have been portrayed as destructive beasts that kill and destroy, encouraging us to kill and destroy them when we meet them. Perhaps we all have terrible and benevolent dragons deep in our own beings that call us to be our best or or worst. It’s as good an explanation as the little devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other.
Nice observation. The East and West really are at odds about dragons, and never the twain have met, except perhaps in your explanation. In that sense, dragons are not a universal symbol, or — they are a universal symbol without an agreed-upon meaning. A wise friend once observed that all true symbols are ambivalent; I remember pondering this and deciding that in fact it was true, but that was a long time ago, I would have to think about it again.
It occurs to me unexpectedly that our princesses may be prettier than dragons, but that may be strictly on the outside. On the inside they may also come in two varieties, the good and the wicked.
Thanks for your comment on cell2soul Judith. I think the dragons, the princess and the prince are all within us. One of Rilke’s other famous admonitions, from Letters to a Young Poet (and some of the best advice for anybody, writer or not) was to “Go inside yourself.” That’s about the last frontier there is. The advice may strike some as smelling of narcissism, the idea that all of the answers lie within. But like any good Zen koan, the answer is to take the questions as far as you can, no matter the source. If anyone is still with me, Rilke’s next big bit of advice was, “You must change your life!” The thing is, you can. You can slay the dragon, kiss the princess or the prince (take your pick) and live life as fully and as fearlessly as you dare. I think the trick is in realizing that you seldom get “there” wherever “there” is. But Heaven is here, right here, and available in any given moment. It’s impossible to stay there, to live there, but who is to stop you from trying? Love is the answer, the key to slaying the dragon of fear. Do what you love. Love all you can. Read Annie Dillard’s Holy the Firm.
I don’t know the Annie Dillard, Oscar, so I may need to look at it.
Meanwhile, if anyone is still with either of us, here’s another quote from Rilke that is one of my favorites, and will doubtless appear again, featured on T2T, but I want to share with you right now:
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions, themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers which cannot be given to you, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live some distant day into the answer.
Also from Letters to a Young Poet, of course.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment, and I wish you all good things, alles gute, as the Germans say.