While sorting through images I’ve saved through the years, I came across this one from a trip to Seattle to visit a friend about 6 years ago. My friend and I decided to venture out of the city to take a ferry over to Lopez Island northwest of Seattle in the Pacific ocean for some much needed down time.
Of all the photos I took, this image of the small craggy tree covered mini-island surrounded by the gray fog and mist intrigues me and continues to do so. There is something reminiscent of Viking ships or explorers clutching ancient parchment maps with the words “here there be dragons” written in the unknown and uncharted oceans. Fear of the unknown and undiscovered areas was symbolized by dragons. Brave men who dared explore and venture with courage, still feared the unknown. There way of confronting the fear was to write “here, there be dragons” and say nothing more about it.
Living a human life, a spiritual life, requires us to confront our fears, our inner dragons. Fear and other emotions can create barriers to our inner freedom. One time at a workshop on integrating emotions and prayer which I attended, the facilitator read the children’s book You’ve Got Dragons by Kathryn Cave, illustrated by Nick Maland (Peachtree Pub Ltd. July 1, 2003). The young boy in the book discovers that he has worries and fears that appear to him as dragons. As the story unfolds, he shares what he learns about living with them. While the book is designed to reassure children about childhood fears, it served to reassure all of us at the workshop that everyone has feelings which can bring about anxiety and fear and led to deeper discussions about how to pray and reflect on emotions in prayer.
Today, I often some journaling/reflection questions followed by a practice I hope you will find useful in your own spiritual life.
What are the predominant feelings layering in you this past month? How do you hold tension between two things which seem opposite like trust and fear? How does the feeling and thinking connection meet?
We often rehash and rehash and retell the same story line over and over again of events which cause pain, anger, frustration, etc. How can you short circuit the story and move to gratitude? How do you “feed your dragons” in order to befriend them?
Praying with difficult emotions like fear, anger, loneliness, despair, sadness, etc. is challenging. I like to use a breath prayer or tonglen. It is a form of a silent Buddhist prayer which honors where one IS and opens one to the graciousness of Creation or God or Consciousness. I have adapted it to use with the Peace Prayer of St. Francis.
- For yourself
- Inbreath – acknowledge what you are feeling (it’s like saying “here I am in my grief or confusion or anger or frustration”)
- Outbreath – breathe out the blessing you need most (gentleness, openness, hope, etc.)
- For others you know
- When and if feel that you are able, include in your breath prayer others you know who may be feeling the same way you are. Allow the blessing you seek to go out to them as well.
- For all people
- When and if you feel you are able, expand the circle of your intention to embrace the whole world, acknowledging that the feeling you are experiencing at this moment is undoubtedly shared by many others throughout the world. As you breathe out, be conscious that you are blessing people everywhere with the same grace you seek.
This breath prayer can also be done using lines of a psalm or other favorite prayer.
If you would like to talk about your experiences with this form of prayer or any other matters relating to your spiritual journey, please contact me. In the meantime, I hope you find these practices and my reflections meaningful.