“Pet the Dragon”
Updated: Apr 7, 2020
Dig into your own mind and face the big scary dragons you've been avoiding. Name them honestly and they will stop worrying you so much.
Um, WTF am I talking about? I spent a lot of my childhood and young(ish) adulthood claiming to believe things that I was supposed to believe. I knew, if investigated, I might find out that I was lying to myself. These beliefs, the things that seemed to define me, were religious, political, your run of the mill "how I understand reality" stuff. I won't go too much in to what they were specifically -- at least not today -- but I will illustrate how petrified I was to find out what I really thought.
How'd I miss that?
I should've thought that I would've known what I thought...
Without getting into specifics, I will say that I had a clearly defined religious education. This was not limited to church. There were in depth studies of the Bible -- courses with workbooks, Hebrew and Greek translations, close investigation of context and word history etc. It was real study. I really learned what my holy book said. We memorized passages and studied inductively -- like an English major parsing out each word of poetry -- we looked at it really closely. In all honesty, I am deeply grateful for that education. If you are barely acquainted with something it is hard to know your feelings about it.
My own mind was the dragon I needed to unearth.
Belief is a loaded word in a religious environment. I assume that is true regardless of the religious tradition in question. In my case I had eternal consequences if my mind turned out to be at odds with any of my religious education. It scared the crap out of me. I was taught to take the words literally. This meant that the threat was forever away from loved ones existing in misery. The possibility was that baring my true belief to myself might reveal something horrifying, depraved, wrong or ugly. I had many squirmy, uncomfortable late nights, depression -- actual depression-- and anxious worry that I would find eternal solitude and suffering in the truth of my own mind. However, I figured, whether I faced my own mind or not, what was there -- my dragon of belief, what I really thought was truth -- was there. I knew I was kidding myself, so I figured t I might as well find out whether I will burn for eternity or not.
That is how I met my dragon.
When you see what is in your own mind it isn't as scary as you thought. Surprisingly, it isn't even a surprise.
I had to go into my own heart and mind and really be honest with what I was accepting out of obedience and what actually had honest resonance. The biggest relief was that when it comes to accepting or rejecting what you've been taught the answer can be "I don't know." It isn't the most comfortable place for a mind to live, but it is a hell of a lot better than a definite answer that isn't honest but gets a commitment anyway.
Honesty about my own heart and mind was the only real starting point. My worst fears about my dragon of belief -- that I would reject Christianity entirely once I faced my own mind-- did not come true. Though I no longer take a "literal translation" view of the Bible, the essence of what I was taught through my religious education all still rang true. Living honestly, kindly, generously and industriously are some of things I learned through my studies. They are all things I value and will always value. There are other places to learn these lessons, certainly other religions that teach them too, but for me, I'm still Christian at heart. Admittedly, some of my early religious guides would not call me Christian now. I found that that particular dragon wasn't that scary when I faced it either -- what a surprise that was. Disagreeing with my early religious education was similar to living with "I don't know" as an answer. It's occasionally uncomfortable but not nearly as big a deal as I originally thought. We can still live together and uphold these agreed upon good principles without getting caught up in a specific dogma.
If I am truly lost I can go back to it and figure out what the message behind the stories are. The teachings of Jesus and the example of his life as told in the Bible will set me back on a "not kidding myself" path. Our minds are our vehicles to understanding. I had to get comfortable with mine if it was going to be able to grow and learn. I try to sit in friendship with the dragon of my own mind. It isn't a scary beast. It only needs to be faced to be pet-able. I am not afraid of finding out that I was wrong anymore. It is a relief to work out moments of my own cognitive dissonance. I am sure it will happen again -- at least I hope so. I'm pretty sure I still don't have it all figured out yet, after all.