I used to live in a little house close to marshland and there were lots of dragonflies. They are extraordinarily beautiful if you get the chance to see them up close but I didn’t know much about them as a species.
The name Dragonfly is a peculiar one but I’m going to keep running with my metaphor of Dragons that I’ve been using for the last few weeks, hoping that it is useful enough that you will bear with me!
Let’s imagine then that during our coaching work, you have been able to name your Dragons. You have learned how to invite them in to sit in a corner quietly with a fresh pot of tea, maybe even a slice of cake, to let them wander in and wander off. Perhaps you have even learned to view your Dragons with a kinder eye and found a way to use them like a small risk-management thermometer. What else might you do that would create a smoother glide towards your goals?
Imagine that the room also has Dragonflies. Bright little iridescent flashes of blue and green and gold. And these little Dragonflies carry words or images that give you the opposite of Dragon shouting. They remind you of what you’ve managed to achieve or survive in the past. They remind you of bits of your best or strongest self. They remind you of how it might feel to be you when you have created the very thing you are trying to change or build. They remind you of why, even when it feels hard, you will keep going. They can even be a glittering little celebration party in the air of all those small bits of real progress that go to make a big step forward. Perhaps they just say ‘What if?’…..
And you can choose at any given moment to open the window and call them in…..
What are your Dragonflies saying right now?
A couple of weeks ago, we talked about the benefits of naming your Dragons. Last week, we talked about how you can invite them for tea and how this can help you in the coaching process. This week, I want to invite you to use a kind eye on your Dragons.
A couple of years ago, I read a great book about rebuilding after bereavement called Second Firsts by Christina Rasmussen. Amongst the other useful ideas in the book, she talks about the idea of a Waiting Room. Like an old-fashioned train station. And the Waiting Room has a Guardian. The Guardian’s job – although they sometimes do it by saying unpleasant or scary things – is to keep you safe in what has become a familiar space between your old life and your new one. A Safe Room.
In my personal and professional experience of Dragons, although they can look pretty daunting and say some horrible things, it is not uncommon that they also work like the Guardian trying to keep you Safe. Don’t try….so you can’t fail. Don’t challenge….so you won’t be rejected. Don’t want….so you won’t lose.
This may be the very reason why it can feels like the Dragons move in and camp on our couch when we are trying to renovate or build something important to us. And why perhaps inviting them in for tea and treating them with a little respect and kindness can be useful.
What do you think your Dragons are trying to safeguard you from? And how much does that matter compared to what you are trying to build?
There is a story about the Buddha suggesting that we do just this as a way of dealing with painful or negative thoughts and feelings. The Dragon in that story is called Mara; you can call yours whatever you want….I know someone who called her Chief Dragon, Gilbert! And the first step is what we talked about last week, being able to See and Name the Dragon. In the story, the Buddha starts by saying “I see you, Mara.” when Mara wanders into his house. Then, in the story, he gives Mara an imaginary cushion, invites them to sit and makes tea. He sits down quietly with Mara for a little while until, without much happening, Mara gets up and wanders away and the Buddha gets back to what he was doing before Mara appeared
Why might this story matter to you? Well, the Buddhist principle – put simply because I am not a Buddhist – is that we suffer most when we find ourselves unable to accept what is. So, denying the existence of the Dragons tends not to work so well because they just keep showing up. And they can lurk in the corner of your mental eye if you stick your fingers in your ears and sing “La, la, I can’t see you”. Trying to shove them back out through the door takes quite a lot of energy which can be a distraction from other things that we actually want to invest time and energy in. On top of that, in my experience, Dragons do not appear to like change much….they seem to get rather ruffled, shout louder and show up more often.
How can we use it in coaching if it all sounds a bit airy-fairy? Sometimes as a coach I find that it is as if there are three people in the conversation; me as the coach, you focusing on how to do what you want to do and an invisible Dragon trying to sabotage you at your very first step or throw up seemingly impossible hurdles. Being able to say “We see you, Dragon.” allows us to make that conversation more real and more practical because it is real. And inviting the Dragon to sit quietly in the corner with a cup of tea allows you space to decide if you want to give the Dragon a vote regardless of their opinion about you or your own renovation project.
When do you notice your Dragons turn up most often? Do different things trigger different Dragons?
I call them Dragons. We all have them, just slightly different ones. Sometimes they seem to be sleeping quietly. At other times it’s as if they are sitting on our heads. Shouting. Really loudly.
By Dragons, I mean those critical voices in our heads that run through our lives like a pulled thread. And they commentate on our day-to-day activities. Sometimes they sound a bit like us. Sometimes they sound a bit like someone we know or used to know.
The Not Good Enough Dragon. The Big Fat Failure Dragon. The Book of Shoulds Dragon. The Good Girl Dragon. The Too Old or Too Young Dragon. The Dragon of Perfection and her friend The Dragon of Do More. Just to name a few. Or my personal favourite The You Used To Be Better Dragon. (Mine wears a glamorous hat and Louboutin shoes lol….)
I’m not trying to get you to murder your Dragons. Or outshout them. Both of those tactics seem to take a lot of energy with patchy success in my experience. I’m not going to ask you to unpick where and when and why the Dragon was born because that’s a job for a therapist not a coach if you want to explore it.
My contribution is to help you See and Name Them as a first step when they get in your way or distract you from doing what you really want to do. And it’s easier as a coach to see the metaphorical rustling leaves that suggest a Dragon because it’s not my Dragon. It’s not a familiar voice to me as it is for you.
And then? We’ll work out together when the Dragons help and when they don’t and what to do when you need them in the back seat rather than the driving seat…..
I’ll share some thoughts another day about when you might want to make them Tea and Cake…..