Conversation with My Dragon

I’m sure you are aware of your own “inner dragon” voice—that negative, bullying voice that speaks to you sometimes, when you want to take a risk, or when you experience a roadblock or a setback.

It can even come up when you experience success, when that’s outside your comfort zone.

Yesterday, I was struggling to re-organize and clarify some concepts in my book, The Creative Heroine’s Path. I was getting nowhere, and I felt lost and discouraged.

Here’s a sample of the “conversation” I had with my inner dragon last night—it’s more like a monologue, because we hear our inner dragons’ voices as our own:

“I’m a 2-bit, talentless hack who has nothing worthwhile to say.” (That kind of exaggeration was a clue that I was in the grips of my inner dragon.)

Woman with dragon shadow

“I can’t do this. I’ll never finish this book. And then everyone will know what a fraud I am.”

“My mind isn’t good enough. I have too many connected thoughts that lead to nowhere.”

“I’m going to let everyone else down. I’m going to let myself down.”

“I should just give up. I want to give up.”

So, I decided to reach out.

I told my husband that I was struggling, and he reminded me not to “abuse” my creativity. (Don’t you love it when others quote your own advice to you—advice that you are clearly not following?) He told me to stop pushing it and let it go until tomorrow. It was good advice, to give myself permission to take a break.

I also contacted a dear friend, a painter who reminded me that she attended my retreat and my 10-week workshop last year—and she left both of them feeling inspired, with new connections, visions, and artistic endeavors. She asked what I was struggling with, and she offered to meet for coffee, to lend me support.

Sometimes, you need your “champions” to remind you that you really are talented and worthy, and that you have something valuable to say.

So, don’t wallow in the muck with your inner dragon.

Reach out. And give yourself a break.

Gratitude is the Attitude

Woman in gratitude

There are days when life feels like more of a struggle. When I’m tired and stressed, or sick, or an event has shaken me, my path seems more difficult.

At those times, it’s very tempting to compare my circumstances with other people’s. When I do that, my inner dragon—that negative inner voice—looks for a way that I (or someone close to me) have fallen short.

Woman standing on large map

I should be there by now!

The theme of my inner dragon is that I “should be” further along—in my writing, in my business, in my painting, in my life.

It’s a painful distraction from what I’m afraid might be even more painful: deeper inner assessment, and facing the action I need to take next.

Thankfully, sometimes my inner guide—that wise inner voice—injects compassion. Ironically, it’s empathy that allows me to look dispassionately at the harder stuff, and it’s usually not as bad as I was afraid it would be.

Self-compassion allows me to see that the “shoulds”—real or imagined—are in the past. Now, they’re simply knowledge that helps me take the next step. If I need to do something differently, I re-prioritize and get back to my creative practice.

When outer circumstances hinder my progress, self-compassion allows me to acknowledge that I don’t have control, so I can let go of the struggle. I know I will get back to my practice when I’m able.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

But what do you do when it’s not easy?

What do you do when your inner guide is on vacation?

Woman writing on pad of paper

I should have done…

When my inner guide is under a beach umbrella reading a good book, my inner dragon goes through a list of things that I “should” have done differently. To make it worse, I usually mingle that list with things that I think other people “should” have done differently.

Ugh! It’s kind of like an obsessive tape (record, DVD, MP3) playing in my mind.

When my fire-breathing inner dragon is scorching my soul, I try to remember to stop, drop, and roll.

Stop Obsessing

Stop the negative tape! If you keep going over the same thoughts again and again, you won’t get anywhere.

Needless struggle—focusing on the negative and worrying about the future—is a waste of your spirit. It ties up your energy in what you don’t want to happen. And it keeps you from discovering deeper insight into the situation.

Life is not about being “better” (or “worse”) than someone else; it’s about being who you are. It’s about accepting that life is a journey, that spiritual growth involves trying and failing, over and over, until you succeed.

And then you start the process all over again with something else.

Drop the Drama

Drama—unnecessary guilt or blame—does nothing to help the situation. You may have no outward control, but you are always free to choose your inner response.

Energy is the currency of the spirit. It allows us to create in this world. You are creating all the time, whether you realize it or not. Whatever result you want in the outer world needs to happen inwardly first.

If you focus your energy on struggle, or worry, or how things are not going your way, what are you creating? What do you want  to create?

Just as the energy of the sun helps bring forth a tree from an acorn, your energy helps you create an outcome, through the focus of your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Your values and beliefs are the energy behind your efforts. Listen to your deeper values.

Roll with It

Let go of your attachment to the immediate outcome. Of course, you care, but worrying about it keeps you stuck. It ties up your energy and focus.

Stay open and curious. Consider that there are bigger forces at work.

When you step back to look at the larger picture, it helps you see the context. Sometimes, there’s a difference between what you want  to happen, and what needs  to happen for your growth.

You are on a journey, with lots of twists and turns. Some events seem like setbacks at first, but in retrospect, you realize they were essential.

Practice Gratitude

When all else fails, call your inner guide—and your compassion—home by practicing gratitude.

You have real blessings in your life. When you take the time to notice and appreciate them, your heart softens. And when your heart is less constricted, your mind is free to see what’s possible.

Woman grateful

When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, gratitude is the attitude to set you free.

What are you grateful for?

When Hope Evaporates

Man sitting on end of pier at dusk

I’m working on a novel. I’m also building my business. (And learning how to teach yoga.) I’m pretty busy. Each week, I post my progress on the novel in my Facebook group. Making that commitment to post what I’ve done is a key part of what keeps me going.

A couple days this past week, something else demanded my attention. It grabbed me by the ankles and pulled me under.

Sad woman

It told me everything was hopeless.

There are different names for that voice—inner critic, saboteur, depression.

Poet Rainer Maria Rilke called it “cloud shadows.”

Sometimes, I can easily refute that voice, and it goes away. Other times, I distract myself and the voice recedes.

But this time, neither strategy worked. It was like having the flu—I felt helpless to do anything but suffer, and wait for it to pass.

When hope evaporates, I know I have to listen more closely to what’s beneath that voice. The purpose of this particular pain is to wake me up to deeper meaning. Something important needs my attention, something that I need to feel, act on, or express.

But first, I have to face it. Facing what I don’t want to acknowledge gives me something to push against. It helps me build up the necessary psychic muscle to be with what is waking me up.

Happy woman

I see it as a necessary part of the journey to living deliberately, consciously, and authentically.

Thankfully, compassion for myself always (eventually!) brings me back to a more balanced place.

From there, I can stand on my tiptoes, peek around the corner, and face what has been calling to me. To know it more deeply. To understand what it wants me to do.

If you struggle with self-doubt, if you worry that it’s too late to make a difference with your life or your art, I offer this quote from Rilke. You are not alone, and there is a purpose to all you do and experience—even in suffering:

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
that needs our love.

So you must not be frightened
if a sadness rises up before you
larger than any you have ever seen;
if a restiveness, like light and cloud shadows,
passes over your hands and over all you do.
You must think that something is happening with you,
that life has not forgotten you,
that it holds you in its hand;
it will not let you fall.
Why do you want to shut out of your life
any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions?
For after all, you do not know
what work these conditions are doing inside you.
— Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

What do you see when you turn the corner from despair to understanding?

What, deep inside yourself, wants your love and attention?

What wants to live and be expressed?

How does it show up in your art or in your writing?

Make a Compassionate Commitment to Your Art

Woman writing on desk with flowers

In September of last year, I began a class to train as a yoga teacher. My goals are to get stronger and healthier, and to lose weight. And I want to be able to offer morning yoga classes at my creativity retreats.

My intention was to attend yoga class five times a week. But, as happens, life has intervened the last few months (the holidays, a deadline, an injury).

Each time something keeps me from my yoga practice, and I take that next yoga class after a couple weeks without practicing, there’s a little voice that tempts me to give up.

I’m very familiar with that voice from my creative life. It’s my impatient saboteur. What does it care about? “Being there” already!

Woman jumping


Sometimes, my saboteur whines about all the time, space, and effort between the excitement of starting something new, and reaching the goal—“Nirvana!”

Buddha statue with flowers



Because doing the work involves routine. (You know, that regular focused action that moves you forward, but can also suck the life out of inspiration.)

Creative people have a love-hate relationship with routine. Too much, and it’s stifling. Too little, and we drift.

So what’s a creative soul to do?

In the past, when faced with setbacks and roadblocks in my creative pursuits, I might have given up, telling myself I was putting it off until a “better” time. But my experience being coached—and coaching others—has taught me a lot about that sneaky saboteur:

She’s wrong. There is no better time. Now is the time.

Although I can’t eliminate my inner saboteur’s voice, I can out-smart her. And so can you—by making a compassionate commitment  to your art.

Practicing both compassion and commitment is a balance between soft and hard, yin and yang, being and doing. Too much of one and too little of the other, and either you don’t accomplish much, or you force yourself to meet a goal, losing a little soul along the way.

It’s normal  to get in slumps, or fail to follow through, now and then. Stop judging yourself for being like the rest of the human race. Instead, choose to treat yourself with compassion.

Many sensitive people struggle with being kind to themselves. If you are one of those dear souls, ask yourself this:

Would you treat a friend the way you treat yourself when you make a mistake, or don’t follow through?

If the answer is “no,” then why is it okay to treat yourself that way? It isn’t. (And all it does is make things worse.)

The beauty of practicing compassion is that, over time, practice can lead to proficiency. Like my yoga classes, it builds up muscle. It gets easier to brush that saboteur out of the way and be kind to yourself.

However, if you’re not getting anywhere, you also need to be honest with yourself about whether you are committed to your goal. That means seeing clearly without being judgmental  (remember the compassion part?).

Making a real commitment to your project, and to yourself, is key. It’s much harder to maneuver out of something when you make a commitment.

So say it out loud to someone—your accountability partner, perhaps.

Tell your supportive friends.

Small hands holding paper heart

Your commitment to yourself
is sacred.

Be true to yourself. Don’t hedge, downplay, or apologize. Use the word “commitment.” Because that’s what it is, and your commitment to yourself is just as sacred as your commitment to someone else.

Let me repeat that. Your commitment to yourself is just as sacred as your commitment to someone else.

Remember my yoga practice? Each time I go to a yoga class, I’m a little stronger. I’ve made a compassionate commitment to my health, and I’m getting there, two steps forward and one step back at a time.

Diving into the Mystery Pool

When you’re making art, your mind and your subconscious play together. When you write, the narrative of your story—or the structure of your ideas—emerges with just enough surprises to keep you curious.

Hand holding lit match

It’s like walking in the dark, while your mind strikes matches and tosses them in the direction that leads you to the heart of what you have to say.

Sometimes, while you’re dancing with your curiosity, something deeper will tug at your consciousness. That’s when you know it’s time to stop dancing, and dive.

I call it “diving into the mystery pool.” It’s exciting. And challenging.

In the center of the pool, it’s so deep you can’t see the bottom.

Sometimes it’s murky and filled with shadows.

Woman underwater in white flowing dress

And just beneath the surface, you sense the fluid movement of your instinctive mind: eyes shut, yet watching, seeing, knowing.

Pay attention to what it has to tell you.

If diving to the deep places is exciting, what keeps you at the surface? What is challenging about diving into the mystery?

Perhaps the fear of being judged. Or feeling deeply. Or seeing the essence of something, when you wish it was something else.

Given all that, how do you find the courage to dive?

First, re-frame the ego’s point-of-view.

We all know to lock the inner critic—the uber editor—outside our study door when we’re just trying to get a draft written. But there’s a more insidious saboteur lurking in the corner of the room that whispers, “what will people think?”

Don’t let that question silence you. Let it inspire you.

For most of us, banishing judgment is easier said than done. On a deeper level, it’s about accepting that you are not here to be perfect, whatever that is. Mistakes are meant to lead us to a deeper knowing of ourselves, others, and life.

It helps us when we know each others’ foibles. We get to be comforted that we’re not alone, and we get to have an “ah-ha” moment—delivered by your insight.

We want your perspective. We want you to show us how you see the world. We want to follow your lit matches in the darkness, to find the treasure hidden there, that only you can lead us to.

That’s what’s so magical about art.

Second, commit to authenticity.

Being authentic is not just about being free of pretense, it’s about being vulnerable enough to feel the deep meaning of our lives, often through what we have lost.

When you’re committed to being authentic, you are willing to swim in the difficult stuff.

Your authenticity invites others to go deeper. The realness of your life means more than any idea of perfection. It’s your genuineness that moves us, because at the core, we recognize ourselves.

Even if your perspective is new to us, when you share it in a real way, we experience the universal in what you have to say: the clenched stomach; the open heart; the moment when we all peer into the abyss, and we see what only we are meant to see.

Third, the truth will set you free.

Nothing holds us in shackles more than the lies we tell ourselves.

For a while, it might feel better to skate on the surface. But when we look unflinchingly at what we are called to explore, we gain deeper respect for ourselves, grow stronger, and model the way for others.

There’s a freeing inner shift that happens when you accept the truth of a situation, rather than fight it. Maybe it’s the release of all that energy it takes to pretend.

With your emotional and mental energy flowing again, you have access to a wisdom that enriches all that you create.

Fourth, honor your spirit.

Several years ago, my dad sent me some old photos of our family at the beach. When I looked at this one, it caught my heart.

Little girl standing on beach

In the full photo, I’m standing with my brothers and my mom at the beach. I’m holding my mom’s hand, and posing.

Looking at this earlier version of myself struck me to the core.

I reconnected with the perspective of seeing life as a huge panorama of possibilities. And my love for that little girl—for my self—made me realign with the potential I came into this world with.

I need to live deeply, and create from that place. I don’t want to let that little girl down.

Who are you? What is it that you do not want to leave this world without doing? Writing? Painting? Singing and dancing?

Honor your spirit. You’re here for a reason.

Each has his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart
and his friends can only read the title. — Virginia Woolf

Here’s to opening the leaves of your book, and getting to see life the way only you can see it!