I was recently asked what I do. That’s a difficult thing to answer. As I pondered my response, this story came to mind and I shared it.
In the mid-seventies I used to show my psychology classes a short, silent, animated movie. It featured two youngsters about five years old. They had each brought their little sack of wooden blocks to play with together. The kind of blocks that have different letters and numbers on the six sides of each block.
In the film, the young ones are busily building a castle. Over time the walls go up. Windows. Watch towers. A moat with two pieces of string serving as ropes to raise and lower one of the blocks that serves as the drawbridge. The creativity of the two kids was fun to watch.
They finished and began running around, in and out of the castle, peeking out the windows. Rushing through doors, up and down the stairs. Raising and lowering the drawbridge. Having a grand time.
This fun time all changes when one of them went to the top of one of the towers and with a look of abject terror crossing her face, called to her friend who rushed up the stairs, looked out the window and mirrored her face.
Soon the object of their angst became clear. A huge fire-breathing dragon was slowly making its lumbering way towards them. His head turned left and right. With each step a huge flame billowed out of his mouth, blowing over and incinerating everything and everyone in its path. The children rushed out of the tower and hid inside the hollow trunk of a huge ancient tree. Through a narrow crack, they watched in horror at what happened next.
The dragon roared onto the scene and completely demolished the castle. Scattering the blocks as if they were a pile of empty tin cans thrown on the ground. What the force of his breath did not topple, his tail did. Having no success in finding anything else to wreck, and surveying the destruction he had caused, he yawned and with a look of satisfaction, laid down on his side and took a nap.
Seizing the opportunity that his snoring slumber provided, the two young ones moved out of their hiding place and surveyed the scene. At about that time they looked up and heard music in the distance. Shortly thereafter over the crest of the hill a character that looked like the pied piper appeared and walked towards them. As he came closer he stopped playing his pipe, held his arms out and the children rushed to his side. They conferred and then went into action. The three of them went into the rubble and came out with blocks with the letter “O” and the number “0.” The piper showed them how to attach those blocks to the bottom of each of the sleeping dragons’ feet.
They then took one of the strings they had used to raise and lower the castle’s draw bridge, and gently wrapped it around his neck like a bridle. They took the other string and wrapped it around the Dragon’s snout creating a loose muzzle, so that his fiery breath could no longer burn anything or hurt anyone.
The movie concludes with the dragon awakening and standing up, or at least trying to. Now he found himself on wheels and muzzled. Like a first time-on-the-ice would-be-skater, he had a tough time getting and keeping his balance. The two kids went ahead of him, demonstrating how to glide. He was a quick study and began enjoying the freedom that being on wheels provided.
The children led him around for a bit and then when they pulled on the rope, the dragon lowered his head, and like an elephant lifting a rider, gently eased them on to his back. With smiles on everyone’s face, they all glided off into the distance.
The dragon’s height and mobility now allowed the children to travel great distances they could not have otherwise gone on their own. Seeing things his greater perspective offered them. The dragon seemed to enjoy the attention, the loving touch and sense of belonging and purpose the children’s presence offered. Instead of a destroyer, he became an ally. The children eventually stopped and gently removed the no-longer-necessary-muzzle. There was peace in the kingdom.
I do not recall the meaning of the allegorical movie. But I have never forgotten the story.
We humans have common emotions. Anger, fear, sadness, and happiness are the big four. Three of the four we often consider to be our own personal dragons; having a relationship with them similar to the children and the dragon at the beginning of the story related above. Our own personal dragons.
On wheels, bridled and befriended our emotions can allow us to navigate successfully through life. Allowing us to protect ourselves and others. Anger, fear, and sadness (as well as joy) can empower us. They allow us to see and experience things we cannot without them.
Untamed, wheelless, unbridled and unmuzzled they can cause great damage. They can destroy. Unless befriended, as the dragon in the movie, they will painfully impact and can ultimately rupture our relationships with others. Those relationships closest to us are most at risk. Sometimes they turn their power and fury on us; we become their victim, and they end up destroying us.
When people ask me what I do, I sometimes say, “I help people befriend and put wheels on their emotional dragon(s).” Hopefully, we all do that for others. No more conquering, or getting over, or battling, trying to bury it, imprison it, ignore, or medicate it, or the dozens of other things we have been taught to try. (Which, by the way, all work to some degree, until they don’t anymore.) Befriending. It is actually quite easy and beautiful once one knows how.
So, the answer to what I do is that I show people how to put wheels on their dragons. Whether they be feelings or behaviors. Once they learn how, they can do it themselves. And even better, teach those they love to do the same thing. I’m their pied piper.