Who are you dragonifying?


The Dreamworks’ film How to Train Your Dragon has been the inspiration for my yoga classes this week. Without giving away too much about the movie, I will tell you that it is about a village of Vikings whose lives revolve largely around fighting dragons, and that in the movie the Vikings come to realize that the dragons are only fighting because the Vikings are fighting – and vice versa.

I found this (unnecessary) battle between the Vikings and the dragons to be a powerful reminder about how dangerous it can be to blindly operate on assumptions.

Of course, assumptions serve us well in many ways. I assume that Warm Goat Cheese, Beet and Argula Sandwiches are going to be delicious (because they have been every other time I’ve eaten them), so I gladly eat them again. I assume that the car at the red light will stop, so I drive through the green. I assume that the orange stove element will burn my finger if I touch it, so I don’t.

Assumptions bring so much ease into our lives that it is easy to see why we have come to rely on them and how we sometimes lose touch with the places where they lead us to suffer. One of the areas I have been focusing on in my classes is holding assumptions about the actions of others.

The conflict between the Vikings and the dragons illustrates how relying on assumptions about the actions of others can bring more suffering, turmoil and stress into our lives. You might be thinking that a long-standing war with fire breathing dragons is an extreme example. You are not actually fighting a war – or are you?

In her book Practicing Peace in Times of War, Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist teacher, writes:

War begins when we harden our hearts, and we harden them easily – in minor ways and then in quite serious, major ways, such as hatred and prejudice – whenever we feel uncomfortable. … We can talk about ending war and we can march for ending war, we can do everything in our power, but war is never going to end as long as our hearts are hardened against each other. (16-17)

Do you make assumptions about the actions of others that stir up a hardening in your heart? Do you make assumptions that lead you to feel like you need to defend or protect yourself from another person?

Are you fighting dragons that don’t need to be fought?

I know I am.

And, one way I’ve been working on moving through my initial assumptions is by challenging myself to come up with at least three different explanations for actions of others that I experience as harmful.

Honouring that I may never truly understand the intentions of another, I believe that this practice cultivates an openness to the likelihood that the actions of others revolve much less around me than I experience them to – or that, in some situations, the dragons are simply protecting themselves from me.