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.

The Habit of Wearing Clothes


I’ve had a “living the life” kind of day. 

I taught an early morning yoga class, went to work for a few hours, came home for lunch, took transit into Vancouver to take an amazing workshop on the art of hands-on adjustments with Rachel Scott, and read the better part of Pema Chodron’s Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears on my journey to and from. 

Though the day is not over, I wanted to take a moment out to share a passage from Chodron’s book. I hope the depth of these words is still palpable out of the context of her book. 

Some people have told me that they find it unnerving to pause. One man said if he pauses it feels like death to him. This speaks to the power of habit. We associate acting habitually with security, ground, and comfort. It gives us the feeling of something to hold on to. Our habit is just to keep moving, speeding, talking to ourselves, and filling up the space. But habits are like clothes. We can put them on and we can take them off. Yet, as we well know, when we get very attached to wearing clothes, we don’t want to take them off. We feel as if we’ll be too exposed, naked in front of everyone; we’ll feel groundless and insecure and we won’t know what’s going on.

            We think it’s natural, even sane, to run away from those kinds of uncomfortable feelings. If you decide, quite enthusiastically, that every time you open your computer, you’re going to pause, then when you actually open your computer, you may have an objection: “Well, now I can’t pause because I’m in a rush and there are forty million things to do.” We think this inability or this reluctance to slow down has something to do with our outer circumstances, because we live such busy lives. But I can tell you that I discovered otherwise when I was on a three-year retreat. I would be sitting in my small room looking out at the ocean, with all the time in the world. I would be silently meditating, and this queasy feeling would come over me; I’d feel that I just had to rush through my session so I could do something more important. When I experienced that, I realized that for all of us this is a very entrenched habit. The feeling is, quite simply, not wanting to be fully present.