Review: Riding the Dragon

This week I’m reading Riding the Dragon: 10 lessons for inner strength in challenging times by Robert J. Wicks. The book is a spiritual and psychological guide to dealing with adversity and spiritual crisis. It’s aimed at people who work as therapists and counsellors, but anyone struggling to cope with overwhelming problems will find it helpful.

The dark side of life is something we would all like to avoid, but that isn’t possible if you want to live a full life and stay in touch with reality. There is a way to benefit from periods of darkness and struggle, although the wisdom gained usually comes at a price. There’s no guarantee you’ll make it through in one piece, but you might be surprised by increased levels of inner peace.

When life gets difficult, we often run away from our problems and darker feelings, or try to force ourselves into getting better. But that doesn’t work in the long run and only tends to make things worse. The best course of action is to turn towards the darkness and make friends with your shadow. In Zen Buddhism, they call this learning to ‘ride the dragon.’ As David Brazier puts it:

“These days…we are apt to seek out a therapist to…help us get the dragon back into its cave. Therapists of many schools will oblige in this, and we will thus be returned to what Freud called ‘ordinary unhappiness,’ and, temporarily, heave a sigh of relief, our repressions working smoothly once again. Zen, by contrast, offers dragon-riding lessons.”

The ten lessons in this book will help you to befriend and ride your own dragon. In summary, these lessons are:

  1. Prune carefully – or let go of what you don’t need.
  2. Recognise your renewal zones – or do things that make you feel alive.
  3. Catch the slide – or pay attention to what you’re feeling and thinking.
  4. Seek hidden possibilities – or practice gratitude and compassion.
  5. Engage the spiritual darkness – or face the problem with trust and courage.
  6. Pair clarity and kindness – or be honest with yourself but not cruel.
  7. Find love in small deeds – or pay attention to the little details of your life.
  8. Seek perspective daily – or don’t take it personally.
  9. Build a barrier of simplicity – or remember you already have what you need.
  10. Come home often – or turn inward and be still.

The guidance and wisdom in Riding the Dragon will help you to develop the courage and compassion to face the darkness in your life and really start to listen to what it’s trying to tell you. Periods of spiritual darkness can be tough, but you can find your way through if you’re willing to accept the truth that dragons are misunderstood. They’re just trying to show you the way home.

“We should not just be a fan of dragons; we should always be the dragon himself. Then we will not be afraid of any dragon.” – Shunryu Suzuki

Read an extract from Riding the Dragon: Engaging with Spiritual Darkness

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