I Met a Dragon in 2020
When you realize that a dragon is hiding somewhere, running away from it will only give it a chance to grow larger.
On New Year’s Eve, fires were spreading in Australia’s forests, a part of the disaster that later scorched an area of more than 16 million hectares. On the third day of 2020, the US dropped an attack on Baghdad International Airport. It killed a top Iranian military officer, Major General Qasem Soleimani. The action then sparked heated speculation on social media about the possibility of World War III. How shocking it was to enter the new year with the chance of world war. Meanwhile, coronavirus was detected and has spread in Wuhan, China.
On March 9, Italy placed 16 million people in quarantine to stop the spread of coronavirus. A day later, the quarantine was expanded to cover the entire country. The World Health Organization later announced that the outbreak of coronavirus is a global pandemic. The whole world then went through a period of isolation. Public service announcements are now speaking of the same notions everywhere: wear a mask, wash your hands regularly, and keep your distance.
Throughout 2020 we then begin to see how the pandemic and crisis begin to provoke the unfavorable part of us. It created a social panic that resulted in the hoarding of essential needs. The worst of it was the people hoarding things to sell it again at a higher price.
Psychologically speaking, the stay-at-home orders were also affecting our relationships. Research shows that families were experiencing family burnout from spending so much time together. With all these circumstances, it is not an exaggeration to say that 2020 is depressively a horrible time.
One morning, I received news that my colleague had passed away. The rising death toll is certainly enough to give me sorrow. But when one of the numbers is a person that was close to you, the despair quickly multiplies. Even so, I know that I am not alone in feeling this way. Many people are going through the same thing, even with more profound anxiety and grief; some may lose their parents, spouse, and maybe their children.
I was upset. Not only for the death of a colleague but also because I was scared. All of this time, I have certainly known that I can cease to exist anywhere at any time, but I consciously ignore it. I live and treat life as immortal, so it’s okay to waste the opportunity; after all, there is still tomorrow. It’s acceptable not to speak out my concerns; there’s still tomorrow anyway. But for god sakes, who knows? Who can guarantee that there is always tomorrow? I was naive, and it saddened me. I then came to a total realization of the fact that I’ve ever known: at some point in this life, I would die too.
I begin to feel this existential dread. Like suddenly, I’m in a rush to do everything. I need to work on this. I have to finish this. I must achieve that. I want to be in a better place. Move. Fast. Now.
Things turn into a mess. That state of mind was eating me up. It affects how I view the world, how I treat the people around me, and how I express my desires. I made mistakes. I hurt people’s feelings. I ended up ruining crucial things.
I was on the Sunday Mass, precisely before the first day of quarantine in Jakarta. Coronavirus has spread, and all the citizens were in collective anxiety about it. The priest then told the church that it is okay if we’re afraid and do not want to participate in the Eucharist. Because, as we know, it will be served in the same grail with just one spoon for the whole church. I saw people thinking twice before they got in the line, and this sense of doubt breaks my heart. It was the first time this idea struck me that everything is, undoubtedly, changing.
In the first month of quarantine, I have stocked some books to read, an online course to finish, and a list of ideas that I want to write. Everything was going well. I realize that this quarantine has a good effect on me; I can focus on things that I’ve postponed for so long. Like I have free time to meditate before breakfast since I don’t need to rush to be somewhere else.
But it turns out that the quarantine goes longer than I expected. I get bored. So now I have to look for things to excite me. I then remember this yoga class that I was eager to attend, but I never had time. And fortunately, they offer an online course now. Thank god. But again, after I finished all the lectures, the quarantine went on.
On a Holy Friday, my tears fell like never before. Seeing the live-stream of an empty church with candles on its bench while I’m praying in front of a laptop screen is not a thing that I would previously imagine. I miss people. I miss sitting on that bench. I miss seeing a stranger looking directly into my eyes.
It was during this time that my mind began to walk down the introspective road. It then morbidly morphs into an existential dread that puts me in a race against the clock. And the rest is a psychological disaster.
At some point between my restless thought and an overflowing sense of guilt, I remembered something: I planned to visit a Vipassana Center in Bogor before. Vipassana is a meditation practice that requires you to stop talking for ten straight days. Yes. When I miss having human contact and eager to explain myself for the things that went wrong so that people won’t mischaracterize me, my psyche reminds me that I have this plan to be in total silence. It started to feel like my conscience is actively guiding me and wants me to face myself first.
I then withdraw from everything; online courses, zoom meetings, or even just a video call with the loved ones. “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” wrote the French philosopher Blaise Pascal. I then decided to sit alone with my thoughts; to do some kind of Vipassana in my place.
During my self-isolation, I learned a lot about myself: my past, the things that I thought were mistakes, and all the feelings of loss that I never truly recovered from. Without fully aware, all of these things stay in my consciousness and silently affect all the decisions I made throughout my daily life. They like an invisible string attached to my psyche, controlling my sense of being. That deceives me to go on with everything while thinking that I am free.
Alain de Botton from School of Life says that this misjudgment of oneself is one of the prices we have to pay for being afraid of loneliness. When we are in constant companions, we stop evaluating ourselves; our ideas and feelings are always interfered with by others’ company. We then miss out on the opportunity to make friends with our minds, the possibility that only solitude would allow. Moreover, we use others as a distraction when any internal obstacles come into view. Charles Spurgeon once said,
“Beware of no man more than of yourself; we carry our enemies within us.”
In the classic story Alice in Wonderland, Alice doubtfully thought that she might be the wrong Alice. Because the true Alice ought to slay the Jabberwocky, a Dragon, and she doesn’t believe that she’s capable of doing that. You know how the story ends.
In this analogy, the Dragon is within us. And when you realize that a dragon is hiding somewhere, running away from it will only give it a chance to grow larger.
Consequently, the fear of loneliness is the reason for most of our sorrow. The instant fix of not being alone makes those who don’t have the strength to face themselves surrender to the toxic friendship, unhappy relationship, or even an unpleasant work environment.
So I face myself. I encounter the part of me that I previously ignored. And when I did it, it felt like when you went to the attic of your old house and found out that most of the things you thought were gone were there all this time. You just carefully pack it in a box and put it in a dark corner.
Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III
In his lecture series, The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories, Jordan Peterson elaborates on the meaning of sacrifice stories in the Bible. He said that the idea of sacrifices is related to the process of Self-Realization. In a concise and simplified summary, the process is like this: You acknowledge that there is a problem. You admit it and take it as your responsibility. And then you ask yourself, “how can I make it better?” Your conscience will then give you a glimpse of what you need to do, like a map to the closest heaven. But of course, it will not be easy. That’s the sacrifice. You offer your chance and possibilities of pleasures as a part of the deal with the divine, the future self that guides you through your conscience.
Peterson also explains the etymology of sin. He said that the word sin comes from the Greek word hamartánein, which means to miss the mark. This etymology of sin will be useful for the concept that I will elaborate on later.
These were the first things that I contemplated in my self-isolation. Moreover, I tried to understand the concept deeply by looking at its primary source, the Bible. And I found an essential part of the story that was not elaborate enough in Peterson’s lectures:
In chapter 6 of the book Leviticus, the Lord told the Israelites that they have to take two goats and present them before the Lord in The Day of Atonement. The first goat is for the blood offering, the sacrificial goat. And the second goat is for the sin confessions. Over this second goat, Israelites’ shamans have to confess all their wickedness and release the goat to the desert.
It turns out that there are two parts to the ritual of atonement: confession and sacrifice. And these two parts represent the past and the future. When the Israelites confess, they have to analyze their history. They need to look deeper with objective eyes to admit that they have done something wrong. You can’t reveal your sin without first acknowledging it. And to recognize the sin, we have to let go of our ego, our self-justification about the past.
This part of admitting that we are wrong is not easy. Jordan Peterson, in his lectures, compares this process with the story of Jesus taking away the sin of the world on his cross. When we took all the wrongdoing, all the action that causes us to miss the mark, we should no longer indulge ourselves with excuses like “the situation made me do it,” “it was the others that affected me to act that way,” and so on. When we confess, we must first realize that we are responsible for all of it. We took all sin in our world and nailed it in our cross.
And this is the part that burdens me the most. I can’t just say that I am responsible for all the mistakes in the past. It means that I have to forgive people, even the ones whose actions were terribly wrong. It took me hours of meditation to finally say that it is true. It was all on me. And here’s the thing, when I acknowledge myself as the one in charge, the one responsible for everything, I no longer crave an apology from the others. I can just easily let go. And that is another part of the story; the confessional goat must be alive for the ritual to be complete. The shamans did not kill the confessional goat. They just released it. And just like that, I realize that I don’t have to try to forget the past forcefully; all I have to do is let go.
Letting go of my mistakes and all the shadows were like my final confrontation with the Dragon within me. And it turns out that I don’t have to kill him. The past burden is like a thorn pierced in his tongue; it is the reason for all the rages and fires. When I let go, I pulled the thorn out. Like Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, a Hooligan Chief who knows how to train a Dragon once said, “I wouldn’t kill him (the Dragon) because he looked as frightened as I was. I looked at him, and I saw myself.”
The Dragon indeed is your shadow; in the Jungian psychological term. You don’t have to diminish the shadow; you just need to train and ride it. And that’s what I learned from my self-isolation.
I know, 2020 still sucks. And I’m aware that working on my inner peace will not have a significant impact on making the world a better place. But by not letting the external noise interfere with my well-being, I’ll be able to set my house in order, doing my things right and not worsening the world. Carl Jung once said that
it would simultaneously solve the social problem if you take a personal problem seriously enough.
Be Here Now
The Day of Atonement of the Israelites is related to the Day of Judgement in the New Testament. It constitutes the end of a cycle, a new beginning. And because the stories in Torah were influencing the Tarot, we can see The Judgement card is followed by The World and then back again to The Fool, the first card.
The Fool represents a man with a new spirit eager to walk his adventure. His eyes are looking at the sky. Amazed by everything, he’s like Adam on the first day of creation, experiencing the world with the unencumbered first sight. He is free from the pollution of the sense of knowing and mastery. All existence is nothing but a miracle moment by moment. This way of experiencing life is the next idea that I contemplate during my self-isolation. The notion is to build an awareness of the now and fully live in it.
Therefore, my view of time is no longer trapped in a cage of chronological order. Once I released the past and saw the future maps, I put myself back in a forever-present. I merge with the moment and am absorbed by the things that are currently in play. “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself,” Jesus said.
A Buddhist monk once explained that life is like listening to your favorite song. When you hear a song, you don’t rush to arrive at a certain point in the music; you just listen. Moreover, the good song is not the one with the most chords in it, nor the one played with many instruments. The good song is the one you enjoy. Therefore, I’m no longer in a rush for anything. Everything that happens is the music of the universe; all I have to do is dancing to it.
Of course, there will be times when the song feels so gloomy, and my body can no longer move like Jagger, but it is okay. Everything is part of the music, part of the performance, the dance of reality.