A young friend of mine, who was 17 years-old when we met, was going through what so many young men his age go through today in this sick society. He was uninterested in education, heavily into drugs and partying, mixed up with the wrong crowd, and so warped with anger that he couldn’t control himself, even in the face of the law.
He and I clicked immediately, kindred spirits of sorts, and he opened up to me about his life. He had been kicked out of school for being intensely violent, and he was on probation and facing the prospect of juvenile detention, but was still selling drugs and just not giving a fuck. His good friend, a high-school kid, had just been murdered, stabbed some 77 times or so, but this young friend of mine was too ‘hard’ to grieve or show sadness. Or so he thought at the time.
We met at an ayahuasca retreat. The young man’s parents were very spiritual people, you see, and they had lived amazing, conscious lives enriched by introspection and self-exploration, and marked with abundance in wealth and happiness. Yet, no matter how deeply they longed to help, they couldn’t figure out how to set their boy on a meaningful path. All seemed lost to them, so as a last resort they escorted the kid to the jungle.
Next to this young man in a hammock all night during his first ever medicine ceremony, I was taken by the fact that he never moved, not once, the entire journey. Some 9 hours motionless in a hammock he laid in a deep trance, as if asleep. In the morning he and I sat together in a tropical garden listening to the waves of the Pacific crash upon the nearby beach, and he described to me his journey.
He drank a single cup of brew, he told me, and watched as his everyday self melted away and his consciousness was transported into another realm where he waged an all night war for survival. When he had arrived in this realm, he found that he was mounted on a magnificent dragon, a mighty and benevolent beast, unstoppable, unshakable, and utterly fearless. This was his true self revealed, for the kid was no doubt a warrior, albeit a lost warrior.
For nine hours in the saddle on this primal beast he waged a fierce war for his life. Locked in air-to-air combat, he was assailed non-stop by malicious dragons, one after another, hour after hour. They came to him as beasts of destruction, of illness, of greed, of damnation, of fire and brimstone, self-destruction, and of hate and anger.
One after another, from atop his mighty dragon, he slew each and every one of these devilish creatures, cutting them down with a finely honed blade, engaging them in aerial dogfights, valiantly slashing at them with his sword, screaming and howling, madly fighting them off.
When the light of day began to cut through the interminable darkness and the ceremony came to a close, there he was, still in a trance, flying high above vast valleys and over massive mountainous peaks. Below him, everywhere, laid the scattered and bloodied carcasses of his foes, the dragons who fought so viciously to take him down, now all dead, all smote by his own hand. He was victorious.
My young friend was never the same after that. His life immediately pivoted one-hundred-eighty degrees. He negotiated with the court to avoid prison. He nailed his high school equivalency test and left his friends and his hometown behind embarking on a mission to master himself and to help others. He went to the Amazon and studied plant medicine with traditional masters, and eventually came back to the states to study permaculture and to work with a youth organization helping kids like him find their way.
I was reminded of this story recently while I was reflecting on my own inner journey, my own quest for peace and purpose. Unlike him, though, my dragons were conquered with books, with knowledge, with the wisdom and experience put down on paper by other souls who’d made the hero’s journey and had returned home with a pearl, a gift to share for whomever may need it.
There are so many books that have changed my outlook or have inspired me to take my life more seriously and to treat myself with more care and more respect. Books have taught me to love myself and to forgive myself, so I thought to share just three of them here, in the hopes of paying it forward to others who are seeking a victorious way out of the darkness, and an end to the everyday struggle of existence.
We all have malevolent dragons that must be checked if we are to individuate and step into our power. We all have gifts to offer in this world of competition, but for many of us, these gifts lay hidden in the caverns of the unconscious mind, recognizable as self-doubt, as fear, as helplessness, and as self-destruction and confusion.
Perhaps these books will work their powerful magic for others.
1.) Man and His Symbols by Carl Gustav Jung
The voluminous works of renowned psychoanalyst Carl Jung are unrivaled in value with regards to insight on the phenomenon of personal transformation. While the bulk of his works are largely academic and scholarly in nature, making them somewhat dry to the lay person, Man and His Symbols was a successful attempt to make the breadth of his message available in a singular volume, easy to understand and directed at the everyday seeker of inner truth.
The importance of recognizing myth, symbolism, archetypes, synchronicity, dreams, and the contents of unconscious mind as signposts on the path toward a life worth living is critical to the process of awakening. This book is absolutely essential for understanding the hidden forces at play in our daily lives, and at drawing them out in the open so they can then be used as allies.
Every transformation demands as its precondition “the ending of a world”-the collapse of an old philosophy of life. ~ C. G. Jung, Man and His Symbols
2.) The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
American mythologist and scholar Joseph Campbell was especially gifted with the power of translating collective myth into personal guidance. Of his many works, The Hero With a Thousand Faces pulls together the stories of many human cultures, past and present, in order to reveal the timeless that we are all the same, and that the journey from birth to death is a grand adventure, if we will only make the choice to follow our bliss.
The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization. As he crosses threshold after threshold, conquering dragon after dragon, the stature of the divinity that he summons to his highest wish increases, until it subsumes the cosmos. Finally, the mind breaks the bounding sphere of the cosmos to a realization transcending all experiences of form – all symbolizations, all divinities: a realization of the ineluctable void. ~Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces
3.) The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
Written by the contemporary historical fiction writer Steven Pressfield, this simple, short book does something imperative for those who are struggling to realize their purpose and see their greatest dreams become reality. The War of Art identifies, defines and precisely explains how to overcome the regressive force which keep us from taking action in pursuit of our true purpose. He calls it Resistance.
To Pressfield, Resistance is a vicious and unforgiving dragon, standing firmly between us as we are and us as we wish to be. This book is essential for its clarity and practicality, for any dream, any venture, any goal, and any hope we have requires action over the inertia of Resistance.
Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be.
Look in your own heart. Unless I’m crazy, right now a still small voice is piping up, telling you as it has ten thousand times, the calling that is yours and yours alone. You know it. No one has to tell you. And unless I’m crazy, you’re no closer to taking action on it than you were yesterday or will be tomorrow. You think Resistance isn’t real? Resistance will bury you. ~Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
Not everyone is meant to, or able to go on an exotic plant medicine journey where the ancient spirit of a sacred vine vividly reveals to us our demons, as happened to my young friend. Not all of us are meant to have that kind of experience. Yet, we do all struggle with overcoming that which holds us back, and there is nothing more valuable in the struggle for personal triumph than the experience and wisdom available to us in literature.
It is my sincerest wish that this message will reach those who need it most and will offer them an unforeseen chance at winning the war against themselves.