By Natalie Rivera
The hero goes about her adventure with gusto, reaching high and seeking next-level experiences. But she finds she often takes wrong turns or gets caught up with too much responsibility or overworking or being distracted or trying too hard to please others, and so she ends up stuck in a tar pit.
Losing oneself in an unfulfilling relationship—tar pit.
Avoiding problems and pain—tar pit.
Over-helping others (obligation)—tar pit.
Over-indulging food and drink—tar pit.
Pushing through pain and exhaustion—tar pit.
Repressing fear—tar pit.
Her heart longs for adventure and freedom from limitation and so she continues to reach for greatness, to seek adventure and to find new pathways, yet in her zest for forward movement she inevitably finds herself once again surprised to find herself wading through tar.
Eventually she awakens one day in the middle of an entire field of tar, so big the end cannot be seen. As she exhausts herself through a long journey, grasping and straining to claw her way out of the muck, she finds a clearing that is on high ground. She is pretty badly wounded, so she stays put for a while.
From there she can look back and see the zigzag of the paths she has taken and the tar pits where she almost lost herself. From this vantage point, she can see that her path led her back to the same pits more than once. She sees also that she was lucky because had she diverged from her path she could have fallen into a patch of deadly brambles or a lava field or become lost in the Forest of Lost Souls. It could have been worse.
She must have had an invisible guide watching out for her.
She has made it to a safe place. But this new plateau clearly has no way forward. It runs into a large mountain, too steep to climb. There is no way around it either. The only potential way forward is through a dark cave, the entrance of which is at the end of the clearing where she set up camp.
From this safe place, she can see any dangers coming. She feels above it all. There is no way back either because she does not want to make the same mistakes and trudge through more tar. Just the thought of it causes her body to shudder and her mind to shut down.
Part of her feels called to enter the cave and continue forward, but she can hear cries of a dragon off in the distance and feel the heaviness of the darkness seeping from within. Fear lurking in both directions, she contorts her desires to accept the most logical plan; to make this plateau a permanent home. From what she can see as she surveys the lands from above, there is nothing out there worth the risk. Her hard work and struggles got her to this elevated place, an insulated bubble. It has many of the features she once dreamed of, including the view. Isn’t this enough?
As she perfects her perch, she tries to drown out the aching cries of the dragon, who seems closer now to the mouth of the cave. The more she tries to be content with this new normal, the closer and closer the dragon feels.
The longer she rests on the plateau, the more comfortable and placated she feels. Her mind hones more and more on the present moment, the immediacy of her surroundings, and the apathy of safety. The longer she remains there, the foggier her memories become of the struggles and the joys of her journey, the farther away her dreams feel and the more she feels them fading. She becomes more content with isolation and more cut off from her soul’s longings. They threaten her peace.
The last thing she wants is to venture into the darkness of that cave and face that monster—the one she senses has been stalking her throughout her journey. But she starts to fear the dragon will never go away. It’s coming for her. She’ll be forced to face it if she doesn’t do so willingly, on her terms.
She races to block the mouth of the cave, but she cannot stifle the calls. She knows she is not strong enough to keep that thing caged forever. Not only does she fear the conflict of the battle and the vulnerability and unknown of the darkness, she fears the pain of seeing how grotesque the dragon has become due to years of neglect and abuse.
She fears she is not strong enough, that she will fail, or worst of all she fears that if she does make it through the cave victorious that on the other side of the mountain she’ll find only more paths through fields of lava and brambles, more tar pits and lost souls. Then she would really be trapped; no way out of this torturous life.
And so, she throws another log on the fire, turns up the sound in her ear pods, and adds new re-reinforcements to the wall that blocks the cave. She adorns her fortress with another object of beauty. She stays busy and puts all visions beyond this moment of relative contentment and safety out of her mind, until a rare moment of quiet and stillness quiets her mind enough that a vision of her forgotten dreams comes to life.
She sees a vision of the other side of the mountain pass. She sees herself emerging with a new sense of clarity and confidence, an aliveness she has long since forgotten. Indeed, she sees the same type of landscape before her, but with some new features and possibilities. More than anything, the difference lies in her new perspective. From her new vantage point, she can clearly see the pathways that do not lead close to traps and pitfalls. She wonders why she had never seen this truth before.
Then she remembers the dragon and wonders what came of it during her passageway through the cave—the journey she must have completed in order to arrive on the other side. A warm snout touches her hand, and she looks down to see an adorable baby dragon looking up at her eagerly. The dragon’s eyes tell her the answer—she had not the ability to see her true path before because her eyes were clouded by the fog of that which she refused to see.
Only by facing her fear and taming her dragon could the fog be lifted.
She suddenly awakens to the sound of the dragon calling to her from the cave. For the first time she recognizes the voice—it is her own. Her hands shake as she gets up, stokes the fire, and begins her plans for dismantling the wall. She knows what she needs to do. She knows that the vision she saw was real, although now that she is awake the fogginess has mostly returned. But deep within herself she can feel the spark that was re-ignited by the vision. She feels the fear of vulnerability and pain and failure in her gut, but her heart aches for fulfillment of the life it knows is possible for her—on the other side of the mountain.
Now when she thinks about the dragon she fears, she feels a deep compassion for it. She feels its pain. And she knows deeply she will never be at peace or fulfilled until she faces her dragon—faces herself—and enters the cave with the resolve to never, ever turn back.