This month I’ve been focusing on the universally iconic figure of the dragon. (See my last two posts: Happy Dragon of Wales and The Dragon and the Heroine’s Journey.) So here’s the third and final musing. Fittingly, today’s offering is about the mythical dragon of China on the actual date of the Chinese Year of the Dragon.
In Asia, the year of the dragon is cause for great celebration, for the dragon represents exuberant, dynamic creativity, as well as potent powers including control over water. And it’s a symbol of strength and good luck. In energy-flow terms, the dragon is yang, with its counterpart being the yin Phoenix. The dragon symbol often represents the Emperor, while the Phoenix represents the Empress. Historically, coil-shaped jade badges have been excavated and dated as early as 4700 BC. And in 300 BC a record documents the discovery of dinosaur or “dragon” bones, and the Chinese word for dinosaur is translated as “terrible dragon.”
There are interesting distinctions between the Occidental and Oriental version of the dragon. In the West, the dragon has wings and breaths fire. In the East, the dragon is serpentine and without wings, but with multiple sets of feet that have particular significance in an elaborate hierarchy of metaphor. Where in the West, we tend to think of the red dragon as a symbol of evil, something to be defeated, in the East, people celebrate the red dragon’s power, embracing its qualities as useful and practical. And while the West’s dragon manifests aggression, the East’s symbolizes culture and sophistication.
One quality shared by both Eastern and Western dragons is their magical capabilities. According to story and legend, the Chinese dragon can shape-shift, acquiring the forms of other animals, or humans, and of water in its many iterations. Perhaps one of the most potent gift of this Asian icon is its ability to make things appear.
So, in this new year of the dragon, how will we go about manifesting that which we desire in our lives? If we stick to logic, we’ll have goals, charts, schedules, plans, strategies, logistics, and all the meetings and technologies needed to enact everything we hope to achieve. This is certainly the “head” approach, and it has great validity. We tend to trust this approach with its quantifiable results. We can take these results “to the bank,” advertise our “proven reliability,” and back up each venture with a solidly logical thesis.
But what about that which is illogical? A dragon that doesn’t actually exist, yet is invoked as a symbol of power isn’t logical. Yet as a metaphor, it helps us access the inexplicable, reminding us to make room in our lives for that which we cannot predict. Since I grew up in Asia, I have some experience with this dragon. At age nine, while walking to class across the campus of the American School in Japan, I was interrupted by a request to come directly to the Principal’s office. At that moment, this seemed as terrifying as a dragon rearing its head right in front of me. Instead, however, it turned out that a scout from NHK television had seem me in a school play, and was inviting me to audition for a new series. I got the part, and for the next few years performed in an English-language drama designed to assist Japanese students. It was an honor to work with experienced professionals, a thrill to reach so many fellow students from another culture, and the beginning of a television career.
It was also an element of magic. I didn’t actually do anything to make that audition happen. I just pursued what I loved and enjoyed that potent child-wonder that knows special things can and do occur. It’s the kind of heart-knowledge that turns out to be so valuable in the grown-up world. It’s what makes us pursue unusual ideas, and ask ourselves, “why not?” It’s the quality that made J.K. Rowling write down her unlikely story idea (think Harry Potter); that made Buckminster Fuller think outside the square and instead use the triangle as his building block (think geodesic dome); and that made me create a radio drama when everyone told me radio drama had been over and done for decades (think Milford-Haven USA). This year, let’s use our heads to create fantastic plans; then let’s open our hearts to see what kind of magic the dragon will bring.
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