“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
I have been in the magical city of Kwaków, Poland now for a week, grateful for the chance to pause and take a breath. Kraków is crackling with artists, culture, intellectual life and political activity, cafes, restaurants, museums, galleries, palaces and theaters. It is rich in historic architecture that includes Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic buildings, never bombed during World War II because it was the headquarters of the Nazi occupation. In my long, ambling walks through the cobblestone streets, I have been delighted by breakdancers, accordion players, opera singers and flocks of low-flying pigeons in the main market square.
I stopped in Kraków to facilitate an online training back home and to participate in a virtual retreat with 400 people from around the world as a part of a 2-year trauma healing program with my teacher, Thomas Hübl. In this work, we are learning how to slow down, deeply attune with ourselves and with each other, and meet whatever arises with full permission and presence. I am learning to respect the intelligence and pacing of my nervous system in all the ways it has developed to keep me safe. This retreat is creating a space for me to digest and integrate the experience – the ancestral beauty and trauma both – allowing the tears to flow from the river of these lands.
I feel raw. I feel tender. I feel molten. Waves of heat keep moving through my body from the inside out. In part, because I am beginning menopause and my body is physically changing. In part, because serpentine energies are slithering through my spine as I transform old patterns, shed layer upon layer and grow new skin. Releasing effort is a relief and the essence what is transforming within me. I have long been a seeker, a doer, working hard to discover my purpose, to prove myself, to belong and find home. This pilgrimage to connect with my people has helped me love and accept myself more deeply. Life is already and always moving through me. I don’t have to try so damn hard! I can rest in my being and trust in emergence. Whew.
Yesterday, I went to Wawel Castle, where kingdoms in this country reigned for hundreds of years. Amidst the castle grounds was a legendary dragon’s lair. I descended down the spiral staircase of the old brick Thieves’ Tower into a cave, formed nearly 12 million years ago inside the Jurassic limestone. The air was cool inside the cavern and the walls were wet. Something in me lights up and comes alive inside of caves. Perhaps I am also a descendent of dragons?
Legend has it that an evil dragon lived here during the reign of King Krakus, the city’s founder, who especially enjoyed eating young maidens. He was killed by a cobbler who tricked him into eating a lamb stuffed with sulfur. Dragons get a bad rap. Dragons are actually intelligent, brave, mystical, nonbinary beings who contain a balance of both feminine and masculine energies, helping us to restore those energies in ourselves. All these stories of heroes slaying evil dragons mimic the propaganda of patriarchy that has demonized and suppressed the feminine, along with trans and gender nonconforming people, as witches, deviants or worse. Patriarchy glorifies war, violence and conquest and has brought us to the brink of annihilation on our beautiful planet home. Let us lay down the swords of an imperialist heteronormative white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, please, and start making more art and pierogies!
A part of this journey for me has been to heal this wound of toxic masculinity inside my own body, the ways I have internalized this suppression of my divine nature. My father left when I was young and stopped speaking to me in the last years of his life over a disagreement about the misogyny of Brett Kavanaugh. His father fought in World War II, struggled with schizophrenia and left the family without a trace. His father before him had to leave his homelands and died young, leaving my great-grandmother a monolingual Polish-speaking widow with 6 children to raise. My mother’s father was a frustrated and abusive man. He was divorced twice before he married my Grandma, both times the reason cited in the records was “extreme cruelty”. He often beat her and his children. And yet, I look at these sweet images of my Grandpa, holding my brother’s teddy bear and wearing a fireman’s hat as he played with us, and I can see there is a soft underbelly in there that never got nurtured. As Aurora Levins Morales often says, “underneath every atrocity lies the story of a wound.” How can we more lovingly hold the hurt in our pain bodies and breathe life back into where our hearts went numb?
‘Dragons possess great mastery over fire and light. Dragons awaken. Dragons emerge. Dragons reveal. They are one of the most loving, gentle, and powerful species in the macroverse. Dragons are considered the way-showers, illuminating the path of most harmony and directing light energy toward that destination. So with this beautiful and inspirational power comes the responsibility to direct energy only toward compatible resonant energy fields. Dragons are the keepers of treasures.’ – Amanda Gifford
I call upon the ferocious gentleness of dragons to help me tend the father wounds and be with the vulnerable parts within me. To include it all, leaving nothing out. As we are collectively burning ourselves up in heat waves and wildfires around the globe, I make an offering to Smok Wawelski, the fire-breathing Wawel Dragon and pray that we may restore the sacred balance, learn from the forces of fire and smoke, live in right relationship and awaken our latent powers of love. As Thomas says, integrated history becomes presence and we no longer have to repeat the traumatic patterns of the past. We can liberate the future by directing our attention to the wounds with intention and care.
I also made my way to the world’s oldest salt mine, which opened in the 13th century, producing salt until 2007, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Wieliczka Salt Mine has over 124 miles of passageways and drops down 1000 feet into the earth. On a 3-hour tour, we could only descend 400 feet into its subterranean depths and see just 1% of the mine. It is massive. Its multitude of chambers are filled with many-tiered chandeliers, breathtaking sculptures and full-sized chapels – all carved by Polish miners entirely out of salt. I have been thinking of my people as “salt of the earth” and this literally proves it!
As we wandered through the labrynth of rock salt tunnels and underground cathedrals that took centuries to mine by hand and horse, I marveled at the human drive to create beauty out of pain. I also contemplated the Polish tradition to make offerings of salt when honoring the ancestors, perhaps to purify, enhance and preserve the nutrients of our lineages, as salt does with food. May I honor my Polish ancestors, by becoming salt of this earth, pure and savory, preserving the practices needed for our survival and adding a little flavor to the mix.
And speaking of flavor! I realized that I couldn’t leave Poland without learning how to make pierogies, so I took a cooking class with Olga. She walked us through the bustling farmer’s market to get our ingredients and then back to her kitchen to make and roll the dough. I put prayers for peace into the filling of potatoes, fresh cheese and caramelized onions and thoroughly enjoyed each bite. We toasted our dumpling success with some sips of her mama’s potato moonshine 🙂 Here’s to ending the machinations of war! Cheers! Na Zdrowie!
This incredible city of Kraków reminds me that the gritty and the glorious, the sacred and mundane all come from the same Source. They are just wrapped up in different packages.
Everywhere you look, if you look closely enough, there is beauty. So look! Petals of the wild grow stealthily along the asphalt of ordinary urban sidewalks and within the hidden chambers of your own beating heart.