By Kellie Schorr
I’ve been involved with role playing games since Dungeons and Dragons was played on graph paper with an encyclopedia set of instructions that looked like the love child of quantum physics and Boris Vallejo.
When the tiny statues and funny dice gave way to game consoles, I played Sword of Vermillion on Sega in full 8-bit glory. As I matured to middle age, so did the games. Now there are game environments to simulate every aspect of life. Thus, it was no surprise that I ended up as an avatar (with stunningly beautiful pixel hair and perfect posture) meditating with a group of Buddhists in an online simulated Buddhist sangha.
The sim features beautiful temples, waterfalls, and lotus paths across misty rivers. In a computer programmed world where people can fly, or be an animal, or build a space station with the click of a button, the sangha is grounded as a realistic Buddhist center.
“All avatars must be human in form, clothed, and standard in size,” the rules at the entry to the sim said. The rationale was clear and easy to understand. While the game environment encouraged virtual reality, the sangha was focused on finding reality virtually. It would be distracting to have someone in the session who was a panther, a mouse, or the size of a giant. The case was closed.
Until it wasn’t.
I logged on for a session that conveniently ran during my lunch hour and positioned my computer camera to look at the teacher on her cushion. She rang the little gong and was just beginning a chant when I noticed a golden tail moving on the corner of my screen. I rotated the camera. Between Sara, a young woman from Minnesota who loved the northern lights, and Rosalie, an older Spanish Buddhist who was always the first to welcome everyone, there was a large, fire-eyed, green bodied with golden highlights dragon named Sorith of DragonSpire.
Oh. My. Buddha. There was a dragon in our room.
The teacher continued chanting. Normally I would be following along reciting the words to the chant, but my eyes kept darting to the visitor. Was anyone going to say anything? Why does his tail swish back and forth? It was making me crazy. All the avatars remained on their little round zafus in their pixel perfect posture and there he was, such a huge monster the cushion was completely obscured by his big green thighs. We were reciting the Heart Sutra, but in my head it sounded like:
Therefore let Dragon Dragon
Dragon Dragon Dragon Dragon,
the Dragon that Brings Us Dragon
Dragon, Dragon, Paragate, Dragongate, Dragon Svaha!”
The teacher gave a lesson on something to do with some idea. I wouldn’t know. I was clearly lost in a medieval moment. We dedicated the merit of our study to all beings (including dragons, apparently) and I watched as Sorith stood up and bowed a deep, shimmering bow while billows of smoke came through his nostrils.
I managed to get back to work and go on with my day, but every time I thought of it, I steamed. Why don’t people read the rules? How disrespectful is it to distract all of us from the teaching? Was he just showing off his avatar? Did he even practice Buddhism? Bah. Humbug.
Later that night I tattled to the one person I knew would understand.
“This guy came to the sangha for today’s dharma talk as a dragon!” I told my partner, sure she would affirm my complete agitation about this event.
“What did you learn today?”
“I didn’t learn anything. I was too distracted by the dragon in the room.”
She looked up from the paper she was reading.
“There was a DRAGON in temple today!” I growled.
“Honey,” she said, sweetly, in her most patient, “I love nerds” voice. “It’s okay.”
“It’s against the rules,” I protested, “and disrespectful.”
She put her hand beside her mouth and whispered dramatically as if we were being taped by the CIA.
“It’s not a real dragon.”
How many times does that happen in life? We get upset, distracted, spend our nights lying awake in some terror stricken story about how a job might get lost, a friend might be sick, a co-worker could be dishonest, or a something might be wrong on the internet?
How many times have we analyzed the seconds it took for someone to text us back, scanning our offering to make sure it wasn’t unclear or accidentally offensive? How often does our tone change from compassion to sharp bursts of defensiveness as we stand before our lover thinking, “What was THAT supposed to mean?”
How many tears have we cried, hours of sleep have we lost, and opportunities to share love have we trampled, before someone or something made us realize that thing causing our issues wasn’t a real dragon after all?
The best way to handle anything swishing its disruptive fear-based tail in your face is to engage in direct dealing. Not with the dragon, of course. With yourself. More often than not, when you really reflect on your fear, anger, or righteous indignation you’ll discover the real dragon in the room is you.
After some time to calm down and get rid of your fire breath, take a few minutes to meditate or center yourself and engage the beast directly, compassionately, and courageously. Ask yourself the necessary questions and be willing to give the honest answer. If it were spoken out loud, the internal dialogue would sound something like this:
“Why does this bother you so much?”
Because it is against the rules.
“Are they your rules?”
No, but I follow them.
“What does that have to do with him?”
Nothing. But if I follow them and he doesn’t, it’s not fair.
So I’m tired of always being on the short end of unfair. I follow and I listen and I work and everyone else does whatever the hell they want and gets by with it.
“Is he getting something at the Sangha you aren’t?”
So, I’m just tired of feeling like my effort doesn’t matter.
I feel like I don’t matter. Like I’m not seen anymore. Like I’m not even here.
“And the dragon has…”
Nothing to do with it.
For you the conversation may be different. It may be:
“Why do I get so snarky the moment my sister-in-law walks into the room?”
Because she acts like she’s better than me.
“Is she better than you?”
“Then why does it matter how she acts?”
It’s annoying. Her kids are so perfect and her job just keeps getting better and better. She’s so freaking healthy.
“And it annoys you because?”
Because my kids aren’t perfect and I hate my job. I want to eat healthy but at the end of the day I don’t have enough energy to slice a pizza, let alone chop a salad and sear some salmon.
“Do your kids need to be perfect?”
No. My kids are awesome.
“Do you need to have this job.”
Well, I have to have a job that makes as much as mine.
“Are there other jobs like it?”
I can look. If I can find one, it might be time for a change. I’m so ready for a change…
It is not the case where every single situation and person who rubs you the wrong way is simply triggering a reaction to your own needs, lacks or issues. Some situations really are terrible and require immediate change.
But you’re not going to know which are the dragons and which are just you, draggin’ yourself though the mud of life, until you deal directly with the source of the fire.
Sorith kept coming to temple and the group admins rescinded the “human only” rule. They wanted the sangha to be a place of open practice, not closed minds. They trusted us to manage our own distraction. They trusted us to be able to tell a real dragon from an imaginary one.
By that time, I trusted myself to do that too.
Photo: Adobe Stock
Editor: Dana Gornall