The fiery gifts of the dragon

First – look the dragon in the eye

Two weeks ago, a board I serve on was brave enough to look the dragon in the eye and see the truth: it was time to let our organization die with dignity. Despite her fading spirit, we were expending excessive energy keeping her alive. Before it faded too far, we needed to find a new home for her spirit, a place to serve what she longs to be today, without the substantial, gloomy baggage that has been bringing her down and holding back her potential for years.

The people closest to her heart, the board of directors, knew the status quo was no longer possible. We named the decision to celebrate her dignities and wind down her current ‘home’ so she could have a fresh start in the fullness of possibility. As we started to talk to others, in confidence, to figure out how to do this with the greatest of care, a colleague and friend tweeted the news out to the world. We were chucked under the bus, unable to get up when battered with accusations of misconduct and hate mail. Our ability to respond well to reasonable demands for information were lack-lustre. We weren’t ready because we were just figuring out how to handle the news ourselves. Everyone was hurting.

But let’s pause here for a moment . . .

The dynamics in play are bigger than the people involved, including me and my twitter friend. It is a cultural norm to do whatever is necessary to deny endings, and in doing so we refuse to see the possibilities that come with an ending. An ending does not have to be an end. It is only a catastrophic birth – a transition from one stable state of being to another stable state of being with a messy, awful feeling in the middle.

Assume for a moment my colleages and I were accurate in discerning a diagnosis of “terminal illness” for our organization (I’m always open to a second, informed opinion). As we reached our decision that day, we realized that we had been experiencing the stages of loss and grief (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross humans feel when facing death in loved ones. Our love for our organization and the loss and grief of its end are no different:

  1. We denied the reality of the situation. We found endless reasons and means to keep her alive. We blocked out the facts.
  2. We were angry. We looked for other people to blame for our situation.
  3. We were bargaining. We looked for excuses, recognizing that if we had only (insert action here), we would be ok now.
  4. We were crying. We were sad and low, full of regret. We wished it didn’t come to this, wished we could have done a better job. We wished the facts didn’t say what they said.
  5. We accepted that death was inevitable. This wasn’t a matter of giving up, but rather choosing to be in a good relationship with our organization – and her membership –  for her last days, enabling us to retrieve all her goodness to share with others. We no longer needed to know why, no longer needed an explanation.

This is what transition feels like, when we move from one reality to a new reality. A typical first reaction is that we don’t want change so we deny the transition is needed or we get angry. These are natural human reactions my colleagues and I recognized in ourselves, and we knew would be experienced by the members of our organization.  This is exactly what happened after the tweet and the ‘diagnosis’ spread: demands for facts, new facts, better facts, precise facts; anger and fury and frustration; and even bargaining to find a way to keep her alive.

My sadness in this whole endeavour comes not in the death of the organization, because I accept that it is the right thing to do, but in our inability to tend and care for the people affected by the diagnosis. We did not have an opportunity to figure out how to do the ‘ending’ work with care. In an effort to make me feel better, a friend said to me, “the band-aid came off quick and at least the band-aid is off now.” My colleagues and I feel like someone swooped in an punched us in the face before pulling the band-aid off. Mostly, I feel bad that there was no opportunity to care for people, even to feed them the facts they were looking for. We had just reached the realization ourselves and it wasn’t as simple as, “the cancer has spread throughout your chest cavity and is inoperable.”  It’s like the doctor’s friend took on sharing the doctor’s diagnosis because it seemed like the patient shouldn’t have to wait a day or two, even though the doctor had a role to gather the evidence in a way that would be helpful for the patient. It was the doctor’s information to share, not the friend’s.

Second – trial by dragon

I feel a dragon in my midst.

The ultimate dragon is within you, it is your ego clamping you down.
Jospeph Campbell

The dragon isn’t my friend, but rather the feeling of betrayal, swooping down on me each day, breathing hot fires of sickness and disappointment on me. Searing tears from a wound deep down in my soul come forth, rocking me, demanding a deeper-than-usual inquiry between my ego-self and my Higher Self. A Higher Self that is not from a ‘high’ place, but a deep place. I need new language to describe my Higher Self, but I’m struggling to find it. My Deeper Soul-Self?

… it’s not about what the dragon looks like; it’s about what the dragon activates inside of us that makes it so difficult to face.
Sera Beak

The metaphor, or symbol, of the dragon has shown up a few places this week, calling me to look at what is difficult for me to face inside me, not in the outside world. The friend that betrayed my confidence is a metaphorical dragon. What does the betrayal activate?

The important thing to remember about dragons is that they guard our buried treasure. When a dragon appears, it means gold is right behind it… if we have the courage to stand our ground and fully meet it.
It is Meeting time…
Sera Beak

Here’s the gold I met behind the dragon: the truth is I don’t believe I am good enough. Deep down, my ego-self believes I deserve to be taken out at the knees. Deep down, my ego-self believes I deserve to have 200 colleagues continue to kick me while I’m down.

The true betrayal is that I have betrayed myself.

We’re our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves.
Tom Robbins

The betrayal has nothing to do with whether I was right or wrong when it came to ending an organization. That was right. The betrayal was my lack of confidence in trusting the decision we made, and feeling shaky about that decision in the face of powerful forces that work hard to keep change from happening, that keep improvements and evolution at bay. It was a much deeper betrayal.

It was a test of me, revealing that my ego-self does not trust my Higher Self, my inner authority, or my Deeper Self, my Soul Authority.

That is the power of the status quo – it works deep inside of me. Even when I feel I am immune to it, I am not. It is deeply at work, tricking me into feeling weak, tricking me into thinking that transition is not what I want. All along, it was lulling me into indifference, denial, anger, bargaining and tears. Then undermining even my acceptance of Me.


The powerful force in the world that does not want change works on my ego as much as it works on others’ ego.

Third – receive fiery gifts 

In unwrapping the betrayals I am experiencing, I have so far received 10 fiery gifts from the dragon’s mouth.

What I now understand about the world around me:

  1. There are unconscious energies running the show. Huge forces are at work, at every scale, to keep us where we are. They are all around us and all within us, at times healthy and at other times unhealthy.
  2. And they take whatever action necessary. The systems in which we work are attached to the status quo and will work hard against anything new that will cause upheaval. The systems, and the people in it, will go to great lengths to maintain the status quo.
  3. We spend vast amounts of human energy on denial and anger. We deny transition, often without even thinking about it. We hunker down in anger and join in mob-like defiance of realizations we don’t want to acknowledge. We are quick to fuel the status quo, often unconsciously, saying things we regret later. A friend and colleague was saddened by the sharp words he spoke in the emotion of the situation: “you should be ashamed of yourselves.”
  4. The words ‘this isn’t personal’ are code for ‘this is personal.’ When angry, we often say and think that our attacks on others are not personal, that we do not mean to hurt others. The truth is that the speaker is hurting and the words allow the speaker to deny the hurt within himself or herself. It is personal, just not where s/he thought. Transition hurts.
  5. Possibility for the new is more nourishing than the anger and denial that fuels the status quo. There’s a tipping point where serving the status quo, or some hybrid of it, takes more energy than switching gears to fuel a fresh start. But the myth of stability and the status quo will tell us this is not so, fuelling us with denial and anger and a misplaced investment of our energy. There is a point in the transition from the old to the new where there is more energy for the new possibility. The trick is in noticing when this happens.
  6. The birth of a new system is impersonally personal. Even though our reactions to change are personal – it hurts – the changes themselves are not personal. Perhaps it is the impersonal nature of the world around us that hurts us. The Universe is not conspiring to personally attack you or me, but it is sending us experiences from which to learn. Maybe it is personal; just not how we think it is.

What I now understand about me in the world:

  1. I am capable of listening to, and hearing, a great deal of anger aimed at me. While not fun, I am capable of sitting through hours of what a colleague named as a “public stoning.” I recognize hate mail as an expression of anger and denial – and hurt.
  2. My ego-self is hurting, but not all of me. The parts of me not hurt are able to listen to my ego-self and hear her story. My Higher Self and my Deeper Soul-Self are able to see the bigger picture and support and witness the agony of my ego-self.
  3. I do not need to ‘fight’ to make my ego-self feel better. I do not need to hunker down into anger and denial of my own feelings and fight back. That makes it impossible for others to begin to hear themselves.
  4. The friend is not the ‘enemy’. I am just as capable as others of making decisions that hurt other people. My twitter friend is as human as I am. The trust is gone, but not the human I know and recognize as part of a powerful game bigger than the decision to share confidential information. If I put my personal energy in conflict with the friend, I give my energy to the forces that demand the status quo and suck the life out of anything new.

From a short distance of time, I see that the essential kernel of truth is out there – that the status quo of our organization is no longer possible. While sad we were unable to share this realization in a healthy way, I trust that this is how it needed to happen. An effort is underway to renew life support, and perhaps this long absent cry for life will embolden her spirit, or, better yet, fuel the fresh start that is waiting for our energy.

My fresh start is elsewhere.

This is my next discernment.

Fourth – the catastrophe of birth

These words of Joseph Campbell – the catastrophe of birth – help me see that what feels catastrophic is a flag for transition in me.  I am letting parts of me die off, and welcoming deeper, truer parts of me.

A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed. It may also posess you completely. Whatever; eventually it will out. It will make its claim. [It] will not go away.
James Hillman

I am engaging in extreme – but humane – self-inquiry, and I have a choice to make. Will I midwife myself into being more Me?

… there comes a point in your path where you need to fiercely embrace that which you are still in the process of becoming.
Sera Beak

There is a fiery Beth emerging. In dancing with dragons, she will shed her skin over and over again, renewing and regenerating, ever finding ways to live from and embody her Soul.

Every ending is a beginning.

The Ultimate ride for me isn’t about losing any part of my Self; rather, it’s about coming into conscious alignment with every part of my Self.
Sera Beak



Survival systems

This is the headline that wrapped up my hiking trip on the West Coast Trail a week ago today:  Rescuers from Comox had to Overcome Bad Weather.

Shifting to survival senses

With four fabulous days of hiking and hard work behind us, and only two days ahead of us, my brother broke his ankle.  In a moment our journey shifted from exploring a beautiful land and shore to a journey of a different sort: ensuring his well-being and survival.

I blew SOS on my whistle.  No answer.  We were alone.  I pulled out my cell phone to call the emergency phone number given to us at the trailhead but calls could not leave my phone.  The instructions said not to call 911, but I tried anyway.  It went through.  I introduced myself and the situation and requested evacuation off the West Coast Trail.  The response: “Is that in the United States?”

I was patched through five places before I found Purnell and Shannon, the West Coast Trail search and rescue personnel.  At last, someone knew where we were and that we needed help.  We were to sit tight until they determined what action to take and called us back.

But they couldn’t call back.

My phone could not make or receive calls.

This might look like it is the beginning of a bad story, but it isn’t.  I made contact with a sliver of the emergency response system on Canada’s west coast.  I am just now grasping the sheer size and significance of the organizations and institutions that got my brother to safety and set him up well and quickly to begin his healing journey.

19 Wing Badge

In the big picture, several institutions were in service.  All the operators who helped me get through to Purnell and Shannon.  They ascertained that it was not possible for my brother to get off the trail on his own or carried down by stretcher, night was falling and the weather deteriorating, they called the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria.  This engaged 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron and 19 Wing, Canada’s only air force base in British Columbia, out of Comox.

The face of all the help behind the scenes began with Search and Rescue Technicians (SAR Techs) Chris and Marc (with a ‘c’).  Since there was not enough fuel to get my brother straight to the hospital in Victoria, the airport got involved, as well as Tracy and her partner with BC Ambulance.  Then all the emergency room staff, who were waiting and fabulous.  And the x-ray gal.  And the orthopedic floor staff, the surgery staff and a physiotherapist.  And all of the systems behind the scenes that enable these people to do their work: the mechanics, accountants, managers, support staff, building maintenance personnel, lab technicians, including the providers of fuel and energy for all of this to work.  Everything just got looked after once I told the system help was needed from a tiny phone on kilometre 33 of the West Coast Trail.

The whole system did this in 24 hours: search, rescue, deliver, diagnose, operate and discharge.  Within 24 hours of his fall, even surgery was behind him.

This is remarkable.  This huge system of systems worked as I could only dream.

The whole system is wanting to help

A helpful institution is not an oxymoron.  This experience has revealed that what feels like a big maze of horrible bureaucracy is actually a huge system of systems wanting to help.  That is its purpose.  And it can do wonderful, helpful things for people. As I reflect on my brother’s experience, I notice that:

  1. The system helps me when I know what I want from it. With each call into 911, my message to the operators got more and more specific.  Eventually, I learned to say to the US operator, “Please put me through to British Columbia RCMP.”  Then to the RCMP operator:  “I am on the West Coast Trail of Vancouver Island awaiting evacuation.  This is the only way I can get in touch with the people helping us, please put me through to this phone number.”  They did it.  And eventually, they knew my calls were coming and helped even quicker.
  2. I need to learn about the system to help the system help me. I had to craft my message to be responsive to the kind of help that operator offered. I had to learn their language.  Mentioning the West Coast Trail to the US operator was meaningless. The path through the maze was much smoother when I had the right language for the right people.
  3. I need to learn and adapt with the system to help the system help me. I became a part of the system when I made the first call to 911, which required me to learn and adapt with it as we adjusted to the unusual situation where  my phone could not make or receive calls.
  4. The system helps me even when I don’t know what I want from it. In the end, the system just delivered what was needed.  It has expertise that I do not have and it was delivered via phone, on the trail, in the air and through to the hospital.    
  5. To receive help, I have to be willing to let the system help me. I remember a couple of times feeling mad and frustrated, but I know that if I got mad, the system would just have a harder time helping.
  6. There is a big system invisible to me that is there to serve the public. It might not always work this well, but the point is that it did.  Various parts of it slip into play when needed, and slip away when not needed.  This big system works.  It can do what we ask of it.
  7. My fellow citizens and I have created this system and its service. As a taxpayer I pay for it.  I am glad I do. 

Thank you to Shannon, Purnell, Chris, Marc with a ‘C’, and the folks on Nitinat Lake

I find that I am all caught up in the pride I feel in Canada’s search and rescue and health personnel – and in particular the people that came to get us.

Two people we didn’t meet, Purnell and Shannon, were on their way by zodiac to spend the night with us if the conditions made it impossible for the airlift to take place. They also coordinated getting all our gear that we had to abandon on the trail, back out to us in Victoria.  Thanks to the folks that live on Nitinat Lake for the transfer.  All that is missing is a sandal and a water bottle.  We didn’t expect this.  Thanks.

FC2009-001 11 January 2009 Mount-Washington, British-Colombia A CH-149 Cormorant helicopter flies over Mount-Washington in preparation to land. CF Photo by Sergeant Eileen Redding

I am quite moved by the experience of being rescued.  My whole body vibrates when I recall hearing the helicopter, but not seeing her for a long time as I waved flashlights into the sky as she hid behind the low cloud cover in the rainy, dark night.  At last, we could see the bright lights of our new friend the CH-149 Cormorant, and when we saw the first SAR Tech lowered from the helicopter, we knew help arrived.  We saw a second SAR Tech lowered to the ground, and a Stokes litter (rescue basket/stretcher), then the helicopter flew off.  We waited and waited, but no one came up the path.  We thought we must have been dreaming.  After a few hollers back and forth in the quiet, I learned they were in the bush – I had to head down the path to help them find their way to my brother.

GD2008-0454-12 30 May 08 Sydney, Nova Scotia Search and Rescue Technicians from 413 Transport and Rescue Squadron, participate in an exercise with a vessel from the Coast Guard College. CF Photo by Private Melissa Spence

And so we met Chris and Marc and they settled in to do their work and prepare my brother for transport up to the helicopter.  And their immediate confirmation that there was no other way for a guy with his foot pointing in the wrong direction to get off the trail.

My whole body vibrates again as I recall the SAR Tech preparing me for my trip through the air up to the helicopter, his help to stand in her downdraft that was snapping trees, and the wind-whipping trip itself.  I was a shock to be physically touching help (him) and feeling help (him) and being held by help (him).  Then trusting that below me my brother was also coming up safely, but alone, in the Stokes litter.  And then help, in the shape of this big bird, whisked us away to Victoria and the next phases of help.  The 19 Wing badge (shown above)  is most appropriate.

cx2003-0152-20c CFB Comox, BC 24 April 2003 Sergeant Mike Falardeau, a Flight Engineer at 442 Squadron Comox, prepares to lower the stokes litter to the deck of the HMCS Brandon during a hoist exercise outside the Esquimalt harbour in Victoria, British Columbia. Photo by corporal Miranda Langguth, 19 Wing Imaging.

Thank you Squadron 442 .  HAIETLIK, the Lightening Snake of Nootka Indian Legend in the center of your badge resonates with the history of the land you plucked us from.  And your motto, UN DIEU, UNE REINE, UN COEUR,  resonates with your purpose – that others may live.

Thank you to the land of the Nootka.  Thank you for the experience of enjoying your land and shore.  Thank you for the safe departure.  Thank you for returning our gear.  The whole experience is a gift.

We will be back to pick up where we left off.  For those that know the trail, we were traveling from south to north.  The hard part is behind us.

Post script

Here is what the first sounds of rescue sound like (the CH-149 Cormorant).