I think of Luke Skywalker when I think of Joseph Campbell's monomyth, or the Hero's Journey. And that scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke goes into the swamp to fight the mentally projected Darth Vader, only to find his own face behind the mask.
I always end up seeing the same thing after destroying the dragons in my life. I go into the abyss, the dark unknown, usually after days or weeks of procrastinating out of fear. I challenge the dragon while shaking in my boots. And, if I slay it, my face appears on the corpse.
You'd think that would be really creepy, but mostly, it's cathartic. The only thing standing in my way is myself. Changing and improving requires not only facing the unknown, but killing my old self. And while fear and anxiety might have their place (like if I were to come face to face with a mountain lion), they don't need to apply if I'm only up against me. It's Old Me, the me that wants to stay the same, versus New Me, the me that wants to improve and grow.
You'd think Old and New Me would just recognize each other, realize they're on the same team, and work it out. Too bad they most often don't. We're Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, bashing lightsabers to the death. The hero and his sword challenging the dragon and its fire breath. And I'm telling you, New Me doesn't always win.
Old Me thinks change means death, but Old Me doesn't know about the whole rebirth part of the Hero's journey. Old Me, at the moment of death, is reborn in New Me, like the Phoenix.
If New Me could see behind the Darth Vader mask before the fight, then maybe it wouldn't use so much anger and frustration in killing Old Me. I bet there would be a lot more respect, compassion and comforting. Old Me still has to die, but might go quietly into the night if New Me was a companion rather than an enemy.
So I shouldn't fear Darth Vader. Darth Vader is really me. I waste a lot of angst hating him, which also means I hate a part of myself. My face is under that mask, and I should do right by myself. Of course, it's hard to see this kind of wisdom while inside the Abyss and facing a Sith Lord.
Coming out of the Abyss, undergoing transformation and redemption, well, hindsight is 20-20. Or, at the worst, 20-30. That's still legal for driving, right?
Whatever it is, it feels great. I am the hero. I've seen my face on the dead corpse of the dragon, and felt that same beast reborn within me as something stronger and brighter.
I promise next time to give it a more honorable death.