Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. — Zen proverb
As a recovering Drama Queen, “I acknowledge that I am powerless over my need for anxiety, despair, inflated feelings of low self-esteem, helplessness, while simultaneously fighting every gnat flying in my periphery,” I enjoy observing drama first hand these days. At about twenty feet away.
Was I ever really so? Yes. Perhaps worse.
Drama seems to me universal, especially in developed nations, where the mythologies of political and economic freedom fracture us into race, class, and economic identities. These differences, coupled to our many economic privileges, quickly devolve into the fragmented, isolated self. The more fractured we become, the less our sense of oneness. If a twisted individualism governs our lives, it’s incredibly difficult to get over the “I,” its many stories, and its endless dramas. If we learned drama and stress in youth, we’ve learned bad patterns early on, and there exists bountiful science on why we must train ourselves differently, and keep doing so, through meditation or whatever practice gets us centered. For some the zen practice is extensive physical exercise, like long distance running. For some religion’s rituals work, usher them into community, and a greater sense of connection. For some, contemplative prayer or meditation are key to integration. For some, music or art lifts them out of the isolated “I” and into the peaceful cosmic ether. Whatever the path or practice, the road to getting rid of drama proves a one day at a time commitment, consciously shaping our minds and emotions. It’s disciplined training, reeling in those reactions that keep us from enjoying the moment. It takes practice to release instinctive fight or flight negative emotions, which are all driven by fear. Trace them back, one by one, that nasty word, impatient moment, deluge of overwhelming despair. Fear is always the seed.
As we manage drama, increasingly find our center, stay there with greater ease, everything becomes easier. All of it. Everything.
I’m not sliding into a lazy over-generalization when I write, “everything.” For with practice, there’s an acceptance that the universe exists, we exist in it, and all is well in this moment, with this breath. For this breath is it, ground zero. Life in the moment. Life, “worn like a loose garment,” as a friend of mine would say.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems, within and without. It means that we’ve come to live in something resembling the “Serenity Prayer,” as we stay in the moment.
Here’s the glorious paradox: by surrendering to the moment and that inner space we’ve carved out day by, things start happening. We make connections we didn’t see. We take risks we wouldn’t have. We do more of what we enjoy, and filter out what doesn’t connect with our inner guide. We create, detached from the outcome. We give more generously. We love more freely, without worrying about our precious, wounded self.
With practice, we’ve created the place of power which does and will create change, for ourselves and others.
Drama doesn’t change anything: awareness does.
Conversely, drama’s the handbag of anxiety, feelings of low self-worth, feelings that we really aren’t in control of our lives, believing that the world out there defines us. When we’re in the drama, we give other people, circumstances, and events our power.
That’s drama, and what drives too much passing itself off personal morality and social change.
It’s pretty simple, once you see it. Impossible to see when you’re in the stranglehold.
For myself, because I can only speak for myself, living drama free is a process. The day by day practices allow life to move in and take over. Taming the tongue, not hitting the send button on that email, valuing my peace more than my opinion. My opinion only matters when it grants another person’s peace and freedom, and then it naturally takes the form of being drama free, given in peace, and, for myself, hopefully, with some literary skill. But literary skill is icing on the cake, a magical and perfect intersection of the soul and its expression.
What matters most is the peace, living it and giving it.
If peace comes from awareness, drama comes from the ego. The ego traps us in minutia so we miss the important stuff, and it keeps us thinking ourselves way too important because we believe ourselves insignificant. We tend to think of the ego as something puffed up and self-congratulatory. But that “oh, not poor, poor pitiful me” is the more insidious ego trick. It keeps our posture poor, our heads down in worry, chisels fret lines on our brow, stuffs our mind deep into self-doubt, keeps the book unwritten, withholds gifts, overlooks kindness, doesn’t travel and explore, doesn’t reach for love, shrugs off the compliment, and, ultimately, denies the heart its most precious melodies.
In this cycle, the ego keeps us from possibilities and creative adaptation because the problems are overwhelming. For ourselves. For others.
Contrary to popular opinion, it’s the ego that makes certain that our abilities are never developed, our relationships remain meaningless, our discontent gorged, and our aspirations shirked for banality.
The ego keeps us and our perceived world small and powerless. Drama is its most common tool.
A dear friend, who is also a client, and has been in AA and sober for 26 years, says to me in love and about life: “You’re just not that important.”
The beauty of this truth is that it is not an insult to anyone, it’s liberating. Everyone’s important and special, and no one is important and special. He tells me this, because he trusts me to get it, he being the elder, believes that I will understand that in a culture obsessed with self-worth and self-loathing, there’s freedom in looking up, looking out, and knowing that we are everything to ourselves and deserving of our deepest love, and, in the big picture, also just a grain of sand on the shore.
I’m not a model for ego liberation, just a recovering participant of its many beloved tricks. The more I let go, the better life gets, and like everything else, I get a little better at it, some days more so than others.
Many practices develop me spiritually, physically, emotionally, creatively: I see them all as tools in the temple of life to create freedom and peace and space, while releasing the need for an outcome.
It’s not the outcome that liberates, it’s the practice. It’s being alive that’s the gift, and choosing not to exchange the moment’s sweetness for anything less.
Practice doesn’t need to make anything perfect, because practice is beautiful.
Practice is its own reward.