Ever get caught in other people’s dramas? We all do of course. When I watch a “good” movie or read a good book, I get caught. For entertainment and/or education, we lose ourselves in the story and struggle that is being played out. Intellectually we know it is an artificial replication, whether fantasy, history, science, religion or a mix. But we put that aside to enjoy the story.
Then there are dramas called ‘the news.’ Depending on the emphasis, slant, and emotional appeal–starving children, sweet puppies, wars, you get the idea–we are triggered in terms of fear, anger, sadness, joy and/or compassion. Political sagas similarly entrap us by escalating our hopes and fears.
Third are friends’ dramas: the sudden break up, the new job, the new born baby, the scary illness. Much of socializing is sharing such things. The stories we encounter in movies, books, and newspapers often try to tie themselves to our more personal tales to affect us more deeply, and better sell their products.
Hardest to resist however, are our own dramas. The struggles in our lives that we mull over. Why did she ignore me when I said hello? Will the medical test show positive? Did I take too much a risk by waiting in line at the grocery store? How could I have left the house and driven off in my slippers? I have even gotten stuck trying to decide which shirt to wear.
So much of our attention in life is taken up with playing out and sharing the dramas we experience, witness, hear or read about. Without looking any deeper, we let these define us.
Each of us is more than our stories. We can step back from the dramas. I can decide to identify more as the observing presence, rather than the protagonist even in my own stories. Through which “I” or is it “eye” do I see my life? Thoughts and emotions will inevitably arise. Do I own them as me or simply let them pass through?
Many years ago, driving across the Bay Bridge after a tiring yet rewarding day at work, I was looking forward to a peaceful dinner and evening. Then someone recklessly cut across five lanes of traffic causing me and others to suddenly brake least we collide.
I felt shock and fear at first, my heart pounding loudly. Thinking, “He could have killed me,” I moved to anger. I started to speed up, thinking I would cut in front of him and brake. “That’ll show him!” Except for two things: 1) I had a VW bug (or Beatle) not a car known for quick acceleration; and 2) the VW’s slowness gave me time to think. I remembered the satisfied, peaceful mood from moments ago.
This observation surprise me. I realized I had a choice: Peace and ease, or road rage. I slowed down my breath and my driving. I felt an amazing sense of freedom; not just peaceful but also powerful.
Ultimately the more important question is not really, ‘whose drama is it anyway.’ The deeper question is ‘do I decide how and who I am, or let circumstances–internal or external–dictate that for me?’