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From drama to Dharma

I come from a long line of drama queens. My family could create drama out of going to the supermarket. They also drank a lot which enhanced this tendency.

Let’s face it, many of us who have staggered about in the realm of addictive or blow-your-mind substances, have a predisposition towards catastrophizing. Something in us enjoys creating volcanic eruptions out of molehills. Even many of us who have heroically extricated ourselves from substance misuse or abuse have failed to let go the accompanying tendency to see the world in terms of flash crashes, trench warfare, bubonic plague, and other extreme events.

Even though we may be consciously inclined towards the Middle Path and serenity, our unconscious minds hurtle us relentlessly into series upon series of melodramas.

Melodrama, a theatrical term, derives from the Greek word melo, which means music. In theatre, emotions are exaggerated and the storyline is full of exciting events. Many of us would secretly delight in a sound-track to accompany our life performances.

Drama addicts tend to exaggerate, embroider and amplify events in order to draw attention to themselves and/or their world. Sometimes there is a desire to shock, whether by acting out or in telling the story of someone else’s drama.

In the grip of a melodrama the breath becomes shallow, adrenalin kicks in, and the drama addict feels energized and alive. So it can be a challenge for many addicts to stick with meditation. The lurking core belief is that without drama, life would be boring; without telling stories of dramatic events, you would be boring.

Rollercoaster emotions may initially feel energizing but eventually they deplete us. Too much adrenaline and cortisol flooding the system eventually creates a worn out, flat and bored organism.

If we are able to actually identify that we are addicted to drama, meditating regularly may be able to help us move away from our own TV soap opera.

A good strategy in addressing addiction to drama is to reduce our expectations. Conscious and sub-conscious expectations can and do create a world of hurt. When I wait for the bus, I expect it to appear. When it does not appear, a melodramatic reaction arises. Behaving in an overdramatic manner each time an expectation is thwarted adds nothing constructive. Eliminating the expectation and relaxing into what actually is can liberate us from the tyranny of self.

When we behave as fixed entities complete with desires that must be satiated right here, right now, we see the world in terms of what we can extract from it physically, mentally and emotionally. When we crave less and demand less, we find we can love more and accept more. We move from the realm of frustrated hungry ghosts to the realm of equanimity. Appreciating what we have instead of clamouring for what we want, we can abide in plenty, well-being, kindness and beauty.

When we have fewer expectations, melodramas are less frequent. We find we are more able to allow things to be the way they are without needing to adjust or control outcomes.

Meditation sharpens our sense of interconnectedness and process. It helps us move from chipped mug half-empty to exquisite goblet half-full – a necessary step if we are to survive as a species.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote:

“In fact the whole antithesis between self and the rest of the world, which is implied in the doctrine of self-denial, disappears as soon as we have any genuine interest in persons or things outside ourselves. Through such interests a man comes to feel himself part of the stream of life, not a hard separate entity like a billiard-ball, which can have no relation with other such entities except that of collocation. All unhappiness depends upon some kind of disintegration or lack or integration; there is disintegration within the self through lack of co-ordination between the conscious and the unconscious mind; there is lack of integration between the self and society where the two are not knit together by the force of objective interests and affections. The happy man is the man who does not suffer from either of these failures of unity, whose personality is neither divided against itself nor pitted against the world. Such a man feels himself a citizen of the universe, enjoying freely the spectacle that it offers and the joys that it affords, untroubled by the thought of death because he feels himself not really separate from those who will come after him. It is in such profound instinctive union with the stream of life that the greatest joy is to be found.”

Meditation helps to bring the drama addict into the generally drama-free reality of the present moment. Reality reflects back to us that despite our out-of-control emotions and thoughts we are, in that very moment, clothed, fed, and sheltered and not at risk of war, famine or any other impending apocalypse.

When we sit with our present experience, whatever that may be, without judgment or commentary, and become aware on the level of sensation just what is going on emotionally, we may find that, maybe for the first time ever, we are actually capable of resting in great, natural peace. If we are able to stop our incessant, blind attraction to danger and chaos, even for a moment, we may experience, from the depths of our being, pure, unadulterated relief.

We may lurch back into old autopilot habits of over-dramatizing, but we have briefly experienced another way, which is not boring or grey after all, but deeply restful and nourishing. All we need to do is make a new habit, one of commitment, to going back to that place on a daily basis.

We may not feel like doing this. We may be tired, angry, distracted, hungry, lonely or stressed. But we don’t have to believe every emotion or thought that we have. As with NA/AA meetings, we just show up. As we sit, day in and day out, steadfast as the rising and the setting sun, we gradually develop discriminating wisdom which helps us to decide which emotions and thoughts are in our own best interest and which are not. Mastery of the mind entails rejecting those thoughts not in alignment with our values. We can also identify emotions and thoughts that help in strengthening our purpose.

Serenity is the opposite of melodrama, and the dualistic nature of our universe whispers to us that the kernel of the one lies dormant in the other. All we need to do is incubate serenity by carefully laying it under our meditation cushion before we sit and trusting that our minds will gradually incline towards peace.

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About Navachitta

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Navachitta came along to the Triratna Buddhist Community in 1981, and was ordained in 1990.

Currently she works as an Alcohol and Drug Counsellor. In June of 2011 she began running the Buddhist Recovery Network at the Auckland Buddhist Centre.

She has decided to defer her own Enlightenment until all living beings attain it!

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Comments

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Comment from Betsi
Time: August 27, 2012, 4:04 pm

Thank you. I just finished my first 15 minutes of meditation in a long time. This helped me understand why I’ve been struggling so much with true, pure relaxation. Thank you.

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Comment from Caroline
Time: August 30, 2012, 12:53 am

Thank you Navachitta for your insightful article about our addiction to melodrama and its devastating effects (I’ve particularly liked the metaphor of the volcanic eruption which fits my own family so well…). Although I’m not into meditation, you’ve certainly created new options in my life that may help me get rid of my own addiction(s).
PS: love your writing skills!!!

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Comment from tim
Time: August 30, 2012, 8:32 pm

Thanks for this wonderful blog. I sometimes think this is the central message of dharma.

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