Philosophy in Practice | Cape Town


QA 9. (Nov 08) Doing without drama

QA 9. (Nov 08) Doing without drama

  • Posted by Helen Douglas
  • On November 14, 2008
  • fear, fearlessness, no drama

Walking by a farm dam, one frog after another leaps into the water ahead of me. Plop! One jump out of danger, a kick underwater into the silt and out of sight. I notice how natural creatures simply do, without drama.

Some of us, however, adore our theatrics. Should I stay or should I jump? Here? There? (And why is it always me who has to jump?) Like this? Watch me! Now? Too late! And then the danger (if there is a danger) either passes by or our little drama frog gets squashed. Either way, it never knew what happened. Silly frog. Silly us.

Our dramatisations are like turning up the volume when radio reception is bad. It makes the interference even crazier, but at least we might pick up a bit of news. The news that we need concerns what is happening, here and now, so that we can respond effectively. The interference is disruptive signals we generate ourselves.

Why do we obscure our true situation with such fretting and faffing about? Why are we so ready to lose our minds just when we need them most? More positively: what could this drama signify?

I think the heart of the matter lies in that prosaic little phrase, to “respond effectively”. We don’t need to know what’s happening just out of interest. We need to act, and the appropriateness and effectiveness of our action brings meaning and beauty to our lives. We need to show up, engage. But here’s the tricky bit. What I am in contact with is also in contact with me – and I know from experience that this can hurt like hell. The root dilemma of a mortal consciousness: the engagement and presence that give life its juice also put my life at risk. But disengagement, if I want to live well in the world, is also intolerable.

Producing a personal drama is one strategy for this double bind. When the world frightens me, I can frighten myself instead. Instead of presence, I create a performance. This is even rather clever in its own perverse way: my performance of how impossible it is to act is the only true act I can perform! The trouble is, this just consolidates the problem.

But still, even as I’m cranking up this interference, I’m desperately trying to gather signals from the real world. This desire to attune myself to the world’s clarity is surely the way to slice through fear’s intrigue. The more I dare to live in the world, the less I will need to perform it. It’s a question of learning – or remembering – one’s own creaturely alertness. It takes practice, care and patience. And smart and loving companions, especially where there is confusion, or in dangerous and fearful times.

Last month, the hibiscus outside my window was storm-thrashed, every single flower blown away, leaves torn, branches stripped. It’s coming back now, tenderly. Its resident sunbirds and white-eyes have come back too. No drama. Just life.

© 2008


1 Comment

Recently I've been afforded the opportunity of what I've been calling an "adult gap year". Financially fluid, I've managed to avoid the recent financial storm by being "long on cash" [having sold property and shares in a consolidation before my year off traveling]. Yes, I'm very VERY lucky and also very blessed! No children and a spouse who was an eager traveling partner we set off for a year of travel (just approaching month 9). My comment is this ... whilst having NOTHING in effect to worry about ... I've found myself searching for the mental ball of string - for the everyday worry and stress - to pick at ... I've found myself almost anxious about the fact that I've nothing to worry about. The space I've found has almost frightened me at times and - I've had to REMIND myself that I have nothing to worry about. Other people have tried to hook me into dramas with big questions like what am I going to "do" (for work etc). However I'm working on "being" just now and ... hmmm ... all those stories we tell ourselves about how fine we will be "if only" ... Amazing how my mind has searched for little dramas and how I've had to remind myself to breath and enjoy the space ... the luxury. Too soon I shall have to return to 'reality'. "Do" something with my money ... FIND a home ... and return to work etc. Right now though ... I'm really experiencing the fact that I've given up so much drama ... and do you know ... at times I just don't know what to do with myself or who I am without 'a story'.

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