At it’s most basic level, suffering is the inner drama we create
It’s the worry, fretting, commiserating, needless emoting, regret, fantasy, and fixation on things that aren’t real. It’s not that we’re in the habit of creating imaginary worlds but, …actually… that is exactly what we do.
Which imaginary world describes you?
If you’re self-employed or a freelancer like I used to be, then you’re usually working in a solitary environment from a home office or, on a warm sunny day, from a coffee shop near your home. You dream of traveling the country or the world doing what you do, but the financials haven’t worked out that way just yet. What’s worse is that you feel your enterprise is invisible.
If you could just get a handle on the stress, you feel you’d be fine. O yeah, a regular cash flow would be nice, too. Recently you’ve noticed that your writing is suffering and more often than not, you’re feeling depressed because the stresses of business are greater than you anticipated when you quit a job to find freedom. Freedom…if only.
You didn’t plan on little Johnny getting a cold and missing school today. You have so many things to do before your in-laws arrive and Johnny being at home, while it’s obviously the best place for him, is getting in the way of you making the house perfect before your mother-in-law shows up.
Johnny just wants to be near you and needs your tenderness. But that’s hard to do when you need to clean two bathrooms, vacuum the carpets, do the laundry that been piling up, and dust all the places you-know-who’s going to be inspecting. Plus, your partner isn’t that helpful even when he/she is around. Yep, it’s all up to you…again.
Pulling an all-nighter for the Econ exam wasn’t the brightest idea you’ve had. Neither was the double espresso you had on your way to class. You’d like to be taking better care of yourself, managing your time more efficiently and relying less on these debilitating all-night cram sessions.
You feel a lot of pressure from your parents who are literally investing all their savings into your education. You feel like you won’t ever measure up to their expectations. And the kids in your classes…it all seems so easy for them. You’re sure that they didn’t stay up all night cramming for this exam while downing 5 Hour Energy drinks. You find yourself staring into the bathroom mirror wondering who you’ve become and is it who you want to be. You’re not even 25 but a midlife crisis seems inevitable.
Did one or two of these descriptions sound familiar? All of them felt familiar to me. I’ve been in each of these situations, feeling the same feelings, and experiencing the same level of stress and unrelenting pressure. I wish someone would invent a vaccine for that.
Immunizing yourself against inner drama
While a clinical vaccine or immunization against inner drama hasn’t been invented, a mental one is readily available. The treatment room is anywhere you can find a small space to sit, breathe, and watch your mind. Meditation, when applied on a regular basis, is the perfect antidote to the toxic effects of inner drama.
When I meditate on a daily basis, I see how my mind works through various circumstances. I see how its habitual modes of response are sometimes harmful to me and to others. I can see this because I’m getting used to watching my thoughts and my mind when I sit for 20 minutes each day on my meditation cushion.
Regular meditation is a private reality show featuring your mind in the starring role. Sitting quietly and watching this reality show is not only educational, but it can be a bit embarrassing at times as we peer into our own inner drama.
Equally dangerous are the inwardly dramatic responses to what we observe: “Did I really act that way?” “OMG, how could I have said that?” “I thought I was better than that.”
Compassion is the treatment for inner drama
Humans are just as interesting as any other creature that lives. We often think of our species as highly evolved. But it only takes a few instances like what I described above to realize that we’re not much higher on the evolutionary tree than our animal friends when it comes to inner drama. In fact, I’d postulate that most animals and mammals never engage in self-criticism. Ah, the benefits of a forebrain, eh?
The key to watching your mind without getting caught up in further inner drama is compassion. Compassion is kindness in action. Being kind to yourself while watching your mind is a uniquely human ability. Try approaching each meditation session with compassion for yourself, for your humanity and see how that feels.
If you find that you begin to react with something like, “Barry, you really are an idiot” or, “I am such a weasel,” just observe that it happened, smile, and keep watching and breathing.
The more you meditate, the more compassion you will feel
I think that our most highly evolved human quality is compassion. The extension of compassion is a gift of kindness. Extending compassion to others is often easier than extending it toward ourselves.
But this supreme test of humanity, the ability to treat yourself with compassion, is the greatest gift you can give yourself and it will keep you from getting caught up in needless inner drama.