When I arrive at the dinner party, the hostess introduces me to a tall, startlingly handsome man. He’s a doppelgänger for a well-known, retired athlete. “Are you Joey Garcia?” he asks, smiling broadly. When I say yes, he is sweetly complimentary. “I can’t believe it! I read your column. You have such a measured way of taking a reader through different perspectives on their problem. It’s insightful.” I’m flattered, blushing a little. “Thank you. That means a lot to me,” I say. The hostess pours me a glass of cabernet as Mr. McDreamy continues: “Yeah, when I read the questions you print, I just want to say to the person, ’You’re an idiot!’”
Ah, there’s the kicker. In the presence of other people’s drama, a smackdown is an easy response. I understand. While I’ve never called a reader an idiot or anything similar, I’ve certainly felt frustration. Although, not with my readers. My annoyance rises occasionally when a friend clings to suffering instead of actively reshaping that pain into a platform to reach the next level in life. Of course, I know the reason people prefer to remain adrift. At least, I know why I heal from drama on my own schedule, and not according to a more convenient timetable for me or those around me: Grief shuffles to a mysterious rhythm.
Drama is a symptom of trauma. Most often, we’re simultaneously grieving an old, still-oozing wound (the indifferent parent, the sibling bully, the unrequited adolescent fixation), and a present-time emotional injury (an indifferent boss, a rude co-worker, our unrequited emotional needs or sexual desire). Acting victimized by the wound contributes to drama. Healing requires that we learn to use suffering, loss and trauma to grow in resiliency, love and wisdom.
To greet another’s suffering with comments like “You’re an idiot!” or “Get over it!” allows us to separate from the wounded person and imagine her or him as tainted. That defensive stance seduces us into believing that we manage our emotions and lives so much better than others. Our ego ridicules other people’s problems as a means of denying our own sadness, despair, anger or insecurities. The truth is that we can only have compassion toward another person’s suffering if we have tended well to our own brokenness. But if we compartmentalize our pain to avoid feeling helpless or weak, we will never evolve into being fully human.
The next time a friend drops their broken heart at your feet, or you feel overwhelmed and can’t figure out when you stopped creating your life and began running after it, calm the drama. Here are three simple steps to help:
Listen deeply: I carry earplugs in my purse at all times. I sit in my car, queue at a store or sit at work and shut out the din. After a few deep, cleansing breaths, I center and connect to the unstoppable, unshakable force within. I also listen deeply, earplugs out, to anyone who tells me their problems. I focus on their words, body language and presence, listening for the deeper truth beneath everything. At the same time, I am open to my intuition, thoughts and body sensations. Blasting music into the head through earbuds is not the same. Silence is on the endangered list. Listening is a neglected skill. Invite silence and deep listening into your life.
Love widely: We’re all difficult, sometimes. When another driver cuts me off, or a cyclist careens into my lane of traffic, I own it by admitting, “Oh, I’ve done that (literally or symbolically). I will choose a different behavior for myself in the future.” That’s namaste in action. When the soul acknowledges the ego, the ego has less energy and motivation to act out.
Be transparent: Communication and behavior that is clear, direct and honest is rare. So let’s commit to growing in truthfulness: Stop inflating accomplishments, stop justifying codependency by calling it kindness and start seeing vague language as the fearful choice it is. Integrity is seeing into ourselves and letting others see us, too. Let’s get naked (emotionally, mentally, spiritually) together.
The next time someone shares his or her problem with you, listen, love and be transparent. Even if that means that you say, “I have no idea what to say. But I am here, present, listening.”