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.