Driving the country roads of Sonoma County is a joy, regardless of the weather. It calls to me, and the mystery of a shrouded day brings particular pleasure. On one recent outing, the clouds were low in the sky, some stuck on the treetops. The road was damp; it meandered. Trees curved over it like a cathedral ceiling. The autumn leaves had succumbed to the winds and to age and were scattered along the roadside and in the woods.
A dirt road—likely a driveway—appeared on my left, curving like a shadowy “S” away from the main road, before disappearing into the woods. I glanced over and noticed an old, large oak had fallen across the drive, blocking access.
My first thought was that life can block our way, as quickly and solidly as that tree blocked the drive, preventing any car from passing by as long as the tree was there.
How we respond to those moments fascinates me.
My own response falls into two parts. One involves practical, “external-landscape” factors; the other involves more emotional, “inner-landscape” factors.
On the practical side, I can choose how to respond to the landscape before me; to the tree blocking my way. I could abandon my car and walk the rest of the way; look to see if there was a different path to my destination; choose a different destination entirely; find a way to cut the tree and move it out of my way. Or I could sit where I was, in the car, and do nothing.
These are all possible responses to the physical reality that my path is blocked.
What, however, are my choices with regards to my “inner landscape” response? What is the emotional response I have to the tree blocking my way?
The tree didn’t do anything wrong; it isn’t behaving badly; it simply fell. It happened to fall in a spot inconvenient for me, but it’s an innocent in this drama.
Yet not all my characters will see it that way. The army of characters backstage can have drastically different emotional responses to the tree. I’m not sure I always know which one will show up when confronted with it. Or even why a particular character appears.
There’s the character who will want to rant at the tree for “doing this to me.”
Another character will blame me for taking this route in the first place or for leaving late because if I had left earlier the tree wouldn’t have fallen and I would’ve gotten through.
Another character will blame some invisible “other” for failing to cut the tree down before it fell or for failing to cut it up in a timely way to clear the road.
There are other characters—mostly dark ones—who lurk about. Often these characters influence my practical response to the situation, or at least inform it. Even if I successfully find my way through the physical blockade, my emotional well-being is often raw from the energy of the negative characters who rant and blame.
That negative energy is one reason I started meditating three years ago. I realized that getting angry at a car cutting me off hurt only me and I was tired of hurting me.
Out of meditating, I’m finding some space between the “event” I’m experiencing in the “external landscape”—the tree, the other driver—and the “character” that automatically shows up to deliver their lines. Those automatic characters reflect my emotional landscape and are often critical.
In that space—however small—I can sometimes recognize the characters. I can realize they’re responding to some “cue” they heard; they know their lines so well, they bounce on stage and they’re off, ranting about the tree, about the person who didn’t cut the tree, at me for choosing that route.
When I can recognize them, I’m less likely to believe them and their rants. I accept they’re characters, “actors in character” so completely enmeshed that it’s easy to believe the actor is the character they’re playing. Without the space, I am the ranter.
But at that moment, in that space, I become aware that there is actually an actor beneath the persona. The actor playing the character and the character are two separate things.
In that space, I can sometimes let go of the ranter; I understand it’s a role. It reflects an aspect of “me” but isn’t the totality of me. I can observe the drama rather than be completely immersed in it.
Creating space in which to observe these characters is resulting in moments of grace and gentleness toward myself. I feel gratitude for those moments.
I’m getting better at catching some of the initial, negative characters who show up; the ranter; the blamer; the defender.
Dealing with the “Judge”—who serves as Director and shows up to criticize the very existence of these negative characters—is a hurdle I’ve yet to clear.
While I can occasionally find some separation in the moment from, say, the ranter, I have yet to disregard the Judge’s opinion, who categorically believes that negative emotions are bad.
It may take a while for me to accept all emotions as simply emotions; neither good nor bad. It will take effort to create a space in which I can observe the Judge as just one more character, rather than a starring one. To help get there, I’m gonna need a bunch more meditating.