Our client, Cindy, was returning to work in just 2 weeks after a long hiatus. She had requested an individual session because, for no apparent reason, her life had become “dramatic”. Perhaps you are familiar with this phenomenon. This is when perfectly normal situations appear to be larger than life and oh–so–dramatic. You go to the fridge and find there is no more milk for your coffee and it is grounds (pun intended) for a major melt down. You have a headache and suddenly an aspirin won’t do – its time to plan an operation for your rapidly growing brain tumor.
By the time Cindy called for her appointment that morning, however, she had already relaxed and was able to see that the drama she had been immersed in was just fantasy, silly imaginings and not reality. This would make it far easier for her to look at her situation in a nonjudgmental manner. At first Cindy felt rather stupid for having been lost in a swirl of drama. She had yet to see that her drama was purposeful. It wasn’t something that happened to her. It wasn’t something that had overtaken her. It is something that one employs when avoiding the unknown.
Being all-consumed in a petty upset is uncomfortable but it is something that each of us have experienced and have survived. So to our minds it is often preferable to being right in the midst of the unknown and experiencing that we are not in control of our future. For Cindy, there were lots of unknowns in her future. Going back to work meant starting a series of new projects. It also meant that she had requests to make of the Human Resources department and she wasn’t sure if they would be able to fulfill them. Since the company Cindy worked for was multi–national, she hoped to be transferred to an office in another country. She didn’t know if there were openings available or if work visas could be arranged. So in effect, she was unclear what she would be doing in the months ahead, where she would be living and even if she would continue to reside in the same country.
For most of us, there is an apparent continuity to our lives. We generally know where we will be going to work in the morning or where we will be living next week. But when this continuity is broken, it can be far easier to entertain the idea that a twinge in your back is degenerating disk disease than it is to be faced with the unknown.
We suggested to Cindy that she really enjoy these last two weeks of her extended vacation. Since she had already scheduled time to visit family and friends, we proposed that she immerse herself in actually being with them. It was important not to run off to fantasy futures that would never come. Cindy laughed. She had been teasing out scenarios and none of them were positive, she said. To illustrate our point, we told her a story.
There once was a traveling salesman who was driving cross–country to sell his wares. One late summer afternoon, on a lonely stretch of road, his left rear tire went flat. Sighing, the man pulled to the side of the road and stopped his car. He got out and opened the trunk to remove his spare tire. After moving all the boxes and lifting out the spare, he realized that he didn’t have a jack with which to elevate the car so that he could remove the flat tire and replace it with the spare. Frustrated, he looked around. It didn’t appear that this road was well traveled. He hadn’t seen any cars going in the opposite direction since he had been on it and he realized that it was possible that he could wait all day for another motorist to pass by. Looking ahead in the far distance he saw a farmhouse down the road. The man began to walk.
Waves of heat radiated up off of the asphalt as he trekked toward the house. In the fields drooping stalks of grain bent with the weight of their tasseled heads. Crickets sang a rhythmic serenade. Cows across the way lazily lifted their heads to eye him and then undisturbed returned to grazing or chewing their cud. But the man did not remain undisturbed. As he walked down that road he was beset with doubts. What if they aren’t home? he thought. Oh, well, he countered as he conversed with himself. On the man trudged. Next he thought, What if they don’t have a jack? and proceeded to mentally chew on this possibility for the next dusty stretch of road. Eventually a more disturbing thought crossed his mind, What if they have a jack but won’t lend it to me?!
Finally, the salesman arrived at the farmhouse. He was hot and sweaty as he mounted the steps and knocked on the door. After a few moments the door swung open and the farmer said “Yes, may I help you?” to which the salesman replied, “I don’t need your @&37;##^ jack anyway!!”
Delighted, Cindy crowed in laughter. This was exactly what she had been doing. When not creating drama in her current environment, she had been teasing out dramatic scenarios for the future – a future that would never happen. In an instant, Cindy was back in control. She had all the clues she needed to recognize the Drama Zone. She also had the tools she needed to remain centered. All she had to do was invest and engage in this moment and the future would take care of itself.