Yes. We are all going to die.
What happens in you when you read those words? Take a moment. Yes, right now. Take a moment right now to notice how the sentence lands in your body, in your heart. Where does your mind go? How does it actually make you feel?
This is, perhaps, one of the only real truths in this world. Yet, somehow, I am just beginning to turn toward my own death in an honest way. My mortality has been some sort of an implicit companion throughout my life: an entity I know is present but that I rarely really acknowledge or honor. It appears that now is a good moment to do that. And it would seem a very apt time in the story of our planet and our species to do the same on a collective level.
The matter of death is frequently rolled around in something we seem to love to cultivate and feed these days: DRAMA! I was hosting a session online recently and one of the participants learned in a breakout that another member of the community was gravely ill. He came back to the plenary session to share the news that so-and-so was dying. Then, unexpectedly, the person who originally shared the news interjected: “I just want to remind us that we’re ALL dying. And, also, I didn’t mean to imply that this person is dying tomorrow.” That reminder cut through what had felt like a dramatization of this individual’s illness and death. Most of the time, my drama is sourced in some story that I’m carrying about what is happening (to me or to others); very rarely is it rooted in the lived experience of the present moment.
I’ve recently been more conscious of the way dramatic tendencies weave in and out of my life in my actions and my thoughts. Most of the time, it isn’t big stuff; it’s maybe just some subtle noticing about a reaction I’m having or the story that I’m telling myself. A small example of this would be when someone mentions Rafa’s death and I feel the compulsion to say: “Actually we have had FOUR pregnancy losses over the past four years.” There’s something about hyping up the suffering or seeking out reasons and justifications for more suffering. Another example is hearing about a missing young woman and craving further details about what happened to her or where she was, rather than being relieved when she is found. I sense that it may be a way of avoiding actually being in the experience I am having right this very moment or deflecting real feelings. It is, no doubt, about choosing to reinforce the victim story.
Last month I had a pretty traumatic experience. I won’t delve too deeply into the details of what happened because… well… you know… it would only feed the fire of drama and victimization. Let’s just say that someone very close to my family ”came clean” with me about their feelings for me; and those feelings were, to say the least, pretty gnarly. I noticed that during this bombardment of blame, resentment and hatred, I had a pretty hard time staying with the pain and confusion and anxiety I felt. But the experience was so intense, I realized I had no choice but to just take it in, take responsibility for what was mine and deeply feel what I was feeling, as painful as it was. The moment my mind moved into what I was going to do or say in response, these thoughts were revealed as total absurdities.
When the onslaught of vitriol and insults was over, I had a choice. I could either respond with words of defense and protection (making myself another victim in the story); with outrage and vengeance (adding to the drama cauldron)… or I could choose to neither victimize myself nor launch a counter-attack with similarly hurtful words. It has not been easy. (By the way, all this is not to say that I didn’t have a super immature and dramatic response to all of this at one level. I was able to get this tantrum out on a piece of paper — or 20. I then burnt up my resentment, anger, sadness and rage in a full-moon fire. I am NOT immune to tendencies of drama and victimhood by any means.)
Over the past month, I’ve learned more about and reflected on the detrimental impacts of global victim-consciousness in our world today. It’s quite profound to consider how in today’s day and age our manifold stories of victimization (of countless named and nameless perpetrators) eat our imaginations and sense of agency from the inside out. And, it seems to me, that drama is one of the victim’s favorite ways of communicating and attracting attention.*
I believe it would do us well as individuals and as a society to notice how often we fall into victim mentality and, instead, begin to take radical responsibility for the ways that our reactions to life’s unfoldings fundamentally change our experiences of those very events. In the aftermath of the drama onslaught last month, I offered this person the opportunity to sit down face-to-face and talk through the things they wrote. This was terrifying for me, but I felt willing to do it if there was openness to work on changing our relationship. There was not. They texted me that they didn’t want any kind of relationship/friendship with me. This leaves me with myself to sort out and be accountable for the things that I have done to contribute to this situation. This is tricky for me as I often process, learn and grow through dialogue.
I recognize that being accountable for my part of this painful experience does not mean being a martyr that takes on the full burden of responsibility for everything that occurred; life is always a porous dance of different elements and agencies influencing, intersecting and interacting with each other. Of course, I may inadvertently slip into operating in victim-consciousness or martyrdom from time to time. No big deal… I just try to keep noticing when this happens and (perhaps) I choose to respond from a different place.
Somehow, weirdly, I associate the word “drama” with this blog. You see, back in 2019 — shortly following my second pregnancy loss when I was furious with the world — I sent a former mentor a link to this post. She responded with these words of (unsolicited) advice: “I… suggest that you are not being served well by playing this all out in blogs. Certainly being public has let you see your cravings for approval. But overall, writing these for your public drives you to the very behaviors you’re trying to leave behind—drama 👻. It will be hard to do but I’d strongly encourage you to withdraw from blogging, go private, and see where your contemplations lead you.”
Wow! It’s a bit shocking to me how — all these years later — just reading these words of advice still trigger disbelief, defensiveness and even ire in me.
I spent a lot of time wondering whether or not this person was right or not, while simultaneously resisting the very notion of a binary right and wrong. In some ways, I understand where she was coming from; I feel like I’ve been wrestling with these very sticky issues this year, especially with what I shared in Homecoming. But after this recent dramatic chat attack, I realize that drama isn’t so much a thing; it’s more like an energy that permeates situations, actions and relationships. So whether or not In the Name of Rafa foments drama depends very much on the way that I relate to the topics and conversations at hand and my own unfolding life. Perhaps this wasn’t so clear to me in the beginning, but as the complexity of our/my many griefs becomes more apparent, I am drawn to grapple with the messy, non-linear and non-binary nature of these experiences. I still believe that this process benefits me and other people in a generative way.
All of this leaves me with the burning question: “So what is drama good for?” Our species must have found some value in drama during these times we are living. It would seem that drama is a good shield. It keeps me from feeling the deep pain when I acknowledge the way that human beings hurt each other and lash out at the world (often from the place of the victim-mind). Drama occupies our hearts and minds and even our bodies. We stay so busy lashing out at others, defending our personal positions and opinions, inventing stories about what is happening and has happened and then becoming increasingly entangled in those very stories… that we are often largely unable to feel any of it.
Now what the hell does any of this have to do with the fact that we are all dying? For me, it’s related to the approach and energy we bring to our behaviors, agreements (conscious and unconscious) and conversations about the inevitability of our demise. My friend and teacher dare sohei reminds us: “Death is the only guarantee we are ever given, so it will happen to us regardless of whether we consciously engage with Death as a Practice, on purpose. In that sense, the entirety of existence IS Death Practice.” Are we willing to bring frankness, authenticity, alignment and love to our interactions around Death? Or does it feel like we are often dismissive, dramatic, avoidant or overly-rational when we take this topic up? dare goes on to write that to work with regularly with an intentional Death Practice “means that you understand the benefits of aligning with an intentional re-prioritization of your behaviors and worldview in order to more fully enter into honest relationship with what is.”
My dad turned 80 a few months ago. Our family gathered in Hawaii to celebrate the milestone. Once we got home the following obvious fact somehow felt alive to me in a new way: my parents are going to die… and they are going to do so relatively soon. Don’t get me wrong, they’re doing great at the moment, healthy and mostly happy. I’ve found it a powerful practice to imagine what it will be like when they pass away and what it will be like afterwards. I lean into what it will feel like in my heart. I think about how it will be with my brother, how the family dynamics will shift and change. And I want to talk about this with them. I mean, I think all of us are clearly aware of this inevitability and could even feel it while we were together. Our family is no stranger to conversations about Death either. My dad wrote a book supporting people to write their own obituaries. He’s been an informal thanatologist for three decades. Yet now that it feels closer, it seems like we talk about it less. Maybe because now it’s not a far-off philosophical matter.
I guess what I’m saying with all this is: let’s put down drama and victimization so that we can really be together as humans and non-humans in an honest way. We don’t have time for perpetual patterns of harm, intergenerational trauma, avoidance, and lashing out against each other. Let’s humbly honor Life and Death by bravely choosing to speak from our hearts about how we are actually feeling, by cultivating resilient relationships deep enough to navigate countless challenges, by spending time really being present to the terrible trouble and awesome beauty of our existence. We can be together differently, but it takes intention and practice. In these end-times, I honestly can’t imagine anything more important.
*None of this is meant to downplay or deny that countless egregious and violent acts are, indeed, perpetuated against many people every day. Of course, there are millions of real victims in this world that need to be listened to and believed. In this post, I am referring to the widespread reliance on victim consciousness or victim mind in our modern world, and not so much to actual victims of oppression, hate and violence.