The More Drama You Have in Your Life the More Real You Feel

Drama-QueenSo I was talking to somebody about some drama she’s been having in her life. A person from her past had re-emerged and together they were digging out memories of things that had transpired between them, many of them quite unpleasant.

Before I go on, dear readers, I should note that if you’re inclined to assume this is about you, you may want to take a number and get in line. I spend a lot of my life talking to people about their life drama and about other people they know who like to dredge it up. The story of the suddenly re-emerging person from the past is a familiar pattern too.

There are two questions that always seems to come up when I have these conversations. These are 1) Why does s/he want to bring all this stuff up again? and 2) Why do I feel so compelled to play along even when this stuff hurts so much?

When you do loads and loads of Zen practice, you start to see that even more often than friends from the past re-emerging and bringing this stuff up, you do it to yourself. When you sit quietly and watch your own thought process, you see this happens with sickening regularity.

But why? Why do we get so involved in this garbage?

It’s because the more drama you have in your life the more real you seem to feel. But that’s not you.

Your ego structure demands drama. That’s what makes it appear to be more real, more alive. That’s what makes you identify more strongly with it.

It doesn’t have to be good drama. In fact, bad, painful, negative drama works far better. This is why some of us work so hard to create as much ugly drama in our lives as we possibly can.

What was scary, at least for me, was seeing clearly how I do this to myself quite deliberately even when there are far easier alternatives. Even when it was much easier to let shit go, I would hold on anyway. Even when there was nothing at all to be gained from reigniting some conflict from the past, I reignited it anyway. Even when it hurt me to bring things up that didn’t need to be revisited, I brought them up anyway.

Oh yes, and every single time I did this, I could justify it. I could always come up with some reason I had to dredge this crap up once again – often very solid reasons, at that. We all seem to become experts at justifications like this.

But what happens when you don’t? What happens when you let it go?

I’ll tell you what happened to me. I felt that, by letting this drama go, I was endangering myself. I felt like, if I didn’t keep it up, something valuable might be lost. It was frightening. I felt like I might vanish without it.

Even so, I started making some tentative steps in that direction. Little bitty baby steps. I recounted one of these baby steps in one of my books (I think it was Sit Down and Shut Up, but it might have been Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate – buy them both just to be safe!).

I was with my then-wife Yuka in our car and we were arguing. I don’t know what it was about. But she said something and immediately I thought of the perfect zinger of an answer. It was one of those things you wait a lifetime for if you’re an argumentative person. The most perfect answer ever was right there. It was just like the episode of Seinfeld where George comes up with the perfect comeback to an insult, but he doesn’t come up with it until it’s too late. Only this time I had it right there, ready to go!

Something clicked just then though and I realized that, if I used my perfect comeback, the conflict between us would just continue. In fact, it would get even worse because my comeback was so perfect it would hurt her feelings. It would tend to highlight the fact that I was more clever in my use of the English language than she was (since I’d spoken it all my life and she only started when she was in junior high – she was far more clever in Japanese than I’ll ever be). In short, it might provide a momentary ego boost because I would, at least for a few seconds, “win.” But in the long run it would not be a good thing.

So I swallowed my perfect comeback. And that hurt. It was weird how it hurt. It felt like I had just given up my self. Yet I kept quiet anyway. And a few minutes later we were talking civilly to each other again.

There are times when a bit of drama – or even a lot of drama – is unavoidable, even necessary. But when you start looking at your life honestly, you’ll notice that those occasions happen very rarely. More often than that we deliberately manufacture our drama moments.

If you find yourself entangled in the life of someone who likes to manufacture a whole lot of drama, that can be very difficult. I’ve found it best to avoid engaging with people like that whenever possible. If I must engage with them, I try to keep the interactions brief. When I have to contradict someone with a flair for drama-creation, I do so carefully.

Dogen once said that when you’re in an argument and you are certain you are correct but the other person refuses to concede, there is no need to falsely admit you’re wrong. He said you should let the argument drop. So that’s what I try to do.

I have not perfected this. Our habits die hard. We tend to follow previously established patterns in our interactions. It’s very difficult to change these patterns. Even when we know the results will always be unpleasant, we’ll keep doing it because the familiar is somehow less scary than the unknown, even when what is familiar is also miserable.

So I watch myself as honestly as I am able to. And I do my zazen routine every day even when I don’t feel like it.

–   –   –

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* * *

There’s no drama involved in sending a donation. And it really helps me a lot. Thank you very much!


40 Responses

Page 1 of 1
  1. Shodo
    Shodo June 3, 2015 at 2:19 pm |

    Here is some good drama… 😉

    1. Conrad
      Conrad June 3, 2015 at 11:45 pm |

      Shodo, you are completely forgiven for all your sins by posting that link.

    2. Yoshiyahu
      Yoshiyahu June 4, 2015 at 9:54 am |

      I had assumed I was here to engage in drama that reinforced my sense of self, but now I see my real purpose here! To learn the ways of Kung Fury. (When Triceracop showed up I laughed so hard I almost choked on my coffee.)

    3. Shodo
      Shodo June 4, 2015 at 12:17 pm |

      “…. I was struck by a bolt of lightning… and bitten by a cobra!” 🙂

  2. leslieb
    leslieb June 3, 2015 at 2:44 pm |

    Guilt works almost as well and it’s something you can do all by yourself!

  3. lamb-O
    lamb-O June 3, 2015 at 2:49 pm |

    A person like this was the most important person in my life. The one and only that understood me, and with whom I felt I could share my interests to the deepest. The one and only I’ve ever thought about marrying.

    How could this end? With a bloodbath, a scam from her against me, and me right now as emotionally fragile as ever.

    Thanks for your post. Just what I needed to read.

    (and sorry for my foreigner’s English)

  4. Inge
    Inge June 3, 2015 at 3:00 pm |

    I also stay away or limit time with people who enjoy drama but what do you suggest when a drama queen is your adult child?

    1. Fred
      Fred June 3, 2015 at 3:32 pm |

      “I also stay away or limit time with people who enjoy drama but what do you suggest when a drama queen is your adult child?”

      Kung Fury

  5. Shinchan Ohara
    Shinchan Ohara June 3, 2015 at 5:28 pm |

    ‘I wasted the best years of my life writing my impromptu replies’, I think it was Winston Churchill said that.

    I wonder why feeling ‘real’ is so important to us. Maybe we develop a need for a continuous sense of self as kids once we realize we’ll be held accountable for past actions. Several of my earliest memories involve struggling to explain something I’d done to a grownup.

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot June 4, 2015 at 3:05 pm |

      Perhaps many people feel a suspicion of fraud lurking in their shadows? Things that confirm one’s ego feel good.

  6. Greg
    Greg June 3, 2015 at 6:01 pm |

    Thanks Brad. I think your description of dredging up a bunch of stuff and then reacting to it even when it’s hurtful summarizes many of my interactions on this here Internet. Except this one.

  7. Jundotreeleaf
    Jundotreeleaf June 4, 2015 at 2:47 am |

    Dear Brad,

    Thank you for this very lovely piece.

    It has inspired me to invite you publicly to our Treeleaf Sangha to lead our members in a short Zazenkai and to offer a talk. We would be honored. I know we have invited you a couple of times in the past, but it never worked out. This month, we have Mary Mocine of Clear Water Zendo, and in July Taigen Dan Leighton is coming to lead a Zazen and offer a talk. Please come at any convenient time in between those dates or after. The wonderful aspect of our netcast Zazenkai is that you would not have to get on a plane, and can lead us from where you are, whenever you have a couple of hours to spare and an internet connection. Whenever your schedule allows a couple of hours, we will have have many folks from different time zones to join in. So, even with your European travels coming up, I hope you can find a couple of hours. Many of our members are big fans of your books (of course, me too).

    What say you?

    Other teachers who have come recently are Muho from Antaiji (here is the link, so you can get a feel for what it will look like), our mutual friend Tonen O’Connor, Koun Franz and others.

    The Zazenkai is usually about 90 minutes to 2 hours, and includes a period of Zazen sitting and Kinhin, your Talk and the Q&A with our members using two-way video (easy to use, I can show you).

    Please come.

    I am so much in tune with what you wrote here. Buddhists (all human beings really … heck, the Middle East would be a lot nice please if this were true) should let go of the past, tensions, what happened, who said what to whom long ago, and should mutually forgive, apologize to each other for any slights (whether real or perceived or in the eye of the beholder), embrace and move forward. Learn from the past, but move on. The Zen folks should sit Zazen together, break bread or a share a cup together, letting all go. They should talk and work together constructively if there is some need for positive work. There have sometimes been hard feelings between us, and I never felt it good or necessary. Buddhists should not be hard hearted, and should let all hard feelings float away, like water under a bridge. Whatever people feel, it is just a viewpoint. Who cares?!, we’ll all be dead someday with only our Karma remaining. It is all just thoughts, and passed time.

    A lovely, wise post. Will you come visit?

    Gassho, Jundo Cohen

  8. Fred Jr.
    Fred Jr. June 4, 2015 at 3:38 am |

    Speaking of drama, I do so enjoy the episodes that tap into the ongoing Dogen Sangha thread 🙂

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon June 4, 2015 at 8:38 am |

      The more you stir a turd, the more it stinks.

      (Comments must have more than 60 characters.)

  9. Mumbles
    Mumbles June 4, 2015 at 9:03 am |

    (In slurred voice of Mickey Rourke playing Charles Bukowski in Barfly:)


  10. Zafu
    Zafu June 4, 2015 at 9:44 am |

    I know we have invited you a couple of times in the past, but it never worked out.

    The drama too hard to resist? Perhaps it’s time to take a hint and let it go.

  11. Mumbles
    Mumbles June 4, 2015 at 10:00 am |

    I want to forward the link to this Bradblog post to a friend I had a conversation with yesterday on this very same topic. It is bothering him so much he may move out of state to avoid running into people that trigger negative memories and responses. This friend has dabbled in sitting meditation for years, and was part of the same Soto Zen group I sat with for a while. Anyway, by way of really introducing Brad I would ask that in the new FAQ there might be a short synopsis of Brad’s history as a Zen guy? “Who is Brad Warner?” maybe? I know, I know, he can read the books, and get a kind of idea from the blog itself, but a short intro might be useful for newcomers. Thanks.

  12. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon June 4, 2015 at 12:24 pm |

    Zen Master LaBeouf’s teisho for the Treeleaf Zendo.

  13. tysondav
    tysondav June 4, 2015 at 2:49 pm |


    Is there a Zen solution to stopping those bad habits? Just meditate until they disappear? I inherited some bad habits from my father that have been with me all my life and as hard as I try, I can’t stop them.

    1. Yoshiyahu
      Yoshiyahu June 4, 2015 at 4:43 pm |

      I have noticed that it’s not like my bad habits go away, but if I can become aware that I’m falling into the habitual way of behaving, I can sometimes notice WHY it’s happening, and then it sometimes loses its power over me. Other times I can have the dialog of “WTF. I hate behaving this way. I’m just trying to deal with this other issue by doing this, and this won’t help that other thing at all. And the compulsive part of me is like “STFU, I’m doing it anyway!” but sometimes it DOES help. And of course, Zazen helps me to notice.

  14. Khru 2.0
    Khru 2.0 June 4, 2015 at 3:06 pm |

    Jundo Cohen,

    Why are you posting your speaking request on a public forum?

    Wouldn’t it be more tactful (and considerate) to privately message Bradley?

    Are you trying to put some kind of public pressure on Mr. Warner to speak at your event; especially in light of your very public feud?

    It might be more appropriate to highlight your text, cut, and then paste it to his personal email.

    Thank you.

    1. Yoshiyahu
      Yoshiyahu June 4, 2015 at 4:45 pm |

      my thoughts as well. it’s like the desire to be seen as conciliatory trumped the desire to invite Brad.

  15. Jundotreeleaf
    Jundotreeleaf June 4, 2015 at 4:50 pm |

    Hi Khru,

    I suppose I am wanting to extend the invitation publicly to show our conversation in the light of day. There have been tensions in the past, but those are long gone. I don’t carry on feuds and neither does Brad.

    By the way, I have re-read Bro. Brad’s essay. I am now wondering if it could be misunderstood. If the advice is to let the past go, learn from it and move on, try to make peace and work constructively, that sure seems like a sound message. Swords should be made into plowshares, and hatchets buried. Former enemies should become cooperative friends. If olive branches are extended, they generally should be accepted. That sounds like a basic Buddhist message.

    If the advice is to avoid someone in some situation who continues to wish one ill, who tries to make tension or disturbance in life, to be unwilling to let the past go and act positively for the future, and to have no sense of peace and compassion, I would agree that there are times to keep one’s distance.

    But if the message were (I don’t think it should be read that way) that it is okay to hold on to one’s feeling of injury, of having been wronged, of “he said she said”, and to simply avoid a situation which rekindles them, that sounds to me like not the best path and not what Brad is recommending. Buddhists especially (all human beings) should work to learn from the past but move beyond.

    I did some work here in Japan on a reconciliation committee for former Allied POWs from places like Australia, UK and Holland and their former POW camp guards. Some of the POWs kept the anger and did not come to the meeting, as it was too painful to them. I can understand, but wish they would find some peace. Some of the guards did not deserve to be invited, because they appeared to be true war criminals who had never atoned or faced up to their past acts of cruelty, and were not about to start apologizing now. Others came and somehow found mutual peace and forgiveness. They were much older men. My understanding is that this meeting became part of the inspiration for a recent film with Colin Firth, The Railway Man, which I recommend to all.

    Gassho, Jundo

    1. Zafu
      Zafu June 4, 2015 at 5:32 pm |

      I suppose I am wanting to extend the invitation publicly to show our conversation in the light of day.

      More drama in the light of day with an audience, you old drama queen.

  16. Jundotreeleaf
    Jundotreeleaf June 4, 2015 at 7:05 pm |

    Hi Zafu,

    You describe yourself admittedly as a “troll”. Is not a “troll” by definition someone who likes to stir up “drama” and trouble among others for their own amusement? Are not the reasons that most “trolls” operate (as opposed to doing something else with there time) due to a need to vent their own frustrations with their life, boredom with their job, feelings of their own inadequacy somewhere, resentments which they cannot express in their own relationships and the like? Most are typically frustrated in their own daily life and need to attack others by tapping away at keys in their darkened bedroom or little cubicle.

    Why don’t you turn to something more constructive, such as working for something positive in the world, bringing people together rather then trying to wedge them apart, offering something helpful to others in need of food and charity (go volunteer someplace with your time)? Why bring more ugliness and, instead, why not step beyond the problems in your own life?

    That’s all I will say to you.

    Gassho, Jundo

    1. Zafu
      Zafu June 4, 2015 at 9:26 pm |

      Lol, that’s perfect, Jundo, talking about the virtues of being positive while simultaneously putting someone down. You acknowledge that trolls are only about drama and yet cannot resist the bait. You’re an old hypocritical drama queen, my dear.

    2. Mindfulness
      Mindfulness June 5, 2015 at 4:28 am |

      That is interesting.

      Why do people who have resentments which they cannot express in their own relationships choose to wedge people apart rather than bring them together?

      Why can’t they step beyond the problems in their own lives?

      Brad seems to answer the “why” above, stating that it has to do with fulfilling the the demands of an “ego structure.”

      But then he goes on to detail how and why to stop perpetuating the drama. It’s painful. Nice post.

      1. Zafu
        Zafu June 5, 2015 at 8:39 am |

        I must confess, it was I that drove the wedge and tore asunder the great love between Brad & Jundo. I did this out of frustration with my own lowly wretched life. Alone in my dark misrable room I tap away at the keys in utter despair, turning brother on brother and bringing ugliness into the world! Woe is me in my hour of pain!! FORGIVE ME, BRAD! FORGIVE ME, JUNDO!! I beg you now to rekindle the great love that was lost! PLEASE, PLEASE, do it now whilst there is still time!

        P.S. If this is not dramatic enough for the treeleafers let me know, I’ve got 30 minutes to revise and juice it up.

        1. Shinchan Ohara
          Shinchan Ohara June 5, 2015 at 12:48 pm |

          Careful, Zafu. You’re in danger of crossing the fine line from being a troll to being pertinently satirical.

  17. Muddy Elephant
    Muddy Elephant June 4, 2015 at 7:55 pm |


    In the context of your post–your sentiments really seem to resonate with some of Eckhart Tolle’s thoughts regarding ego structure. Wonder what you think of the guy or have you read any of his stuff?

  18. Mumbles
    Mumbles June 4, 2015 at 9:03 pm |

    Concerning the so-called One and The Many, I have been wrong to assign particular importance to any single part, that part being reflective of the Whole. In many things there appear to be preferences, however all and every one lead back to a single point. This is true of everything, which must be conceived and held to be One and One only. Alchemy is a path among many that leads back to Unity, as all things must. A lifetime full of various experiences is a Whole in and of itself and reflective of the Whole in every seeming part. Researching this or that, finding something compatible or in opposition, is irrelevant to the outcome which is always mirrored by a likeness or it’s opposite, ie; a wholeness. Everything is connected to everything else and individualized to express the infinite, inexhaustible transmutation of one single thing, Thou art That/That art Thou.

  19. Ugrok
    Ugrok June 5, 2015 at 2:20 am |

    Hey !

    I don’t know anything about the Jundo / Brad drama, but as a drama queen practicioner myself, i would love it if Braddo led an online session.

  20. raindrop
    raindrop June 5, 2015 at 5:00 am |

    Hi Brad,

    I’m a Treeleafer, and I’d love it if you would join us for a couple hours of online practice. Your books are on our suggested reading list, and you would find a very friendly, interested, and welcoming group of people here. Our Zazenkai is open to all, and is posted on YouTube so that anyone can sit along at their convenience. Visiting teachers are a treat especially for Sangha members who cannot get to a brick-and-mortar zendo for various reasons such as illness, or because, like me, they live hundreds of miles from the nearest zendo. I live in the middle of nowhere in Alaska. The opportunity to share zazenkai with you live would be wonderful.

    As for drama… meh, whatever. Your post is very insightful. I spent far too much time and energy creating and acting out drama in my youth. I find the older I get, the less taste I have for it, and the less time I’m willing to give to it. I feel “realer” now with less drama. Zazen definitely helps me begin to see through that stuff.

  21. drocloc
    drocloc June 5, 2015 at 6:49 am |

    Dear Brad,

    No drama, just dhamma. Please visit, or don’t. Gassho

  22. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 5, 2015 at 9:32 am |

    What Mumbles said.

    Another way of saying the same thing:

    ‘I identify my self with the location of my awareness, and for me as for most people, the location of that awareness is singular. There are people who experience themselves as being in two locations at once during a particular kind of out-of-body experience, but this is rare (5). When I sense where I am, I can experience (motion in the three spatial planes) as a part of my sense of where I am, and I can likewise experience the weight and placement of the muscles, ligaments, and joints of the body as a part of where I am.

    Here’s the way Eihei-Dogen, the founder of the Soto Zen school in Japan, put it:

    “When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point.” (6)

    Dogen emphasized the sense of place, and how the experience of the sense of place (“practice occurs”) is simultaneously the embodiment of the sense of place (“actualizing the fundamental point”).’

    That’s an excerpt from D. L. Bartilink, “No Special Effort”, and the “Best of Ways”, which I hope is now complete.

    Might not be enough drama in it for some, so:

    tb, or not tb, that is the question;
    Consumption be done about it?
    ha-koff, ha-koff!

    1. Shinchan Ohara
      Shinchan Ohara June 5, 2015 at 12:41 pm |

      On a tangential note, I went for an Alexander Technique lesson yesterday. The guy said my breathing is all ***ked up – too much belly, not enough ribs… and do I meditate?

      Apparently, he’s seen a few refugees from Vipassana and Rinzai Zen with a similar issue: stiffness in the upper chest from underuse, leading to bad posture.

      [on-topic because: Mike Cross does AT too, and he’s another persona non grata from the Great DSI debacle. So, drama]

  23. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 5, 2015 at 9:36 am |

    Mary Blige, at the White House last November:

  24. Michel
    Michel June 5, 2015 at 11:59 am |

    They say comments must have more than sixty characters. And comics?

Comments are closed.