While living in Beijing, China, recently, I spent my days at the Lama Temple interviewing Tibetan monks for my recently released book,Â Think Yourself Young. An elder monk approached me one day as I sat next to the Laughing Buddha statue. He told me a story that goes back to the time of Lao Tzu (the founder of Taoism), 400 BCE, that has stuck with me ever since.
It goes like this: A beggar stood at the gates of the temple with his hand out asking for coins from the monks that came and went. On this particular day an elder monk approached the beggar. The beggar responded by putting his hand out. The elder said, “I have nothing to give you, however, I have a question. Have you ever looked inside the box that you have been sitting on all these weeks”?
The beggar said, “No, why? It’s an empty box.” The elder monk suggested that the beggar take the time to look inside. He went on to suggest that should he do so, he would find it filled with gold. The story is analogous to our propensity as humans to look outside ourselves to seek happiness, fulfillment, joy, etc. I spent the first half of my life as a beggar. I was always looking for the next architectural design project, business opportunity, college degree or sports trophy for fulfillment.
I was, like many humans, addicted to the adrenaline rush of the next life situation. Many of us are still beggars, moving from one life situation or person to the next, seeking the next high. Some of us fill our lives with drama and crises, fulfilling our need for emotional stimulation. I found myself attracting partners that needed to be rescued. Charging to the rescue, I would feel needed. This did not require much introspection, and I was not forced to look at myself since the constant drama and crises kept my attention focused and my awareness muted. My excuse may have been love, and my fix, the rush of the situation. My reality was mostly hidden within a fear-based initiative — fear, because by remaining focused on others, I allowed myself to remain above and outside, always preaching reason and logic to the insane drama that would transpire as a result of another’s less-than-practical thoughts and actions. I could remain safe and untouched from any normal or healthy introspection that a balanced healthy relationship would require of me.
Some might see this as philanthropic, affording affirmation; I call it the hero effect. The reality is that I was stunting my own growth, remaining safe in my isolation with all the attention placed on the drama, and, of course, the other person’s obvious malaise. From my vantage point, this was a silly exercise in inefficiency. It most certainly detracted from the depth and complexity of the life situations I was attracting. The drama acted like a drug to keep my senses dulled and — like the beggar in the story — outwardly focused. The obvious need for a level-headed, logical approach that I always would bring allowed me to remain unaware of my own addiction, hence lack of introspection seemed normal since I was the sane one, at least from one vantage point. The reality is that we are what we attract. I was as much a part of the drama as anyone. Had I been more aware, I would have seen this.
Most drama and/or ongoing stories that we tell ourselves are typically a way of dealing with pain. They are the story we are addicted to. The drama is our fix. It is the high that allows us to remain unattached from reality, much like a drug addict or a dry alcoholic.
When confronted with the next drama beginning to unfold, the answer might be to take two steps backwards and quiet the mind. Focus on your breath for a minute or two. The truth of the interaction will surface, and right action can be taken vs. just any action, or an action derived from an unhealthy pattern of addiction. Most of the time we are fixated by what is in front of us, but, in reality, the causal effect is built into our brain. A past trauma or life situation that we need to forgive may be the true requisite action for us to be released from this internal loop of action and reaction. Unconsciously, I was hooked on the drama and the resultant opportunity to get my fix.
The moral of the story is for us to recall the monk’s advice to the beggar. Rather than looking outside ourselves for happiness, joy, money, love, we need to begin to look within. Look inside the box we have been sitting on — while here in the natural — for the answers. Look inward.
By looking within, we can find our center. From our mental and physical center, we can care without becoming a caretaker. One can be responsible to people without becoming responsible for them.Â The net result is that one no longer needs the stimulation of the recurrent drama. In Eastern philosophy, we are taught to substitute dharma — spiritual truth — for the ensuing drama. We begin to see that small is beautiful and less is actually more. We begin to appreciate the subtle, profound beauties that exist all around us. We seek the subtle spark in others and seek to help ignite it.
Next time you are confronted with an opportunity for drama, ask what hidden rewards are there for you. Are you using this crisis as an excuse for not facing something else? Are you ready and willing to change this unhealthy pattern? Is there a person or situation from your past that you need to forgive?
Restructure your life to include more time for personal renewal. Shift your motivation from the energy of anxiety to the energy of joy. Regular exercise and meditation may help produce biochemical changes that will support the new behavior patterns you are creating. Practice quieting your mind. Focus on your breathing and center yourself before entering new life situations. New neuro pathways will be scripted and your life will begin to change.