“To become awakened, one must give up his identification with the melodramas that surround him.” Swami Ajaya
This one-liner of wisdom came across my path via the spiritual-quote-a-day tear-off calendar near the coffee pot at work. This calendar, which appears year after year at this gathering spot, gleans wisdom from across traditions; sometimes I find them helpful, often times not. As a Zen practitioner, I tend to find many of the quotes either too wordy or too esoteric, but this one struck me like an arrow, as any good teaching should. Definitely a keeper, it went on the bulletin board next to my work station after its designated time had expired. That’s a great place for it because, like all good teachings, I forget it every single day. Spiritual practice is a process of continual remembering.
Friday night was a very important time for “re-membering” in the sense of reconnecting with a spiritual community and the intention that we share. It was Inauguration Day, a day that shed a bright, harsh spotlight on the melodrama that the country and the world is currently embroiled in. My partner and I had the opportunity to join our voices with about 200 others at kirtan, the ecstatic singing of the myriad names of the Divine that has been part of the Hindu tradition for millennia. Prajna, the kirtan wallah who leads the band on harmonium and leads the voices in chanting, used to bring us all together on a monthly basis until she “retired” last year at the age of 70. Basically, she called an emergency kirtan because she felt that, given the urgency of the situation, the world needed our voices.
What I realized as I chanted my devotion to the Divine in Her many feminine aspects was that it wasn’t just the world (out There) who needed my voice, it was me (in Here) who needed it. This truth points to a fundamental flaw in the Swami’s statement that one must “cease to identify with the melodramas that surround him.” As Zen Master Seung Sahn might say, this statement contains a “big mistake.” (Actually, two big mistakes, one being the gender bias.) The second big mistake is the perception that the melodramas surrounding me are problematic… it’s the melodramas within me that cause me to suffer. I’m referring to what Pema Chodron calls my “storyline,” my precious notion of who I am and how I fit in with the world that I perceive as being separate from myself, a world that is never exactly the way I want it to be. Attachment to my storyline is the cause of my suffering, and it always has been. Office holders merely present themselves from time to time as convenient scapegoats.