Look beneath the role you tend to play in relationship, then beneath that, and so on, until you see the hilarity of it all.
We all have our personality crutches, the roles we default to out of comfort and protection. They’re pretty obvious to those observing us, but not always as obvious from the inside. Any time we’re playing a role—showing how educated we are, cracking those nonstop jokes, playing peacemaker —it’s an expression of fear and incompleteness. It’s an attempt by the mind to fill the gap in wholeness, to plug up the dyke lest some great catastrophe occur.
On the flip side, when we’re triggered by someone else using their crutch, that is likewise an expression of fear or incompleteness in ourselves. When you can’t be with someone else while they play their role, then you are also playing your role.
In a state of completeness, nothing is triggering, certainly not an action by another actor in the play. Everything is chargeless, and as a result it’s all hilarious—a play being acted out in a silly fantasy world of incompletion and division. How absurd!
So whenever we notice we’re playing a role, or getting pissed off about someone else’s role, we have a great opportunity to become more aware. What is it that’s triggering? Why do I believe I need this crutch at this moment? Where’s the fear?
The ultimate answer is that all is one. But you can’t just leapfrog to truth directly from a state of fear. More often, you’ve got to take it one step at a time. Identify the fear, look below that fear, go deeper and so on. Bringing the fear to light allows it to drift away.
I have two close friends who love each other but annoy one another constantly. One frequently takes on a curmudgeonly sarcastic role as a way to deflect attention from his fears of loneliness and failure. The other takes the role of being unable to handle the darkness and sarcasm of the first friend, because it reminds him of a painful relationship with his father. His fear is that if he allows the sarcasm to continue, his current relationships will go the way of that deepest and most painful parental relationship, and then all will be misery.
None of that is true, of course, and knowing these two it’s obvious from the outside. The first friend is wildly successful and adored by everyone. The second is incredibly courageous, has immense capacity to handle life’s dark side, and has very strong relationships that are in no danger of misery. But while they’re both embroiled in this tiny drama, they can’t see any of that clearly. They fully believe their game and so it boils over a bit, then simmers down, and then boils over again and so on.
What these two are starting to notice is that the extent to which they feel a negative reaction to the other is the extent to which they believe their own fantasy. The antidote they are each applying more frequently is to look not to the other person’s actions or words, but instead to identify their own fear in the moment. As they do so, the drama feels less real, and their appreciation for one another increases.
This is the fundamental relationship dynamic at work. Relationship is the mechanism that awakens us to truth. Reaction (any reaction to anything) is an expression of division; we only react to what we perceive as other. Each reaction, therefore, is an opportunity to see the fantasy of division. This is the case with any and all reactions—reacting to traffic, or rain, or that pitiful pop song on the radio. But this opportunity is often the most poignant and charged in personal relationships. The more personal, the stronger the charge and the greater opportunity, and this is why romantic relationships are such fertile ground for awakening. This is also why romantic relationships tend to end so permanently and dramatically.
So we use the charge as a way to dig into fear, which ultimately allows us to wake up to the truth. And then, we can can go back to being surly bastards, or peacemakers, or jokesters, or enlightened dudes, or whatever we want. But now it’s all just a game, the charge is just for fun, and everything is hilarious.