When Hans Andersen was young, he built a little theatre out of paper. Then he made the sets and painted them and all the little characters – also out of paper. And when he had all the characters and settings he wanted, he wrote plays for them.
He knew that we all live in the midst of a drama created by ourselves and others around us, and then he wrote another play, specially for the Royal Danish Theatre and presented it to them. I don’t think they performed it, but they took young Hans very seriously and arranged his further education.
Shakespeare, like Anderson, drew on the things and people he saw around him and stories he had heard. And just as Andersen’s ugly duckling becomes a swan, so too did Shakespeare’s characters alter and change, because as he said, ‘All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.’ And he added most importantly, ‘and one man in his time plays many parts.’ And we all do just that.
Ajahn Sumedho advised us: ‘Don’t take yourself personally,’ because too often the characters we play begin to take over, like Hans Andersen’s Shadow, and lead us in ways we would otherwise never have chosen. There is great temptation to do this in a time like the present – when we have so little to involve us and we are cut off from friends and relations – and the new reins make us feel important and valued, even if they are just versions of ourselves on the internet. As Zen master Fenyang said, ‘Most people are wrapped in illusions, cravings, resentments and other afflictions, all because they love the cave of ignorance. Few believe their inherent mind is Buddha. Most will not take this seriously and therefore, they are cramped.’
So we construct personae that are different from us, and we feel are more interesting. But curiously, the word ‘persona’ comes from the Greek word for a mask, and was an economic way of turning one actor into various different people. We all do this all the time, being ‘the angry person’, or ‘the happy person’, or perhaps ‘the important person’.
We change in every moment
None may consider himself the same
A moment after
Joy or laughter,
A changeling but for name.
But instead of looking at the source of these characters – of what drives them – we begin to inhabit them and forget who we really are, because we are afraid that being who we really are would be boring, and we might be boring. But in evading reality, we lose ourselves, and live in an uncomfortable fiction that never quite fits the real world, never really satisfies our need.
But if we turn and look at the quiet space that sees all this and the frustration we feel, sometimes a curious creativity occurs. For this ‘boring space’ is also the source of all the things we have been looking for for so long, and somehow seems to have room for all of them.
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