Let’s pretend I have a box. I have decorated the inside of my box according to my ideas about what the world is. There are the things I prefer, the things I don’t prefer and a whole story about why the world is the way it is. And every time I leave my bedroom I put the box over my head. It’s a habit now, I don’t even notice it any more.
I also decorate according to my memories of what life outside the box looks like. When I was very young I had no box at all and life was very challenging. A lot of the box decorations are based on my childhood. The only other time I see life box-less is when I’m out and about and things have changed so much that I collide with something, a detail that isn’t represented accurately enough in my box. Then I have to take my box off and deal directly with life – this is exciting but scary, and frequently painful. Of course, I hurry home and update my box decorations to avoid repeating that collision.
Which means when I go out into the world wearing my box on my head I’m very confident and can focus 110% on the things I think are important. Very handy for achieving things on a to-do list.
I put my box on every morning and go out to school or work or shopping or the retirement village. It almost doesn’t matter where I am because my box never changes. The decorations fade or fall off but I replace them and make up new characters: the show must go on!
If things get extreme, my box can filter out not only the things that make me uncomfortable or disappointed but the very acknowledgement that life can actually be uncomfortable or disappointing! Such relentless, grotesque positivity can bring some spectacular achievements: right up until adrenal fatigue and the weight of stress blows the box to pieces.
There’s an Alan Watts quote I’m very fond of:
Our problem is that the power of thought enables us to construct symbols of things apart from the things themselves. This includes the ability to make a symbol, an idea of ourselves apart from ourselves. Because the idea is so much more comprehensible than the reality, the symbol so much more stable than the fact, we learn to identify ourselves with our idea of ourselves.
Alan Watts, The Way of Zen
So, what’s the view from your box look like?