Letting Go of Boxes

Let­ting go of box­es: we all cat­e­go­rize, and some­times that’s help­ful, but exam­in­ing our beliefs is the mark of maturity.

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So, here we are, at the end of anoth­er year, with no clue about the next one. We’re still in the mid­dle of the Covid thing, only now with a new vari­ant. Only time will tell how it all goes.

We’re present­ly in Spain, head­ing back to Ontario in Feb­ru­ary. No clue how we’ll do that, but it at least ought to be interesting. 

I’ve been work­ing on a new book. Not sure about it yet. It’s on my list of prin­ci­pal things to do in Jan­u­ary. Stay tuned.

Feliz años nuevo!

I think that the most valuable thing to do on New Year’s Day is to state how little we know.

As I think back on last New Year, I’m aware that most of what hap­pened this year was total­ly unexpected–many world events were painful to say the least, and the roller-coast­er of hope to despair continues. 

It does­n’t help that we are pre­dis­posed to expect sta­bil­i­ty. We do so through cat­e­go­riza­tion and blame. Let’s have a look at how this works.

We assim­i­late raw data and some­how man­age to fit it into the neat box­es implant­ed in our heads.

© Shel Sil­ver­stein,
in Play­boy Magazine 

Ah, those box­es! Ever since we were munchkins, we’ve been cat­e­go­riz­ing, fil­ing, sort­ing. And that would be great, if we weren’t also judg­ing.

Because we were kids, we knew noth­ing, and so our par­ents and tribes taught us “right from wrong.” This became the first of the divi­sions — the “this, not that’s” of our existence.

The cultural stuff is deep, and to that is added familial quirks.

My dad was a Demo­c­rat, mom a Repub­li­can, and mom ruled the roost. So, I grew up, in the 50’s, fol­low­ing mom’s lead, and think­ing the U S of A could do no wrong. Sil­ly me.

I authored a quite jin­go­is­tic dia­tribe back in 1965. I had a cute Eng­lish teacher who beamed at me when I impressed her, and she was a rabid Repub­li­can, so that was moti­va­tion to write an “Amer­i­ca, love it or leave it” arti­cle for one of the papers in Buf­fa­lo. Got it pub­lished, and that got me an “A” and a squeeze on the shoulder.

By the Spring of 1968, I’d grown my hair out, and watched with glee as Lyn­don John­son stepped out of the race for pres­i­dent. My pol­i­tics had changed–I was writ­ing left-wing stuff and get­ting smiles and pats on the shoul­der from a brand-new, and even cuter Eng­lish stu­dent teacher.

Simple illustration, and the point isn’t really that I’m easily influenced by cute teachers (although I did marry one.)

I was fer­vent in 1965, and equal­ly fer­vent in 1968,
and both “fer­ven­cies” were real and deep.

How did this hap­pen? Well, I was able to go into the file sys­tem, and holus bolus drag my polit­i­cal beliefs from one box to anoth­er. I remem­ber the strug­gle I had as I exam­ined, dis­card­ed, and moved that stuff.

It’s still a strug­gle, this relent­less self-exam­i­na­tion, but for­tu­nate­ly, it’s easy to tell when I have some­thing to work on.

Because I pride myself on my ability to reason, I am still (and often) amazed when I trigger myself.

To this day, I have very lit­tle patience for con­ser­vatism, and even less for racism, so when some­one says some­thing I con­sid­er “off,” I could excuse myself for my knee-jerk, inter­nal reaction–I want to rip their faces off. I don’t, of course, but I do want to.

Hint: just because you real­ly, real­ly believe some­thing, doesn’t make it true!

Knowing this causes me to question the depth of my beliefs on this subject. Not TRUTH — DEPTH.

By that, I mean: I have sev­er­al group­ings of beliefs that have long roots: these are beliefs I sel­dom exam­ine, let alone chal­lenge. My body, inti­mate­ly con­nect­ed to my brain, spouts a phys­i­cal gut clench–a “That’s wrong!” reac­tion to diver­gent opin­ions or beliefs.

Other stuff, seemingly as fervently held, has a milder reaction.

All of this goes to show that we all are lit­tle bun­dles of reac­tion, and, left with­out reflec­tion, our knee-jerk reac­tions are what get us into trouble.

I’d like to propose a a project for 2022.

Make a com­mit­ment to mon­i­tor your­selves for “big­gies.” You know what I mean. You’re all sweaty and indig­nant, and you don’t know why–you just know that you are offend­ed, self-right­eous, and ready to judge.

So, have a breath.

Take the time to go inside and ask yourself,

  • What deeply held belief am I trig­ger­ing here?
  • How am I offend­ing myself?
  • Is the belief at the base of this been exam­ined, or has it been hang­ing around in here, push­ing my but­tons, since I was a kid?
  • How’d I adopt that one?
  • Is is still sensible?

Then, have another breath, and see if you can go deeper, and begin to prune back the thought, and maybe even uproot it.

Because, and this is the hard part, none of it is real, or true, or helpful.

It’s just the car­ton, the box, that you’ve been oper­at­ing out of.

The goal here is NOT to cre­ate a new box, but to see what life might be like with­out the need to cat­e­go­rize. In oth­er words, to live moment to moment, and to respond with com­pas­sion and clarity.

Now, of course, you still will react, internally.

But that’s OK. Smile at your­self, and come to the par­ty anyway! 

Because in the end, it’s all just a big movie, and your job is to be able to see that it is.

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