I was thinking. And the more I thought, the more I realized that there is a whole lot to think about. But in my thinking, I thought that most of our thinking (despite how much there is to think about) is really pretty standardized and chafingly rote. We think we think, but the more I think about that, the less I think we think (if you know what I mean). So, while there’s a whole lot to think about in this big, wide world of ours …we don’t.
It seems that our thinking is constrained in a manner that there’s really not that much thinking going on at all. Rather, more often than not our thinking is a tired process of monotonously gathering up a predictable handful of stale but safe thoughts. And if we play with them long enough, we figure that maybe they’ll freshen up and something innovatively fragrant might actually emerge out of the rot. If something actually does, we’re usually scared of whatever it is. If it doesn’t (which is typically what happens) we become increasingly convinced beyond hope that life is as stale as we thought it was.
Most of this appears to happen because we think within boxes that we randomly, and sometimes not so randomly borrow. We think within predetermined boxes because anything outside of those requires some innovation wherein we let the leash out a bit, let our thoughts find their legs, and let them run. But we’ve discovered that sometimes that simply takes too much thought, far too much energy, and far, far too much courage, for it is much easier and much, much safer to just sit. Or worse yet, we fear that once our thoughts have caught even the slightest whiff of a life running at full stride, they will forever refuse the short leash. And so, we peruse the stank back alleys of complacency, borrowing boxes that we find deep in the darkened hovels of mediocrity. And life becomes a journey lived within suffocating boxes rather than an adventure crafted of breathless horizons.
Our Box Collection:
The Box of Societal Norms
We think within the box of societal norms. We grant these norms legitimacy because most of the people around us adhere to them in one form or another. Because all these people adhere to them, we naturally grant these norms a morality, assuming that others would not dare embrace them if they weren’t sufficiently ethical or moral. Therefore, (despite the terribly narrow nature of both the boxes and our logic), they are deemed acceptable. To our relief, we quickly discover that if we think within these boxes we are far less likely to be met with rejection, or ridicule, or some other rather distasteful response. We desperately want to be in the good graces of those around us as that’s far more comfortable and far less dangerous than being in some other more adverse state of relationship with these people. Therefore, the rules of the box rule out the role of thinking.
The Box of the Mundane
We think within the well-worn boxes of the mundane as that path is quite well charted, rigorously predictable, and therefore void of anything dangerous because other people have figured out where all the dangerous stuff is and either removed it, or they’ve created paths around it. We know that venturing off the path in life is ref with all sorts of calamity that’s just waiting to happen, and so in the box of the mundane there’s nothing to venture off on because there’s one and only one path. It might be mundane, it might go nowhere, but it’s safe (if you happen to define ‘safe’ as refusing to live in order to effectively avoid being hurt). In an increasingly busy world that’s careening in every conceivable direction, the box of the mundane allows us to perfectly function on auto-pilot since there’s only one path that we can walk. Better yet, if we so choose we can simply sit along the side of this singular path, as this box generously allows us to somehow think (because we’re not) that sitting is a journey. Therefore, the rules of the box rule out the role of thinking.
The Box of Our Fears
We think within the box of our fears, as anything on the outside of those walls is filled with horrific danger (often of the most fabricated sort). We’ve probably ventured out there a time or two, and when we did we got hurt. And so, when we were hurt, we put our pain on emotional steroids which exponentially magnified our fear, we then took that fear and fashioned a monster that doesn’t exist, and we hunkered down in our box horrified by the fiction of it all. And while the space out there is a whole lot bigger than the infinitesimally tiny space in here, at least it’s safe. And safety (in our minds) is a decent trade-off, so much so that we amply decorate the box and make it homey with the scant furnishings of justification, rationalization, denial and other carefully appointed excuses. We settle into the scantily upholstered armchair of mediocrity and wile away our days pretending that we’re not pretending. Therefore, the rules of the box rule out the role of thinking.
The Box of Our Families
We think within the box created by our families as we engaged them growing up. In many unhealthy families, their boxes were shaped by their own demons and assorted hobgoblins that they handed the reins of power over to. Over time, they dutifully passed those onto us lock, stock and barrel. Sometimes these families demand that family members stay within those boxes because somehow we will vanish into the dank darkness of another life, or be whisked off to parts unknown by friends, or fall headlong into a career if we dare step outside of them. Other times, family members may prompt us to move outside of the box because they have come to recognize the life-sucking quality of the box. Yet, while they prompt us to step out, they did not know how to do so themselves. Therefore, we must do the most daring thing imaginable and think through exactly how in the world we’re going to do that. Therefore, the rules of the box rule out the role of thinking.
The Box of Self-Esteem
We think within the box crafted by our low self-esteems. These are often the smallest of all boxes because we dare not create any room whatsoever for anyone else to come in lest they see how pathetically awful we really are. Sitting in our confining hovel, we know full well that there’s great adventure and untapped possibilities outside of our boxes. There’s a good chance that we studied it, or read about it, or on those better days taken a slight peek outside before slamming the door shut again. In fact, knowing all of that is often the most difficult thing of all. We know outside this box of ours there’s more life than we can wrap our solitary minds around. We constantly hear the invitations to come out. We can imagine adventure because we’ve imagined it so many times that we can almost touch it in our minds, which makes us think that somehow we’re touching the adventure out there (which in fact, we are not). But we doubt our ability to function in it, or find a place in it, or seize it in the cultivation of our dreams, or much less survive it. Therefore, the rules of the box rule out the role of thinking.
I Was Thinking
I was thinking that there are a whole lot of boxes. Lots and lots of them. But I was also thinking that they are just boxes and nothing more. A box is not a fortified prison with towering walls and tangled barbwire, even though we have come to see it as such. It is just a box and nothing more. And as a box, it doesn’t hold us. Rather, we hold it. I don’t ‘think’ that we have the power to move beyond our boxes. Rather, I ‘know’ that we do. And when we realize that power and move beyond our boxes, the parameters of our lives will explode exponentially in a manner that we will be free to think about all the many things that this big, wide world of ours has to think about. When we do, the role of thinking will finally destroy the rules of the box. And when that happens, we will be genuinely free.
And so, I think I really, really want to think outside the boxes. So, I think I’ll start getting rid of them. It might take some time. It might be scary (in fact, I know it will be). I may wonder what in the world I’m doing at times. People may wonder what I’m doing as they peer out from the cracks in their boxes. But to not get rid of the boxes is to rot away in a box. And I know that that is not the life for me. And might I say, I don’t think that’s the life for you either. So, let’s begin the process of letting the role of thinking destroy the rules of the box. And let’s be free.