We all live inside of self-constructed boxes. I’m not talking about boxes built out of wood, concrete and sheetrock. I’m talking about boxes that we build out of our memories, beliefs and the words we use to talk about ourselves.
The primary purpose of our boxes is to make us feel safe and secure. Some of us like the boxes we have built, some of us don’t, but even so, we find safety in them. Even if my box includes childhood abuse or an unhappy marriage, it still offers me safety because it helps me define myself. My box offers me certainty, which allows me to feel safer while living in a world full of uncertainty.
Feeling safe is essential
Without a foundation of safety in our lives we wouldn’t be able to grow emotionally and spiritually. If an infant doesn’t experience safety they develop what’s known as an insecure attachment. This makes life more difficult, relationships more complicated, and satisfaction elusive.
So creating safety is valuable and necessary, but we also limit ourselves if we always try to stay safe—if we stay inside of our boxes.
How do you know if you’ve locked yourself inside your box? Here are some signs I pay attention to. When I’m trying hard to be in control, avoid certain feelings, and intellectualize my emotions—I’m stuck in my box. When I experience too much stress, am overly reactive to other people, and treat poorly those I love—I’m stuck in my box. When I’m exhausted, depressed, getting sick too often—I’m stuck in my box.
During some of these hard times I may need to batten down the hatches of my box, lock the doors, close the windows, turn down all the lights and play some soft music to make myself feel safe. I’m withdrawing further into my box. I may need to do this until my frustration builds to the point when I finally say, “No more!”
Enough is enough!
That’s when I open the doors, dismantle some of the walls I’ve built, and blow the roof off my box. This is what I’ve done recently and I’ve absolutely woken myself up and reinvigorated myself. I’ll share with you some of the keys to breaking out of your box.
To begin with I shift my focus away from safety and start focusing on my desire to grow. This means that I stop doing the things I’ve been doing to avoid discomfort. Stop doing the things I’ve been doing to numb myself or distract myself. I can numb or distract myself with so called negative behaviors, like drinking too much alcohol or eating too much food, but I can also numb or distract myself with so called positive behaviors, like exercising or using affirmations.
After I stop numbing or distracting myself, I pay attention to what comes up within me. Invariably what comes up when I step outside of my box is some form of discomfort. You see, I designed my box so that I could avoid discomfort as much as possible. When I say “discomfort,” I’m talking about something that is very personal. Whatever I find unbearable, that’s what I’ve built my box to avoid.
Some people find intimacy unbearable. For others it’s conflict. Some people find loneliness unbearable. Some people can endure physical abuse, but not emotional vulnerability. When we were young we began constructing our boxes to protect ourselves from experiences and feelings that were uncomfortable. We built rooms inside of our boxes that we could hide in, and we built fences around our boxes to keep certain experiences from ever getting close. Doing this allowed us to travel as far as we have in our lives, but it won’t take us much farther.
To go farther I need to stop resisting my discomfort. Discomfort isn’t bad; it’s part of life. And discomfort isn’t nearly as bad as the suffering that I experience by trying to avoid my discomfort.
So instead of avoiding my discomfort, I go into it and then I connect more deeply with myself. To do this requires two things. First, I proceed with absolutely no judgment whatsoever. Second, I proceed with no agenda to fix or resolve what I find. My purpose is solely to witness my own discomfort, to listen to myself more deeply and lovingly than ever before.
When I deeply listen to myself I will hear things that I previously ignored, because I built my box to keep these things out. When I hear what is true for me, transformation occurs. This is something, as yet, I cannot fully explain, but “truth” resonates deeply inside of us, and brings about a realignment. It is a form of healing.
J. Krishnamurti, the India philosopher said,
If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.
And, truth spoken with love always heals.
You may be wondering what kind of things you will hear if you create the space in which to listen to yourself. This will vary from person to person. But I have noticed three patterns.
- People recognize things that they need to say, but haven’t said.
- People recognize things that they want to ask for, but haven’t asked for.
- People hear things from the younger parts of themselves that they previously ignored.
To break free of the ways I’ve boxed myself in I need to say the things I haven’t said, ask for things I haven’t asked for, and listen to the younger parts of myself. Numbers 1 and 2—saying what I haven’t said and asking for what I haven’t asked for—happen in real time. For example, I see that my partner is upset with something I said, I recognize what I need to say, but I discomfort myself. This is the moment in which I fall back into the safety of my box or I step fully into my discomfort and maturely express myself.
Another time I may recognize what I need or want from my partner, but I find some reason to justify not asking her—falling back into my box. Instead, I can step into my discomfort and ask for what I want in as simple a way as possible. Long explanations and justifications are often just another way to hide. Don’t bother with those old ways of creating safety. Simply state what you want.
And if you want to listen to the younger parts of yourself, I recommend that you create a space/time specifically for this purpose—maybe early in the morning or before going to bed. Lay down, eyes open or shut, place your hands on your chest or your belly, one on top of the other, and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you do so, really pay attention to the energy under your hands. Ask the simple question, “What do I need to hear?” Or, “What do you need to say?” Then, see what comes up and no matter what it is, witness, listen, and keep listening. Remember, no judgment, no agenda to fix or do anything other than listen.
If you don’t hear anything when you are listening, you might try saying things like, “Sometimes I feel alone, or sometimes I feel confused, or sometimes I feel scared, or sometimes I feel powerful, etc.” The key is to notice if any of these expressions resonate. If so, stick with them and just keep listening and paying attention to yourself. You are not saying these expressions as affirmations, but as ways to check in and see if they feel true to you. If so, honor them. Honor yourself.
And for those of you who want more guidance so that you can experience this process in depth—while being held in a safe container—consider coming to one of our upcoming Live Conscious retreats. It’s a sure way to get out of your box.