Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Out of the Box

Boxes are really interesting things. It's the first thing we see when we receive something as a gift. It tells us a lot about the size, weight and contents of what's inside. I remember as a kid, picking up a light box for Xmas meant "clothes" and a heavy box generally meant "Toy", especially if it rolled from one end of the box to the other upon tipping and shaking. A box can be a really great thing and bring a lot of joy. As a kid, I had a Remco Bulldog Tank, which I can still get a nice feeling from by looking them up for sale still on Ebay. I won't be buying one soon as they are around $300. I remember the original price was around $12. But that box sure brought back memories and now, if I need one, I can get an empty Bulldog Tank box for a mere $50!

We all come in a box when we are born, and I don't mean the womb.
Once we arrive, we are slipped into a box that we are generally expected to stay in for the rest of our life, depending on the topic.

Of course, we get the box of our family. I personally grew up in the Orthodox Presbyterian box. I am Dutch and German and came to the planet in April of 1950 in Rochester, NY to a young couple who had already had three other kids, one severely handicapped and then me. My dad worked at Eastman Kodak and had managed not to be sent overseas to fight WW2 with his work for them counting as service. Had he been drafted, well I might never have gotten to write this. Moms parents had managed to accept an invitation from friends to postpone their Atlantic crossing in April of 1912 and stay until June to be in their wedding since they had intention of returning to Amsterdam once in America. So they didn't take the Titanic that April.

No choice... just a family that is ready made. A mom and dad, or maybe just a mom. Various aunts and uncles and of course varieties of grandparents, who may or may not be thrilled we are here. The family may have lots of money and great stuff, or not much. It might be in the US, Europe, Uzbekistan, China or Africa. We might be born into a great home on Oak Street or Heatherwood Way, or a village in Iraq, Namibia or on the outskirts of Shanghai. No choices here for us to make. Just the way it is. The family may be well employed, employed, underemployed or unemployed...again, no choices for us.

In this box we are born into, and mostly expected to stay forevermore in, we get a religion to grow up in. It might be Judaism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam, Hindu or a host of other "isms" that again we had no say in. It is who others want us to be with all it's laws, rituals and beliefs. They did the religious belief homework long before we arrived and we will love what they choose for us. If we don't love it, it just may take longer to convince us.

Of course I am Catholic. I was born Catholic! The idea that one cannot really be born with a whole religious belief system in place doesn't seem to cross our minds. What we mean is we had no choice in our youth but to be programmed by those before us who had selected the truth of life for us that they generally got from those before them. That box is just one size and you and I were expected to simply stay in that box, no questions asked. The trouble comes later in life when we seek to get out of the box we came in.

But often, as we get older, we find the box we are in no longer fits us. While the tribe or family may be content with that box, a very small part of which they have never even explored themselves, we are not. We might not be comfortable in the political part we inheirited, or the social and mostly the religious part we inheirited, and have to not just look around the box given, but actually look up and over the edge, to see what we can see. This is where the danger, criticism and head shaking comes to play in our lives and where we have to decide if looking over the edge of this given box is worth it. We aren't yet saying we are going to leave the box, but the threat to family, friends and even ourselves as we think about it is just about to manifest itself.

The criticism might come for reading outside the accepted and given box of ideas on all topics from religion to employment. One might catch it but good for getting caught having a different idea about sexuality or adherence to the established religious taboos that came in that original box. The religious box you came in might demand a tithe of your income but you no longer feel the return on the "investment" is worth it, and perhaps God doesn't really need your money. There will always be someone in the tribe to warn you that you can't be "blessed" with an idea, out of the box, like that.

It's OK for businessmen to look outside the business box for better ideas or the scientific community to see outside the box of science to give us really cool stuff, but it is NOT acceptable for the individual to step outside the social, political or religious aspects of the tribal box, given at birth.

The tribe will hound you for missing Church or Wednesday night Bible study and suggest that Pastor so and so talk to you, hoping he can stuff you back in the box. Talk like a Democrat when "we are all Republicans," and see what happens. Come to different conclusions about wars or presidents and see what happens. You might just have a list of topics we don't talk about in our box.

Sometimes they hope a counselor can do the same. Perhaps they bring out the big guns and your Grandfather can talk some sense into you, after all, Grandpa has been in the original box for his entire life. If it's good enough for him and us, it's good enough for YOU! Someone might even be so hurt that you would want to see outside this given box, they scream and cry asking "what....you think we didn't raise you with the right information?" "What...you think we deliberately taught you wrong?"

Boy this stuff lays you low and can get you away from the idea of ever looking over the top of the box for a very long time. Guilt, shame and fear are the tools used to keep the one who suspects bigger boxes in life than the ones we are all born into actually exist. So most retreat and wither under peer, tribal or professional criticism. And then there are those who press on no matter what. It can be a lonely trip at times.

When I needed a counselor to give me some guidance in that "out of the box" phase, I was lucky to have one that understood the concept of boxes. He had outgrown a few of his own and understood the process well. At my first session with him, he told me he used to be a minister. Argh..perhaps I had made a poor choice of counselors. I was not in the mood for Biblical quotations or a long list of "should's" and "musts" that minister types are so want to appeal to when they run out of actual practical and common sense observations and perspectives.
But soon enough I learned that the "used to be a minister" was grounded in having outgrown that box and so we had some common ground here. He thought it humerous to remind me he did not often have clients who had been "fired by God." I said "very funny."

At any rate, I quickly learned that many people outgrow boxes and ministers are no exception. Or at least many minister types want to outgrow the box they came in, or got at school, or their denominational headquarters and pastoral seminars designed to keep them in a particular denomination box. For years I went to "meetings" the sole purpose of which was to keep me in line and in the assigned box of acceptable theological perspectives. Of course, I thought that was the right thing to do and where I needed to be so I didnt "fall away." But in hindsite, it was simply programming designed to keep me on someone elses straight and narrow, and many of them also proved to be neither on the path of straight or narrow themselves.

That is often the case when we want to be be out of a box, but deem the price too high with tribe or Church. We become duplistic or as Paul might say, "I became all things to all men..." This is a concept that to me leaves me wondering then exactly who was Paul if he was so willing to put on whatever show needed to win over converts. What a duplistic and deceptive attitude. Does one ever meet the real person if that is how they view things. "To the Jew, I became a Jew..." I can't become all things to all men, lest I lose myself in the charade.

After gettting well acquainted and sharing my particular story, I learned that I tended, and have all my life, to outgrow my own boxes very quickly. Most never explore the one they are given at birth, I was reminded, which I have found to be true. I evidently had a more inquisitive, open and free spirit, which would lend itself to not only looking over the edge of the box, but climbing out much to the anger, fear and chiding of the tribe.

This also tore at me as I have a "how can I help you" temperament which can lend itself to people pleasing and compliance if I am not honest with myself. Sometimes we stay put for a very long time afraid to speak our mind, share our thoughts or even hint at changes in our perspectives. It makes people angry and insecure and is the stuff or countless arguments or family tension. I learned what topics to avoid as I did not, at that time, want the hassle, the look or the rebuttal.

I learned that outgrowing a box can be very lonely. Most of those in the previous box spend their energy keeping you in the box, not overjoyed that you want out. Most of those in the previous box will not accompany you on your new perspectives. They simply won't leave the box with you, nor will they offer any support. They might simply disappear from your life or refuse to be a friend until you return to the box. Or even if you do return, things can never quite be the same again, because you dared to even attempt an escape.

They can make you feel guilty as hell for evening thinking there were other boxes! They will however remind you that the box you now need to be in is not as real, valid or good for you as the one you left. As a result, many return to their harm in the long run.

"Dennis, you have two choices..." I was told. "You can keep exploring the bigger boxes that is your nature to do and probably go it mostly alone, or you can return to the box you just got kicked out of and feel a bit more secure and "happy." You also will probably be on antidepressants the rest of you life." He seemed to know what he was talking about and I agreed. I was already on those meds at the time, so that made perfect sense.

The anxiety and depression caused by outgrowing a box can be relentless until one developes the skills to deal with them. For me it is staying present and out of the past where there is anger and guilt to deal with and the future where there is anxiety and fear waiting. Sitting in quiet meditation, a very difficult thing for one raised Dutch, Calvinistic and needing to always be "productive", but actually is very therapeutic and enlightening. NOW is what we all have. Nothing more and nothing less. I am not always successful, but I am getting better at it. When you outgrow a box you genuinely could not stay in, it causes a lot of guilt issues as well and grieving for those that did not either want to come along or simply couldn't. I have often now found it almost insane to force a young couple, upon pain of eternal death and offending the Deity, to NEVER EVER CHANGE from this day forward, and yet not be told that EVERYTHING around you will change for the rest of your life. Makes no sense to me. This is where certain institutions seem simply designed to keep one compliant and obedient to the tribe and to stay in that birth box.

Outgrowing your boxes, if you as inclined to do it, is difficult in many many ways. Most simply won't do it when confronted with the tribe, the church and the consequences. Sometimes we get pushed out of box whether we like it or not and in time will come to see that it was the best thing that could have happened, thought it feels for a very long time like the worst. What's bad is often good and, of course, what's good can sometimes end up not so good. Some who win the lottery seemed chosen to teach us this.

So...we all came in a box of someone elses choosing. For many that works just fine and certainly uncomplicates life to some degree. But boxes were meant to be outgrown and while tribal goals can be met by staying put, personal goals, needs and perspectives can never be enlarged upon by staying in boxes.

Maybe somewhere there is the final box that opens to clear blue skies and pure truth. I hope so. But for now, just climbing up to the edge of the one you are in and taking a look out and around into a bigger box just might be good enough for now. If I climb out of this current one myself and find that patch of blue endless sky with pristine rivers and lakes, inhabited by beings of light, full of only love, acceptance and truth, you'll all be the first to know.

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