See The Box

‘The Box’ by Kerri Sherwood from her album Blueprint for My Soul Craig sent me a link and a challenge. The link was to his recent blog post, Break Down The Box. It’s about how people build boxes around themselves. “Instead of building a box that may later require extra work to remove,” he writes, “I suggest building a stage.” What a great image! His challenge to me was to apply it to my writing. He texted, “It’s relevant to your general topics.”

My question back to Craig was about the word “apply.” Is he challenging me to write about boxes and stages? Is he challenging me to build a stage and stand on it? Both? His challenge came on a day that I said aloud to myself and the universe, “I’m feeling boxed!” His timing was impeccable.

Self Cut outWe’ve not finished our correspondence so I don’t yet know what he means by applying it to my writing. To stall I will write what I know about boxes:

1) Everyone has one. Don Miguel Ruiz writes that we come into this earth as free, uninhibited spirits and then the adults around us begin impressing rules and random philosophy upon us. They teach us constraint and we comply. We are a pack animal, after all, and must operate within the greater needs of the community. That’s why there are traffic lights and a proper fork to use when eating a salad. Our greatest need is to belong; The GAP, Old Navy, or Abercrombie & Fitch could not exist otherwise. The need to belong is the driver behind box building. It’s a paradox. Somewhere amidst all of the compliance we begin to assume that we are no good or start making comparisons to others or create standards of perfection that are impossible to inhabit. So, we build a box called, “should be”. The paradox is that, in order to belong, our action is to hide.

2) Growth comes from constraints. No box is built without the need to deconstruct it. That is the opportunity of the box. Joseph Campbell would call box deconstruction The Heroes Journey. In the great mythologies of the world there is a tension between The Right Hand path (what society expects you to do) and The Left Hand path (following your bliss). Both are necessary and, in the end, we all must find the middle way between the two paths. The middle way is known in mythological terms as The Holy Grail. Bliss always needs the participation of others. We are pack animals and need the pack to know where we fit.

3) Constraint is necessary for creative fulfillment. School boards around the nation have the misguided notion that art is the absence of rule and/or discipline. It must be a requirement of school board participation to attend the symphony without recognizing that the musicians on stage have given their lives to discipline and constraint. It might come as a surprise to most people but artists outstrip the military in rule adherence and rigid discipline. The disconcerting aspect for the school board is that the rules and discipline of the artist are self-imposed. They are inner imperatives. Artists do not need a drill sergeant. They need constraints to push against, boundaries to overcome, rules to challenge, and patterns to disrupt. Watch a kid on a skateboard try to learn a new skill (oh, yes – they are artists, too). They might break their arm in the process but the break will just fuel the need to improve.

4) No one sees clearly their box. To return to a Don Miguel Ruiz-ism, we are the stars of our own movie and can never know the movie of another person (and they can never know our movie). The paradox is, of course, as the star of your movie you never get to see your life from any meaningful perspective until lots of time affords you some distance. Even then, you’ll interpret your movie through the lens of having lived it. If you have an inner monologue, you are center stage of your movie and your movie is your box.  Here’s the beautiful thing about movies/boxes: they all come with flaws and the flaws are almost always the location of the opportunities. As I recently learned, the Amish intentionally place a small flaw in every quilt because they believe that the flaw is what lets the spirit in. The same might be said of boxes.

I’ve been privileged in my life to work with and direct a bevy of actors and most had to learn to stand on a stage. In fact, the stage frightens most of the really good ones. They understand the power of being seen, the responsibility that comes with visibility. It is simply this: be present without the need to control the thoughts or emotions of another. Be present with them. Offer them a story without the self-protection of trying to control what they see. All stories are maps out of boxes. Or, more to the point, stories are maps out of one layer of box to a lesser layer of box. So:

5) Boxes are like onions. A stage is merely a layer.

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