Are You Locked In A Box?
Space to Breath
Space to Be
I was born and raised on the West Coast, but when I was 18, I headed east for a yearlong internship with a traveling theater company. Spending time in the mountains of West Virginia, the rocky seacoast of Maine, and being enveloped by the big city bustle of New York City was life-changing and exhilarating. When it came time to head back to Oregon though, when my car crossed the Mississippi River and the vastness that is the WEST spread out before me, I found myself taking big exaggerated breaths and feeling alive in a way I hadn’t in over a year.
This is a frequent comment from tourists visiting our small New Mexico town, “I can BREATH here! There is SO MUCH SPACE!” If our conversation has time to go deeper, which it often does because the pace of life is pretty slow here, I find they have discovered more than just vast physical space. They have also found more mental, emotional, and spiritual space, something they didn’t even know they needed.
(photo credit Jessica Griffin)
We live in a culture where we are bombarded with preconceived ideas of what we should BE based on our gender, race, size, shape, beauty quotient, family background, socio-economic status, etc. Too many of us are placed into a series of boxes that have nothing to do with who we actually are inside our heads or hearts.
This realization that we need to break out of boxes and fight for space in our mental, emotional, and spiritual lives is often a slow journey. For me, it took almost 25 years of struggle, feeling like I was squeezed from all sides but not understanding why or how to get out from under pressure. Most of my life has been rural, with small-town evangelical Christian values. Life is defined by the people who came before you. Service to others is elevated above any ideas of self-love or healthy boundaries. Though they may be loved, Outsiders, with their outsider ways, are always - outsiders. Life is hardscrabble; you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, sitting and thinking better be on the back of a horse or a tractor, not in a soft armchair. While not materialistic, the boxes I was pushed into were results-oriented, practical, traditional. Questioning faith? Forget it. Art and literature, deep thoughts were nice enough, but they weren’t going to put bread on the table, were they?
In moving to New Mexico, I, too, was in awe of the vast blue sky and the wide-open spaces. After settling in, I began to meet people who had internal space as well. Somehow they were not hemmed in by our culture. They were surprisingly free of the boxes of expectation, guilt, busyness, haves, and have-nots, “what do you DO?” that had defined so much of my adult life. In my last group of friends, a get-together would involve pulling phones out, rearranging schedules, and maybe, a date penciled in for next month. Here I find myself walking arm in arm down the street with a new friend, sitting down to coffee 5 minutes later. There is no notice given to financial status. People who have a mansion on the hill are best friends with someone who lives month-to-month on a Social Security check. Here people believe in aliens, have friends from past lives, are every gender under the sun, wear whatever is most comfortable, and are friends with their exes. When they have some money tucked away, they often put a CLOSED sign on their shop and journey off to parts unknown to have an adventure. There are no constricting societal boxes to be seen.
When my husband and I split up, we had friends who wrapped us up in their arms, didn’t take sides during our journey, and were the first to celebrate when we got back together. Their lack of judgment allowed us to process and heal at our own pace. There was still room for us in our community despite our brokenness… or maybe because of it. That space was held by people who had found grace, forgiveness, patience, tolerance, applied it to their own lives, and were then able to give it as a gift to others - to us - to me.
Now, this little New Mexico town is NOT Nirvana. Oh, most certainly, it is NOT. There is poverty, pettiness, corruption, ignorance, greed, all the things you find everywhere. Somehow though, maybe because of the vastness of the physical world that surrounds us, maybe because there are historical roots of healing here, people find the courage to cast off pieces of themselves that no longer fit, things keeping them from being who they want to be. Some days I see faces I barely recognize; their countenance has been transformed through courage, hard work, and enough space to breathe and process without pressure.
A yoga instructor friend has a saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” She uses it to remind us we can’t escape our problems; we have to deal with them from the inside out. I am planning a month-long road trip, a trip back to places that hold boxes I used to live in. I will see people who may think I still live in those boxes. There is some trepidation in my heart as I take out my calendar and figure out who I will visit when. Will I fall back into that tiny space where I am what people expect me to be? I hope not, as uncomfortable and exhausting as that may be. I hope to take my metaphorical desert mindset, with its vast blue skies and wide-open spaces, with me. I want to finally BE ME in a way that creates empowering space for every single person I get to wrap my arms around.