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This blog entry is excerpted from a talk I gave last September 20th at the Sonoma Ashram. I was asked to give the talk, and when I asked what the topic should be, I was told, “How to be a good container.”
“We’re not talking Tupperware here, are we….?”
First, I had to think of what the title meant: Being a Good Container. We all know what a container is – it’s something that holds and stores things. One of its characteristics is that it can be opened to distribute some of its contents, or simply emptied because the stuff in it is old, unwanted or unuseable. If all of the contents are removed, it can be filled up again, maybe with something better. So a container isn’t a static thing; it always has the potential to be filled and emptied, its contents rearranged or changed.
So here we are – all of us containers. Unlike Tupperware, which is not responsible for what we deposit in it, we as containers are responsible for everything we hold on to – beneficial or not. So a key issue is what we choose to contain, and how we use our “contents.” What’s within us and how do we use it? And when do we empty a portion of the container?
Let’s consider a refrigerator, which is, like us, a large container holding many smaller containers. I think almost everyone has had the experience of going into the refrigerator, maybe to clean it out, maybe searching for that small jar of something you know you bought last Thursday, and coming across a container that has been sitting in the fridge for a loooong time. You open the container. Your visual and olfactory senses are assaulted. ECCH! What is this stuff? What did it used to be? And why is it still in here?
And then, right next to it, is a tiny gold foil packet. You open it. It’s chocolate. Not just any chocolate, but the fabulous Belgian chocolate your friend brought back from her trip to Europe. Wow! That’s where that went!
I think this metaphor is an apt one, because there can be a lot in the container we call “I” or “Me” that has been sitting in some corner for a long time, unexamined. A prejudice, an attitude, a feeling, a fear, a grudge, a loss. And it’s not very attractive or useful, but it’s still there, festering. Or, there could be a wonderful experience or helpful thoughts, maybe a talk that we heard, but then just stored away without really using the wisdom imparted. Alongside the moldering, awful stuff, small gems sit in a corner, available, but idle, unused.
Just like the refrigerator metaphor, if you don’t open the door, shine a light, and look at what’s in there, the container we call “me, myself or I” can hold on to all sorts of stuff; it will go unexamined unless we look. After we look at what’s in there, we have to decide what we want to keep, and what we want to discard. We don’t want to be containers for putrefying, possibly poisonous stuff, and we do want to see what’s good and useful in there, maybe move it to the front of our consciousness, where it’s more readily available.
Within us are many thoughts and ideas, perhaps based on knowledge gained through experience or study, or maybe acquired second hand. Some of our ideas, often fixed in our minds, are from conclusions we drew from an experience. These can unconsciously keep us in a pattern of thought which no longer serves us well. The thought, “Well, I’ll never do that again” comes to mind. But, over time, “that” can become a large category, and we find ourselves shut off from new experiences: I’ll never fall in love again; I’ll never trust people; I’ll never leave the country. This can become a long list.
There are also deep-seated, unexamined ideas we were exposed to when we were young, that we accepted without question. These can be prejudices, belief systems, or even ideas about ourselves that we just absorbed without thinking. We need to turn a light on them and see them clearly. These can turn out to be false, but you’re still operating as if they are true, and they have power over you.. (Examples: You can’t do that. You’re so clumsy. You never do anything right. You can’t sing, draw, dance, blah blah blah. Those [pick a minority] people are lazy, cheats, shiftless, dirty…)
Along with thoughts are memories, some good, some not so good. How many bad memories are attached to bad old feelings, regrets, grudges, misunderstandings never cleared up, prejudices we took on as our own, but which we acquired from someone else? And how many of those memories are distorted by our own frame of mind and the conclusions we drew from the experience at the time, which we may now find to be false.
When we examine the negative things closely, we have to think, “Do I want to be a container for these?” “Do I want to be angry with someone, now in his late 60’s and a successful doctor, who was a bit of a jerk in high school?” “Do I want to hate someone who hurt my feelings three years ago? Three weeks ago? Yesterday?” How long do we hold on to this stuff before dumping it out?
When we hold on to hurt feelings from years ago, or even from a few days ago, the good stuff gets crowded out by them. So maybe it’s time to examine the stuff in our container and let go of those things which don’t serve us well. Forgive, release, fill it with light, transform it and send it on its way. Talking to someone who was involved in an incident in which you are stuck in negative emotions can help, and if that’s possible, try it. But work to let it go – it’s taking up too much room..
Some of our feelings may be in the form of fears. If they stay unexamined, they control us. Sometimes just admitting it, or getting to the bottom of the fear, is enough to start an exodus of those contents.
I do want to mention Emotional Freedom Technique, or Tapping. While definitely a weird-looking practice, it can help to alleviate fears, angers from an old incident, even pain. I know this from experience, and I’m just passing the information along in case you want to work yourself at getting rid of stuff that’s taking up room in your life. You can go on line to find out more.
Once we’ve looked at what we don’t want to hold on to, we look at what we want to keep, get more of, and share. We see what we want to attract and refill ourselves with. When the stuff we don’t want any more is out of the way, not blocking the good from getting in, there is lots of room for adding wonderful experiences to the container that is us. For example, when fear of intimacy is gone, we are open and free to find warm relationships, a sense of belonging within a group, and a happier life.
And to do that, look to the heart, and to imagination. “The heart has reasons whereof reason knows nothing.” (Blaise Pascal) Use your imagination to fill yourself with possibilities for a beautiful planet, a wonderful life, good relationships. Begin to devote a tiny part of every day to putting some good thoughts into the container. When you walk somewhere, even if it’s only a block or two, notice the colors, the trees, the feel of your steps as you walk. Remember that everything is made of Divine energy – we all come from stardust.
From time to time, do an “attitude” check. Attitude affects deeply the circumstances we are in. Learn to see the gift, even when it is not the gift thought we wanted. In the book Illusions by Richard Bach, is the comment: Life never gives you a problem without a gift in its hand.” It is our inner disposition that determines how we see the world, and how we see its gifts. So part of being a good container is to be always in touch with our inner disposition, the feeling in our heart. Your mind may say,”That tree is so scraggly.” But your heart might say, “That little tree is a symbol of nature surviving here. I love that tree.”
Life is not arranged for our own personal gratification; we have to do the arranging. Even the mundane, everyday things around us are filled with potential for joy if we choose to see them. I read a phrase once which was, “the irradiation of the daily life.” This phrase is so marvelous. To me it means we must learn to understand the deep significance of the familiar, to understand that we live the laws of the universe every day; our hearts beat to rhythms we cannot hear. Breathe in the joys from customary, daily existence, see the reality behind the veil. Then you live each day in the midst of the extraordinary, and then you are a container for all that is good. And when you open that container, there is so much to share, and there is so much to fill it up again, that you will never be empty.