Of fishbowls and boxes

Freedom can seem more threatening than our fishbowls when we do not know it is safe to make mistakes.

Freedom can seem more threatening than our fishbowls when we do not know it is safe to make mistakes.

by Scott Kalechstein — 

When I was a kid, I had pet goldfish. When it was time to clean their bowl, we would put the fish into a large bathtub. I was always curious about why they would continue to swim in the same small circumference, as if they were still in their little bowl. Clearly they had never read Rumi: “Show me the way to the ocean; break these small containers.” But then, neither had I.

In fact, I used to play a game in my young mind as I strolled down the sidewalk. I imagined I had to take one, and only one, step inside each of the square boxes formed by the concrete. I thought of all the terrible things that would happen if I missed a step. To keep the sky from falling and other assorted calamities at bay, I proceeded with great caution, making ever so sure to keep my little feet inside the appointed boxes.

Like most of us living in this culture of conformity, I was learning there was a right way and a wrong way to do things. Afraid of making a mistake and being punished, I confined myself to walk a straight and narrow path, one square at a time.

I recall being told in art class, when I colored beyond the boundaries, that I needed to stay inside the designated lines to “correctly” color the leaves. So I did. I also developed a strong dislike for art. Keeping within the lines of imaginary boxes and fishbowls may create an illusion of security and control in what we believe is a world fraught with potential punishment and danger.

Yet the quest for self-realization has constantly challenged me to think, step and live outside the box. It is there that hidden fears and the unconscious beliefs that keep them in place are exposed, brought into the light and healed.

Since the universe says, “As you wish” to whatever we choose to believe, perhaps when fear arises, it would help to ask, “Am I operating right now from the belief that life is for me or that life is against me?”

Each time I stop and pose that question, I automatically relax and remember that I am safe and supported, held and guided by hands far steadier than my own. I remember it’s OK to stretch and risk. I won’t be punished or even judged for my mistakes, because God doesn’t even see them. When eyeing us humans, God sees babies learning to walk. And falling is to be expected.

So, is there really any such thing as a wrong step or a wrong turn? In whose judgment? When you declare yourself guilty of screwing up, do you really think God agrees?

Ken Carey’s visionary masterpiece, The Third Millennium, says this about the illusion of making mistakes:

“In electrical circuitry, the shortest distance between two points is rarely the best way for the current to flow. Some of the circuitry that has been created in your human experience has been unnecessary. But all of this ultimately will be turned to advantage. In the end, there is not one moment that does not contribute in some way toward perfection. Even at those critical junctures where the optimal path was not taken, if you follow the tale further down the path that was chosen you find that, though its course twists and winds, it returns eventually not merely to the original path but to a level of perfection one octave higher on the spiral of creative unfoldment.”

A Course in Miracles reminds us: “… all things, events, encounters and circumstances are helpful.”

Thomas Edison once quipped, “I make more mistakes than anyone else I know. And, sooner or later, I patent most of them.”

So why is it that for many of us, re-inventing ourselves and stretching into new territory is so scary? Is it our inevitable human stumbling rubbing against our insistence on perfection? Perhaps on some level we fear being judged, by the world or by ourselves, if we screw up.

Freedom can seem more threatening than our fishbowls when we do not know it is safe to make mistakes.

I’ve noticed that each time I have stumbled out of my comfort zone, to make a stand for more money or more love in my life, for instance, I have heard a disapproving internal voice say, “Just who do you think you are (young man)?” I’ve come to love that question, because I have learned how to answer it. I can respond with a wholehearted declaration of my worthiness, my innocence and my unlimitedness as a child of God.

A stirring example of this was the first time I was ever paid for my musical services. No one asked my fee, and I was so excited to be getting the job that I didn’t raise the subject, either. After my performance, the man who had hired me took me aside to discuss payment. His words sent my head spinning. “Here is a check. It is blank. Fill in what you think you deserve.”

He stepped a few feet away from me and waited patiently, a smirk on his face, as if he was saying, “Now is your chance, kid. Step up to bat and tell yourself, tell me and God how much you value yourself.” I looked at the check in my hands, a little slip of paper with no numbers, no zeros. Freedom of choice had never felt so intimidating.

I did not like that moment! I wanted someone to tell me what I was worth. I wanted familiar boxes and lines of definition, not free will and open space. I took a deep breath, pondering just how much I felt OK about being paid. Gulping, I decided on 50 dollars, wrote it down and handed the check back to the man, trembling all the way.

He glanced at it, smiled and we said goodbye. The sky didn’t fall down, and the world didn’t come apart. Now, 18 years later, if anyone dared to pay me like that again I might consider adding a zero to my comfort zone.

That night, I lay in bed pondering my experience. I kept hearing those words: “Here’s a check. It’s blank. Fill in what you think you deserve.” As I started falling asleep, a still, small voice whispered, “That’s pretty much what I said to you before you came to Earth: Here’s a life. It’s blank. Fill in what you think you deserve. Fill in what your heart longs to create.”


Scott Kalechstein is a modern-day troubadour and inspirational speaker. He travels through the United States, Canada and Europe giving concerts, talks and workshops, as well as presenting at conferences. www.scottsongs.com or scott@scottsongs.com

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 25, Number 1, February/March 2006.

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