This post was inspired by a Bruce Lee quote from the Tao of Jeet Kune Do.
For the last three months, Shelly and I have been camping out in Southern California. The experience has given me time to reflect on our travels. Specifically, I’ve had a chance to assess what I learned over the previous two years. The lessons could easily fill a book (upcoming project, perhaps?), but one in particular stands out:
Any particular belief, thought patterns, or behaviors act as a cage that limits us in some way. Sometimes these cages take the form of religious beliefs. Other times they take the form of political ideology. Sometimes our cages are the sum of our past experiences. Our cage could be formal education or advanced degrees. It may be the cold, impersonal methodology like the empirical observation of the scientific method. Our cages could be our careers or hobbies. Our children or, god forbid, our pets can be cages. Our cages can even be created by a set of morals or principles. They may be positive or negative or some combination of both.
The cage feels good. It’s comfortable. We like having safe boundaries. Cages clearly define our world. It gives our lives a degree of predictability. It gives us a sense of control. We love our cages.
Sometimes our cages outlive their usefulness. Sometimes we discover enough evidence to convince us our cages may not be as great as we once thought.
Find a better cage.
The belief in our new cage is even more powerful than the belief in our previous cage. After all, there’s a reason we switched cages.
Define Your Cage
One of my favorite time-wasters is posting opinions on Facebook that elicit a response. Specifically, I like to post things that fall outside my friends’ cages. The closer to the border of their cage, the better. The ensuing discussions and debates are a) entertaining, and b) offer a glimpse into the dynamics of other peoples’ cages. That journey helps me define my own cage.
Conversations push the boundaries of belief are the single best way to explore our own cages. For example, we may discuss the death penalty. If you’re pro-killing, I might ask what would happen if YOU were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. It DOES happen… frequently, even. Would you still support the death penalty? Again, the goal is to find the edge of your cage. It helps me define the edge of MY cage.
So You Can Define Your Cage. Now What?
I like to define my own cage because it gives me the opportunity move closer to eliminating the cage. I want to be free, damn it! Of course, completely escaping our cages is probably impossible… but we can continually move in that direction.
That involves questioning. Lots of questioning.
Most people like to ask questions. The problem- they question other people, which is usually just a method of validating their own cages. Instead, we should strive to question our own beliefs and thought processes. Assume everything you know today is invalid. You are wrong.
Dissociate ourself from everything. Become a casual observer of yourself. Make nothingness your cage.
This allows us to fully explore our cage without judgment. It allows us to see and feel the nuances of our existence. More importantly, it allows us to critically examine our cages. It allows us to recognize there’s something outside the boundaries of our cages. It allows us to see the all the variability in our world. It helps us understand there is no black and white, only shades of ambiguous gray.
My Personal Experience with Cages
I recently started working at a lumber yard outside San Diego. Shortly after starting, one of my colleagues and I had a discussion about Jon Lajoie songs. I mentioned many of my friends didn’t seem to find the songs as amusing as a few of my other friends, which led to a discussion about offensive materials. I commented that it was exceedingly hard to offend me.
Why is it so difficult to offend me?
Simple- I strive to push the boundaries of my own cage. When I encounter something I disagree with, don’t understand, or find offensive, I consciously try to figure out why it causes said reaction. In every case, it’s because it falls outside my cage. Exploring that which lies outside my cage has allowed me to continually expand it.
Of course, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes I find myself getting overly defensive or flatly disregarding the thoughts or opinions of others. I usually catch myself at some point, though, and return to that point of nothingness; that point of passive observation.
Hobbies are a good example of this cage idea, too. For a long, long time, I immersed myself in the world of running. It was a cage. I spent considerable time exploring that cage. At some point, I felt as if further exploration would result in too much energy spent for the return of self-knowledge. The solution- move past the boundaries of that cage and explore elsewhere.
Is There a Personality that Likes to Push the Limits of Their Cage?
I’ve noticed some people like to continually expand their cages. They seem more comfortable with an ever-changing world view. They thrive in chaos. Others like to retreat within their cages. They seem to prefer the comfort of sameness and routine. They thrive in order.
There’s a pretty good chance some of the people reading this will immediately relate to the cage analogy. They will nod in agreement. The idea of pushing the boundaries resonates.
Others will feel a sense of discomfort. My idea will sound condescending. It pigeon-holes people that prefer comfort and predictability; it implies close-mindedness.
Is one right or wrong? is one inherently better than the other? If I actually practice impartial non-judgmental observation… no. It is what it is.More to the point- other people’s cages are not as important as my own cage.
By framing our existence as a series of cages, we begin to understand the limitations of our perspective. Once we understand our own limitations, we can open ourselves to that which is unfamiliar. We can expand our cages. We can begin experiencing life as vast expanses of ambiguous gray area ripe for exploration. We can begin to live.