In the latest one I’m in a room, faced with a gigantic tower of boxes. And when I say gigantic I’m talking “Martin Scorcese’s-Hugo-in-3D-materialized-in-a-CGI-Lab” huge. Not occurring anywhere in nature. Willy Wonka huge. Only occurs in dreams huge. I can’t even see the top of this box tower. But I know at the bottom, under all that brown cardboard, there is a trap door. Under that trap door is the secret I’ve been protecting all of these years. Under a mountain of boxes, under lock and key, is either a situation I can’t yet face, an emotion I won’t even attempt to fathom, or a painful memory I’m blocking. And the only thing to do is start unpacking.
So I do. Methodically, agonizingly slowly, I begin picking up boxes and unloading their contents, placing them off to the side. No matter how many boxes I remove, the tower never shrinks. But I plod on confident that someday, I will unlock that trap door.
Each box is labeled, things like: “Alcohol” or “Drugs” or “Music” or “Sex” or “Shopping”. These are the boxes at the bottom. Ones at the top are labeled with things like “Momma” and “Lois” and “Family” and “Career” and “Video Games” and “Chocolate”. There are multiple boxes all over the tower labeled “Sleep”.
What does it all mean? When I awoke, I knew instantly. Here, vividly depicted for my understanding (I am a visual learner after all), was every single security blanket I’ve ever used to avoid feeling groundless. To avoid pain. As Pema Chödrön says in her book, “When Things Fall Apart”:
“The most precious opportunity presents itself when we come to the place where we think we can’t handle whatever is happening. It’s too much. It’s gone too far. We feel bad about ourselves. There’s no way we can manipulate the situation to make ourselves come out looking good. No matter how hard we try, it just won’t work. Basically, life has just nailed us. . . . . Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape---all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”This is me all over. Depending on whatever period in my life I happened to be in, I was always addicted to something. Early on it was the obvious stuff, the contraband, the liquor. Then it became my mother after her accident. By focusing on her care I could avoid facing my own problems. That turned into saving EVERYONE I knew. Whether family member or friend, if you had a problem, I would listen, then lie in bed and worry how I could help. Spend money and time I didn’t have just to have something real to grab onto.
Then it was my job, I piled on the hours, worked three jobs at one point, all just so I could avoid facing that trap door. And the boxes kept on piling. Sleep? I’ve always dove into bed at any hour of the day to avoid pain. The bed is my ultimate “blanky”.
All these boxes are real, all of them my way to grab something. When you feel pain, when you face your fears, when you come face to face with something uncomfortable or fear-inducing you are groundless. You feel the breath rush out of you, you feel light-headed, your emotions start to run rampant. It truly feels as if you’re going to fall off a cliff. The wind is knocked out of you. You’re looking around for something to grab, a branch, anything. Anything at all. And nothing is there. Well, there’s these boxes...
Those boxes were and are my security. Now that I’m becoming more comfortable with that groundless feeling through meditation, I’m ready to unpack. To travel lighter. What’s under the trapdoor? I’ve got some idea, but right now it only remains in shadow, a dark, fearful, horrific vision. Those are the nightmares I’ve been having. I’m not even sure it happened, but my gut tells me it did. And my gut is never wrong. I’m just grateful I didn’t come to the end of my life without trying to become comfortable with groundlessness. I may never finish unpacking this tower of “blankys”. But I’ll sure as hell try.