Many of us have had, no doubt, the experience (as a child, or a parent) of discovering that a box -- a simple cardboard box -- has potential that its original developers never imagined. It's a bit different these days when many boxes have been replaced by packaging that clearly displays the contents, to be sure. The big appliance boxes had incredible uses past protecting a new washing machine. But I certainly also recall that little candy boxes (like those that would hold "Dots" or "Whoppers") could be turned into noisemakers -- filling the local theaters or sports arenas with loud "honks"! Most of those candies, now, sadly are packaged in paper/plastic containers. Where's the sport in that???
These meanderings down memory lane were sparked as I was listening the other morning to an interview with Alexandra Horowitz, author of the new book On Looking: Eleven Walks With Expert Eyes.* Horowitz, because of her daily walks with her dog, began to wonder how the things she sees every day might appear to other people who had different interests. So she walks with an artist, a geologist, an urban sociologist -- even a blind person -- to experience her surroundings in a new way. The comments on the Amazon page for the book say (not surprisingly) "Eye Opening"!
The same morning I heard this interview, the radio personalities on one of the stations programmed into my car radio were speaking about the subtle changes taking place in our city. The grass has become increasingly green over the last few days. Buds are appearing on trees. On the bird-watchers' listserv, observers are chronicling the arrival of spring migrants. With regard to birds, the VERY LOUD "chirr-up" of the American Robin is making the alarm clock superfluous.
So, I've been recalling that there is more to a "box" than meets the eye. Our surroundings, as familiar as they may be, are in a constant state of flux. Who notices? It's just the front yard, after all! I've lived here for years!
I've found a useful counter to this semi-obliviousness in the writings of Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, who, a number of years ago, popularized a form of mindfulness known as "walking meditation". In his book Peace Is Every Step, he wrote:
Walking meditation is really to enjoy the walking -- walking not in order to arrive, but just to walk. The purpose is to be in the present moment and, aware of our breathing and our walking, to enjoy each step. . . . Although we walk all the time, our walking is usually more like running. . . . Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet. . . . From time to time, when we see something beautiful, we may want to stop and look at it -- a tree, a flower, some children playing.**
In other words, through being mindful, through paying attention, that which is ordinary might become something quite extraordinary. And, WE might, in the process, become extra-ordinary ourselves.
The extraordinary, the miraculous, surrounds us. Potentiality inheres in plants, in boxes, even in ourselves. Nothing is as it seems, for it may be something else -- something amazingly fun and stupendous! Perhaps a different set of eyes will help us see that! Or, perhaps a different sort of attentive looking.
For it is rarely just a box!
*Scribner, 2013. [Don't be surprised to see this as one of the Chaplain's Book Discussion books in the fall!]
** Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life (Bantam Books, 1991), 27-29.