This month on Spiritual Growth Monthly, Kevin Schoeninger has been exploring the fascinating book, “Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence” (Atria, 2014), by Thalma Lobel, Ph.D., and he wraps it up this week by focusing on boxes, movement in open space, and light bulbs.
When you think of boxes and light bulbs, do you almost automatically think of them as metaphors for ideas, creative thinking or problem solving? If you recall, over the past few weeks we have been discussing how our brains respond to physical sensations such as warmth, texture, color or light. It seems our brains are programmed to operate in metaphors, and respond to them whether our analytical thinking is working or not.
We don’t consciously think about how warm we feel toward someone as being influenced by the temperature of a beverage in our hands. And we don’t expect that our opinion of someone as a nice person could be tied to colors they consistently wear. Research has shown that in all sorts of cases, though, our physical world changes our patterns of thinking, and it goes on all the time.
Boxes and light bulbs are objects in our physical world we interact with every day. We are aware of them as things and also as metaphors for where new ideas and creativity come from. Our bosses may be asking us to “think outside the box” for new business solutions, and we work away, waiting for the metaphorical light bulb to go off in our heads, to signal some new, possibly profound epiphany. And the amount of space we have to move around directly impacts how we feel and how well we think.
How much we are able to move around goes hand in hand with boxes and light bulbs. If we feel constricted, boxed in, or left out…in the dark about what is going on…we can’t think as clearly, and may feel under so much stress that we can’t concentrate at all.
According to Dr. Lobell, even the awareness of boxes, light bulbs, and the ability to move in our environment can impact our problem solving and decision making skills. Research subjects given a standardized creativity test performed far better in a room where they sat outside a 5 foot box, then when they took the test inside it.
The boxes we build
While I was thinking about our relationship with these three physical metaphors…boxes, movement in space, and light bulbs…my mind took off in a lot of different directions, and I realized how important the idea of boxes is in my life.
Boxes hold our most precious things…mementos, heirlooms, jewelry, our child’s first tooth…or they can be full of everything we don’t know what to do with. Out of season clothes, excess junk we can’t quite get rid of but we feel more organized about because it is collected and stored in a box.
We live in boxes. We buy or rent whole houses or rooms within them, four walls that keep us warm and safe from danger. But they can also feel like a prison, a small domestic war zone, or a suffocating enclosure where we must either keep struggling to find a smaller, personal box to hide in and be safe, or to break out of forever and be free.
Moving about in open space is the antithesis of being boxed in. But it can also be pretty scary out there. I drove once through a blizzard on isolated prairie roads with a boy who grew up in Los Angeles. He had little experience with snow, but what caused him massive anxiety was that he had never been anywhere that had no cars or signs of civilization as far as you could see, in any direction. He went, momentarily, a little berserk.
Yet people raised in wide open spaces will tell you that they are the only places they feel they can breathe. Cities make them feel bombarded and claustrophobic. Still, our wilderness pioneer ancestors knew that the first thing they must do when they settled in a new area was to build some kind of shelter. In the midst of endless wilderness, it is vital to have a box you can call home.
Problems occur when our thinking gets so set and secure in our little boxes that we are afraid or unwilling to step outside. You can see this a lot when people who love to travel meet people who have never left their home towns, and have no desire to ever do so. At its most extreme, the unwillingness to look outside our boxes breeds prejudice and distrust of anyone or anything that is different or outside our personal experience.
Somewhere, somehow, we must each find a place between our secure identity box and the wider world, where it is still safe but full of possibilities. Kevin relates that seeing smaller boxes…or even pictures of people standing outside of boxes…opens up our thinking. If the problem is in the box, we can walk around it, and see far beyond.
Walking itself stimulates creative thinking, he reminds us, and walking freely in an open space brings us more ideas than walking in a constricted pattern.
Kevin suggests using what we know about physical cues to create environments for ourselves which encourage creative thinking. Areas where we can move around, or where meaningful objects are within our view. Even pictures of light bulbs, he reports, have been shown to help people come up with more ideas.
I recommend reading his entire article, as I have only touched on what he had to say. Also this week, Kevin offers a special bonus radio interview, in which he offers suggestions for people struggling to get their meditation practice going, or women who want to encourage their men to consider the idea. It is well worth a listen.
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