Thinking Outside The Box

thinking out of the box

Each of us is an individual located in our own respective boxes, so to speak. Each box constitutes the components of a human person’s being–the particular programming courtesy of the family as well as the way society in general has conditioned our ethos and mores. The box provides the space  where we find safety and enjoy serenity. Basically, it is our comfort zone. It is our haven of rest. It defines what we consider as the norm. It grants us stability and constancy. The box is where we rush into in moments when risks prowl about and threaten our steady bearing.

In certain ways, the box may be seen as a factor that defines and identifies us as individual persons known and familiar to others. But in a deeper analysis, we get to a realization that individual boxes are nothing but microcosmic reflections/versions of the all-encompassing macrocosmic box that integrates the cultural structure of a society. We call it convention whose strength depends on how such is sustained in the lives of its individual bearers. We say that the box is unassailable, inalienable, non-negotiable. The box is therefore characterized by a self-reflexivity that aims to brace its own platform of strength. In this sense, it is deemed inviolable to seriously acknowledge that subverting the box is a grievous infringement of a preeminent wellspring of social cohesion and tenacity. In other words, we are not supposed to subvert the box.

But at certain points, the box gets oppressive and tyrannical with all the seemingly insurmountable barriers on all sides that define its box-ness. In this condition, our mobility and maneuverings are acutely confined within a very limited playing field. In such a situation, even our conception of free movement is adversely affected. The conditioning mechanism of the box actually prevents us to think of and explore even its frontiers. From a sense of uncertainty which spontaneously evolves in time to a feeling of trepidation and fear, the box asphyxiates and snuffs the call of creativity within the essential singularity of our humanity. The box through all the multivariagated factors that embody  its complex network prevents us to go beyond its fringes which if we just have the courage to get near them will prove to us once and for all that those very fringes are illusory. And thus we get to stand face to face with the reality that we can defy the box.

Yes, the box is here and now but the thought that we cannot resist and pass over it is a self-imposed illusion. The box may be traversed, even transcended, and normal humanity is endowed with the power to do so. In many instances, we tend to be hindered by the established presuppositions of the so-called conventional. Convergent information dominates and persists in us and in the process blinds us to see and explore the possibility of divergent information (cf., Giovanni Corazza’s TEDx Roma lecture on “Creative Thinking: How to Get out of the Box and Generate Ideas” . . . We are reluctant, even scared, to diverge from the accepted, the acknowledged, the approved, the authorized. We don’t want to rock the boat. We are discomfited to think out of the box. By and large, we are denizens of the establishment. We have gotten used to things and events. A slight modification disorients us. We get upset when the old ways are challenged.

The box is like Plato’s cave wherein people are chained all their lives while facing a wall where shadows of things passing in front of the fire behind them are projected. The shadows constitute their reality. There is nothing more meaningful beyond the shadows. And when someone gets freed from that “reality,” s/he becomes a pariah. The box or the cave is real but not all of reality. It is just a speck of the more exciting and more immense reality for over and beyond the reality of the box is the more exhilarating and daring reality of possibilities. It is the latter reality that is supposed to excite us and intensify our aspiration to think and explore new opportunities, novel alternatives, unique approaches, uncommon ways, unconventional means. Thinking out of the box is awakening the hibernating courage within us and mustering our strength to probe and walk along the road less traveled.

The norm of the box is poignantly captured in the First Duty of the eminent modern Greek philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis’ “Spiritual Exercises” entitled The Saviors of God ( as follows:

WITH CLARITY and quiet, I look upon the world and say: All that I see, hear, taste, smell, and touch are the creations of my mind.

The sun comes up and the sun goes down in my skull. Out of one of my temples the sun rises, and into the other the sun sets.

The stars shine in my brain; ideas, men, animals browse in my temporal head; songs and weeping fill the twisted shells of my ears and storm the air for a moment.

My brain blots out, and all, the heavens and the earth, vanish.

The mind shouts: ‘Only I exist!

“Deep in my subterranean cells my five senses labor; they weave and unweave space and time, joy and sorrow, matter and spirit.

“All swirl about me like a river, dancing and whirling; faces tumble like water, and chaos howls.

“But I, the Mind, continue to ascend patiently, manfully, sober in the vertigo. That I may not stumble and fall, I erect landmarks over this vertigo; I sling bridges, open roads, and build over the abyss.

“Struggling slowly, I move among the phenomena which I create, I distinguish between them for my convenience, I unite them with laws j yoke them to my heavy practical needs.

“I impose order on disorder and give a face – my face – to chaos.

“I do not know whether behind appearances there lives and moves a secret essence superior to me. Nor do I ask; I do not care. I create phenomena in swarms, and paint with a full palette a gigantic and gaudy curtain before the abyss. Do not say, ‘Draw the curtain that I may see the painting.’ The curtain is the painting.

“This kingdom is my child, a transitory, a human work. But it’s a solid work, nothing more solid exists, and only within its boundaries can I remain fruitful, happy, and at work.

“I am the worker of the abyss. I am the spectator of the abyss. I am both theory and practice. I am the law. Nothing beyond me exists.”

To SEE and accept the boundaries of the human mind without vain rebellion, and in these severe limitations to work ceaselessly without protest – this is where man’s first duty lies.

Nevertheless, it is in the Second Duty where we see how the box is defied and the reality of more challenging possibilities outside of the box is courageously faced, even embraced:

I WILL NOT accept boundaries; appearances cannot contain me; I choke! To bleed in this agony, and to live it profoundly, is the second duty.

The mind is patient and adjusts itself, it likes to play; but the heart grows savage and will not condescend to play; it stifles and rushes to tear apart the nets of necessity.

What is the value of subduing the earth, the waters, the air, of conquering space and time, of understanding what laws govern the mirages that rise from the burning deserts of the mind, their appearance and reappearance?

I have one longing only: to grasp what is hidden behind appearances, to ferret out that mystery which brings me to birth and then kills me, to discover if behind the visible and unceasing stream of the world an invisible and immutable presence is hiding.

If the mind cannot, if it was not made to attempt the heroic and desperate breach beyond frontiers, then if only the heart could!

Beyond! Beyond! Beyond! Beyond man I seek the invisible whip which strikes him and drives him into the struggle. I lie in ambush to find out what primordial face struggles beyond animals to imprint itself on the fleeting flesh by creating, smashing, and remolding innumerable masks. I struggle to make out beyond plants the first stumbling steps of the Invisible in the mud.

A command rings out within me: “Dig! What do you see?”

“Men and birds, water and stones.”

“Dig deeper! What do you see?”

“Ideas and dreams, fantasies and lightening flashes!”

“Dig deeper! What do you see?”

“I see nothing! A mute Night, as thick as death. It must be death.”

“Dig deeper!”

“Ah! I cannot penetrate the dark partition! I hear voices and weeping. I hear the flutter of wings on the other shore.”

“Don’t weep! Don’t weep! They are not on the other shore. The voices, the weeping, and the wings are your own heart.”

Beyond the mind, on the edge of the heart’s holy precipice, I proceed, trembling. One foot grips the secure soil, the other gropes in the darkness above the abyss.
Behind all appearances, I divine a struggling essence. I want to merge with it.

I feel that behind appearances this struggling essence is also striving to merge with my heart. But the body stands between us and separates us. The mind stands between us and separates us.

What is my duty? To shatter the body, to rush and merge with the Invisible. To let the mind fall silent that I may hear the Invisible calling.

I walk on the rim of the abyss, and I tremble. Two voices contend within me.

The mind: “Why waste ourselves by pursuing the impossible? Within the holy enclosure of our five senses it is our duty to acknowledge the limitations of man.”

But another voice within me – call it the Sixth Power, call it the heart – resists and shouts:

“No! No! Never acknowledge the limitations of man. Smash all boundaries! Deny whatever your eyes see. Die every moment, but say: Death does not exist.'”

Yes, the box is real but outside the box is a more exciting and daring reality.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 22 October 2015


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