Walls are funny things.
They can be objects of protection, keeping whatever is behind them safe, sheltered, preserved and untouched. In a literal sense, the walls of a building help us remain relatively unaffected by the elements, and they offer support for the structure as a whole.
But walls can also be objects of obstruction, creating a barrier from the outside world and potentially harming the contents being guarded, either intentionally or as a result of misinformed fears. Relating to human nature, we put up walls to shield ourselves from perceived harshness, from anticipated hurt and danger that we feel we can only prevent if we hide ourselves behind something less breakable than our fragile hearts.
Even if our intentions for putting up these barricades seemed logical when we laid their foundations, some of us eventually find ourselves closed in and hardly capable of emerging from our confinement.
Because walls—though they are great for privacy and necessary safety—can also create a loneliness so vapid and cold that we forget who we are outside of them.
We forget how to connect or what it is we sought to protect in the first place, left to struggle with the curious predicament of longing for touch but not knowing exactly how to reach out, to meet on the other side of the shields we’ve built. We forget how the world looked to us before we made such divides, setting ourselves apart from the things we couldn’t stand to face and hoping that our feeble lines of defense would somehow be strong enough to keep us out of harm’s way.
But we soon figure out that things will happen regardless of our walls, that one way or another we will feel the effects of whatever happens beyond them and that eventually, we will have to face the things from which we aimed to hide in the first place.
And so, the walls must come down—a task much easier said than done.
But make no mistake, I do not condone bulldozing or mindless dismantling of something so intricately built. Instead, I believe in a process that encourages us to consciously take down the walls we’ve raised. This is by no means a complete guide to epically opening ourselves up to the world, but it includes a few things I’ve learned in my own adventures, informed by my experiences in taking down little pieces of one wall at a time:
1. Take a step back, look at the wall and acknowledge that it is in fact there.
Ignoring the identification of our walls and getting right down to demolition would be the equivalent of putting on a blindfold and swinging a wrecking ball at whatever’s around. We might hit something we meant to hit, but we also might ruin something useful, perhaps something we wanted to keep.
So take a look. See the wall, name it, inquire about its origins and understand why it’s there.
And remember, although we’re talking about walls in a largely negative context, their intentions can be good, aiming to protect us from real dangers (like a hurricane or a blizzard in one sense, chaos or pain in another). So, we can note the parts of our walls that are necessary as they contrast with the parts that are solely obstructive and ultimately detrimental. There is a difference.
2. Decide what needs to change.
Certain parts of who we are as individuals are inherent to our existence. They are the foundations on which we build our unique stories, the road maps of our beings.
These traits are comparable to load-bearing walls that hold up an entire structure; if knocked down, the entire building is at risk for collapse. And just as we have to check for load-bearing walls before we even think about knocking them down, it’s important to realize that the walls blocking us from personal growth could be partially load-bearing, too.
For example, if I’ve built a wall specifically to keep myself from being loved by another, it’s probably because I’m afraid of allowing someone close enough to hurt me. Somewhere along the line, something told me that I needed to protect myself from pain I didn’t want to feel, and so this wall was built.
This of course is less than ideal because putting up a wall against love makes it difficult to ever experience the beauty of a relationship; although I am protecting myself from the not-so-good, I’m also denying myself the opportunity to experience the good parts.
By the same token, it would be foolish to take down this wall completely, stripping myself of any and all standards. Wrecking this wall would undermine my needs, swinging into the opposite extreme of being naively prone to heartbreak.
Therefore, I can recognize my standards as the parts I must keep and my fears as the parts I can demolish. My standards are the load-bearing segments of the wall, while my fears are merely causing unnecessary obstruction where there could be clarity and openness. (Trust me, I’m still working on this one.)
It’s important to remember that changing ourselves doesn’t mean uprooting and going against our truths. Sure, change can be drastic, and perhaps necessary on a large scale, but that doesn’t have to apply to all parts of ourselves. There are parts of us that bolster the essence of who we are, and these parts must remain even if we knock down the rest of the wall to which they once belonged; otherwise, we run the risk of being buried by an internal collapse.
3. Work slowly and with compassionate patience.
This is probably the hardest part to put into practice—patience.
When I want to change something, I want to do it now. I tend to take a “cold turkey” approach to everything I do, and while that can be effective for immediate results, I’ve learned that it’s certainly not the most sustainable way to approach my walls.
Instead of trying to tear down the parts I choose to eliminate, perhaps a better idea is to chip away at the unnecessary pieces more slowly and compassionately, understanding that this is a process and it will take time. (Again, I’m working on it.)
Maybe it’s best to start by putting doors in our walls, allowing for our discretion in being open or closed. Having the option could offer a smoother transition through the demolition process as we test the waters beyond our self-imposed limitations. Eventually, the solid wood door becomes glass, and the glass becomes a screen, and maybe then we remove the door altogether, leaving a beautifully and safely prepared opening where there was once a solid barrier.
Like I said, I’m still working on my own walls, but I believe that if we work mindfully, taking baby steps to carve out just the right space, we might just have a fighting chance to breathe the freedom of the outside air.
And I have a feeling that this freedom beyond our walls is worth the process it takes to get there.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman