“To open Pandora's box" is a reference to performing an action that may seem small or innocuous, but that turns out to have severe and far-reaching consequences.
According to classical Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman on earth, created under the edict of Zeus, the “father of gods and men.” The gods endowed Pandora with many gifts, including exquisite clothing, beauty, and speech. She was also given a beautiful container wherein all the evils of the world were kept, with instructions from Zeus not to open it under any circumstances.
Pandora, compelled by her curiosity (also a gift from the gods) did open it, and all evil contained therein escaped and spread over the earth. Although she hastened to close the container, it was too late ⎯ her impulsive action unleashed the evils of the world. (Source: Wikipedia).
This myth is a excellent metaphor for the undertone of fear that runs through the collective human psyche. Think of what evil might befall you if you were to act on an impulse, a curiosity, a possibility, a dream. The Heavens might fall. You could get hurt. You might die. The wrath of the gods would be unleashed upon your head.
All you have to do is watch television or read all the horror faithfully reported in mainstream media to stay current on the evil that may befall you. The fear mongering is effective to the extent that people buy into the story that the evil in the world far outweighs the good.
This past spring, I gifted myself with a month retreat to San Miguel De Allende, a breathtakingly color-packed city in the mountains of central Mexico, known as a hub for fine art and cuisine.
I chose San Miguel because I wanted to experience a different part of myself. This vacation was also my chance to vacate my “real life” temporarily. My partner, who understands my need to detach, agreed not to call me unless it was an emergency, and told me to have fun. I unplugged from everything and everyone, other than emailing every few days so that my loved ones would be assured that all was well.
Most who know my adventurous spirit encouraged my trip. Others, well-intentioned, were worried for me, warning me of the Pandora’s Box of dangers I might face by traveling in Mexico, citing the stories of kidnappings, drug cartels, and beheadings ⎯ gruesome stories propagated on national television. For certain, evil might lurk at any corner that I turned.
I flew coach to Mexico City, and was met at the airport by a gentleman holding a signboard with my name. He waited with me for an hour, to be certain that I boarded the proper bus while we chatted in halting English and Spanish. At the next stop, another gentleman with a signboard was waiting to drive me to my temporary home.
In the span of 24 hours, I replaced one reality with another. With an open heart and mind, I pretended that I had moved to San Miguel, having chosen a casita in the center of downtown, with old Mexican charm to enhance the illusion of living there.
Each day I explored a little further afield, walking the many steep hills and alleys of this beautiful city. I was mindful of every step, least I be caught in a “gringo trap,” the moniker for the many holes, hanging power lines, and loose stones in the cobblestone streets. I did not want to become a “fallen woman,” because I was looking up at a stunning church steeple when I should have been watching my footing. I slowed way down.
My first impression was the ease of movement and interaction between people, and a level of courtesy that allowed for flow of traffic and people even in congested areas. From teenage girls with headsets on and oblivious to their surroundings, to old women bent over their canes and traveling at a pace of one cobblestone per minute, women walked solo, even after dark. Within two days, I took off my money belt, seeing that it was a cumbersome and unnecessary caution.
My Spanish is enough to get by on basics but I am not fluent. This allowed me to filter out extraneous sounds. Television, radio, music, and other people’s conversations, were all reduced to an outside stream that did not capture my attention. They melded with the background sound of roosters crowing in the yard behind my house and the fireworks exploding almost every night.
This stream of sound unassociated with me made my month in San Miguel seem like a waking mediation, ideal for identifying mind chatter. I was present with whatever I was doing, feeling or thinking. I did not multi-task. I paid attention to my thoughts and projections, acutely aware that every thought was a reflection of my state of being.
While there, I practiced “thought experiments.” I played in the possibilities of the many different ways that I could live in San Miguel. From homes off the grid in the “campo” (country) to elaborate exotic estate homes, I visualized myself living there. I imagined my partner living there with me. I allowed myself to play with the idea of buying or renting a home, opening up a storefront and being a working artist. I imagined running a B&B as many of the ex-pats do.
Of course, a person does not have to travel to another country to experience a new possibility or to get quiet. “Unplugging,” as I think of it, can be for a few hours, though I recommend giving it a few days if possible. Simply tune out all outside stimulation, especially anything to do with other people or the affairs of the world, and do something you really want to do. Cut out the external chatter and notice your inner meanderings.
Within my first week in San Miguel, much of the extraneous details that had been cluttering my mind fell away. What remained versus what simply dissolved once my focus was elsewhere, helped me gain perspective. By the end of the trip, I felt that whatever was still on my plate was all that actually mattered.
“Wherever you go, there you are,” is a statement that perfectly assesses the advantage of completely unplugging. You can be certain that all the baggage in your life that is truly your creation and not the clutter from other people and the world at large, will be ready for your attention whenever you take time to notice. We may unplug from others for a while, but we don’t get to vacate from ourselves!
I am an independent self-regulated person but I do not consider myself to be particularly brave. For example, I am not at ease on a horse, cinched by my last horse interaction cumulating in a haphazard accidental ride on Jumpin’ Jack Flash. I don’t do and will not try extreme sports, that choice cinched by my last downhill skiing, wherein I ended up at the bottom of the mountain in a gurney whisked down by ski patrol. Lastly, if I am in deep water, I may panic and start thrashing about. I relax only if I have a flotation device of some sort close at hand ⎯ a boat being my first preference!
Any thought experiments in these areas always wind down to the same track ⎯ of holding on to the reigns of a feisty horse for dear life, spending weeks examining people’s shoes from my viewpoint in a wheelchair, and the terror I feel if I cannot get out of deep water quickly. I have bought into and accept these limitations as mine. If I never resolve them in my lifetime, I am okay with that.
What holds you back from your possibilities and dreams? Perhaps you have no interest in living in foreign cultures just as I have no interest in horseback riding or scuba diving. But, when you do consider the things you desire most, does your mind start an incessant chatter enumerating the fears you might unleash from your Pandora’s Box?
They might sound something like…. It’s too dangerous, what if I get hurt, it costs too much, what will my friends/family/people think, I must be nuts! ... and so on.
Turning down our frequency of saying, “YES!” to our dreams and desires is a coping mechanism that may make life more tolerable, lessening the conflict between desire and reality. However, the risk is complacency, becoming numb to all that life could be.
Another disempowering defense mechanism that cuts out play and possibility is the thought habit of NO CHOICE. This pattern follows the lines of believing that you have no choice but to do something ⎯ work, send the kid to college, clean the house, go to the gym. This thought habit starts out being applied only to things that are stressful, and expands to include things that once gave you joy, but now feel like a chore.
The fact is that everything we do is a choice. We make it a “have-to, we have no choice” thought, forgetting that we created and initiated the game. We set the stage on which we play out our lives, and then we blame the staging if we don’t like it, on something outside our control.
Notice how much better it feels to replace “I have to” with “I want to” or “I am” or “I will.” When I say that I have to go to work early, I feel trapped. When I say, “I am going to work early today,” I feel empowered. Recognizing that everything we do is inherently by choice allows us to negotiate our current state of affairs more to our liking.
Giving oneself permission to explore is akin to giving oneself permission to be free. Some people are afraid to do even this. Allowing a new possibility in could upset the comfort zone of the life they are currently living. Even if they are bored and unhappy, they will not take a risk for fear of the unknown.
“The most important thing is at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we can become.” This quote (source unknown) is my favorite mantra, a reminder to be embrace new possibilities for myself.
Freedom is a great aphrodisiac. Not holding on, allowing life to flow, allowing people, places, and things to pass through when their time is done, these are the elements of living a creative life. The attitude of free choice aligns with being tuned in, tapped in, and turned on ⎯ showing up as the highest expression of yourself.
Are you willing to open up to your possibilities? Do you worry that what is possible for you to experience might also open up a Pandora’s Box of troubles? Do you need a tool to support you in releasing your fears?
It is interesting to learn the rest of Pandora’s story:
“The whole contents had escaped, except for one thing that lay at the bottom – the Spirit of Hope. Pandora, deeply saddened by what she had done, feared that she would have to face Zeus' wrath, since she had failed her duty. However, Zeus did not punish Pandora, because he knew this would happen.” (Source: Wikipedia).
Perhaps Zeus knew that what lay in waiting for Pandora to retrieve was the key to her creative life. Once the evils were released, the world would be polarized between good and evil so that free choice would be part of every creation. Pandora could then step into a life created through the gifts she had received, calling upon Hope and Curiosity to forge an opening to all of her possibilities.