9: How to open doors

Can opener

At times it feels like the walls are closing in, the way is cut off, and there’s no path forward. However, whatever can be closed can also be opened. When we’re trapped, how can we open a door and get a move on?

The solution lies within the problem

To be trapped is to be hemmed in, to be bound, to have our movement impeded. Yet, if we are to be trapped at all, it must be possible for us to also be free. While this observation may seem a truism, it is in fact essential if we are to escape and continue onward. By recognizing the possibility of freedom embedded within any cage-like situation, we are halfway out the dungeon and on our way to the fields.

Well, maybe only a third of the way. The next step is to use this observation as a starting point to understand the nature of the trap we’re in. What shape are the walls? How many are there? Do any sections make a hollow sound when you tap them? [1]

That is, the situation itself contains valuable information that can be used to open a way out of it. This sounds simple enough, but much of the time we find ourselves feeling trapped without quite knowing why. Our own situation escapes us.

How can we acquaint ourselves with our situation and set ourselves up to transcend and transform it?

Finding the ridge

When we wish to open a can using, say a can opener, we first need to find the ridge to be clasped and circumambulated by the blade of the opener. So too with the situation we are to bust open and free ourselves from. We do this in the same way we find the ridge of the can: by feeling it out.

Each situation is defined by some specific contours and characteristics, and contains within itself certain possibilities of action. We can come to understand the situation by acting on these possibilities in an intentional and attentive way. These little tests will give feedback on what’s going on, and allow us to find the ridge we’re to clasp with our righteous round blade of opening.

For example, one may feel stuck in a city they no longer (or never) love and feel a persistent anxiety about staying. However, moving is difficult, often expensive, and occasionally risky. Moreover, many things must be put in order to move successfully, not least the selection of a proper destination.

In such a situation, it’s easy to crumple before the magnitude of the needed change (moving) and simply accept the dreary situation and trudge on listlessly forevermore. However, the big change is the last step of the process, the piercing of the aluminum veil with the resplendent edge of our trusty can opener.

First, our forlorn city-dweller would do well to begin making small, experimental changes and decisions. For instance, taking day or weekend trips to places of interest, catching up with old friends or colleagues, or even browsing the old online job board - in another town. Each of these actions is comparatively low risk, but can reveal a lot of information about both what’s out there and what’s in here, as it were.

The truth is, we really don’t even see most of our situation until we take a look at it, and we don’t know our limits until we try them. So, it is good practice to regularly probe and press these limits in small ways to keep ourselves abreast of where and who we are. This is “finding the ridge”.

Break that rusty can (and run)

In sum, we can think of a dead-end situation like a can to be opened. To open a can, you first need to identify it as a can and so as an object suitable for a can opener. Then, you need to find the surface to be pierced by the blade and the ridge to be clasped and circled around. Finally, you may proceed to open a threshold to the goodies in the container. Delicious.


[1] Knowing every detail of the enlosing walls is unnecessary, we need only find a viable path, like lightning to the ground.