I've been thinking about walls lately. Walls hold up our roofs, they give us privacy, protection and are an indispensable part of our home. As Robert Frost quoted his neighbor, while mending their shared stone wall: "Good fences make good neighbors." They give us boundaries and divide us. Sometimes we need this. I've always said that our home is just an extension of ourselves; that's why "apartment therapy" is just that, "therapy." When you work on your home, you are working on yourself.
But walls are rarely lovable. And sometimes our walls are too high and too thick, and rather than support us they imprison us. We know this too.
"Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast."
Why do we build walls? When are they too much?
When we've been very hurt, when we've been very wounded, we protect ourselves and we build walls to keep the world at a safe distance. We don't want to feel the pain anymore. These walls are like armor, which eventually imprison the softness of the heart, and we become more fearful, hardened and alienated.*
When you meet someone with thick walls defending a great wound you can often feel it. They are hard to reach, hard to connect to, hard to communicate with. They are defensive. Perhaps you argue or fight. There never seems to be a shared understanding. They go away from you.
"I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me ~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees. "
Or maybe this is you. When you meet people you feel like people don't understand you and are often unkind. You feel threatened and seek to get away. You crave peace and quiet. You want to be alone or with the few people in the world who really understand you.
But you become more and more separate and the walls grow into a prison.
How do we bring down our own walls, open our house back up and let in the warm spring sun?
There is only one way.
Our hearts have to break.
Maybe your father dies.
Maybe you fall very sick.
Maybe someone leaves you.
Maybe you can't have a baby.
Maybe you just witness someone else who is really suffering.
There are a million opportunities to witness pain, but we keep them as far away as possible generally. I have.
When we allow ourselves to sit with the pain that wants to break our heart, when we breathe in pain, the sheer heat and discomfort melts our walls. It's almost as if instead of holding back the fire, we burn our house down to the ground. But gradually, we soften up and our walls and the heavy, creaking armor don't seem so big and strong.
When this happens, a tension dissolves, and we breathe deeply again. "A kindness and a tenderness begin to emerge." We no longer want to run away. We begin to feel connected to all those around us. We feel compassion and understanding. We begin to feel unfathomable love.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself.
Unlike in our real house, when we melt our own walls we do not discover that our roof falls in. On the contrary, our entire being opens up to the world again, and the sun comes streaming in.
Related Post: How I Learned to Stop Trying So Hard & Love the Garden
*Many of my thoughts and the words here are drawn from Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart. All the block quotes are from Robert Frost's Mending Wall.
(Images: Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan - Top two @ Shaker House and bottom one @ Turkey)