There’s this thing in the world of self-help (self-helpishness? self-helpery?) where I kind of live — people are always talking about containers. About creating containers for things to happen in.

I love the concept. Love it! I don’t love the word.

So. My plan. To examine where I get stuck, expand on the concept, uncover some of the good stuff hidden in the possibilities. To rewrite the vocabulary.

And possibly share some of the bizarre things I wrote while rallying at the last Rally (Rally!) a few weeks ago.

What people are talking about when they talk about “containers”.

The concept is basically this:

Having safe, clearly-defined spaces make it easier to create. Like when you’re at a workshop. Or if you have a morning writing ritual.

Once you’re inside a space like this, there is this gorgeous interplay between freedom on the one hand, and safety on the other.

Between sovereignty and containment. Between endless possibility and complete sanctuary. And these are not opposites.

Each feeds the other. The more containment, the more freedom to explore.

The more safety you have, the easier it is to mess around, take risks, play with being king or queen of your world.

And the easier it then becomes to experience and process all the vulnerability and flailing and falling apart that happens when you’re in a period of deep creativity.

When you have strong, clear, healthy, flexible boundaries for an experience, the most amazing things can happen within that …. that thing that needs a word.

A “field of safety”?

Anyway. This is generally referred to as a “container”. I get it. I just don’t connect.

Hiro sometimes calls it a playpen (ooh, playing!) — still not my right word. So what is the right word for me?

Unsurprisingly, I got Metaphor Mouse to help me sort out my positive and less-than-positive associations with this, and to build something new.

The elements of container that I liked were: safety, stability, support, portable, makes space, exists to help me.

The less-appealing associations — again, just for me — were: bland, boring, box, plastic-ey, opaque, too snug. And while playpen has my favorite word — play! — right in the name, I also found “constrained” and “powerless” hiding in my personal definition.

So my ideal non-container thing that would hold this function had to include: spaciousness, freedom, power, fun, open sky, adventure, silliness, coziness and sanctuary.

For me, this is my pirate ship. For you, your non-container of a container might be something else.

Containers do something else too: they shelter you while you go through a big change.

There is no shortage of turning points in life. They’re happening all the time. It’s a flow and a continuum and all of that.

And, at the same time, if we’re lucky, there are certain distinct and special periods in our lives when we do a thing or go through a process. We transition.

We enter the cocoon and emerge from it changed. We walk the length. We climb the mountain. We venture into the tunnel at one end, and come out the other side another person.

Not a different person. Just the next version of you. You with more of your you-ness. A more present and full you than before.

This is why we say yes to certain experiences that will be this change for us. This is also why these things terrify us. This is why we need safety and sanctuary and blanket forts to facilitate these periods of moving through.

One of the reasons I like having a ship instead of a container is that ship holds the quality of [+ voyage].

You embark. And when you return, it is a different version of you who returns. More comfortable in your you-ness. The you who has known sky and sea and time and other places.

Spaces of safety exist on a variety of levels.

Jen’s amazing Writer’s Retreat in Taos where I taught the past two summers is a safe space in several senses.

In a very literal, physical sense — the setting, which is very contained and cozy and sweet.

Also in the sense of having a designated time and space to work through a series of processes, and come through the other side

Also in the sense of emotional space: you have the structure of the retreat to hold your project, and you have the culture of the retreat to support you emotionally (Jen, like me, builds cultures where you don’t ever have to deal with unsolicited advice).

Jen puts a lot of time into establishing and bringing awareness to these containers, these fields of safety … what I might call the world of the ship.

They are powerful because they are temporary. They move you through the passages. They hold you when you’re scared. They make it possible to discover the next piece without falling apart.

And these temporary structures support you for much longer than their actual life span.

That’s part of why they exist. To come into form and to be taken apart.

Just like the patterns that we build and deconstruct in the Dance of Shiva.

We build forms and take them apart. We build shelters and structures and take them apart. How to do this is one of the things I’ll be teaching in Asheville this November.

Here’s something interesting.

At the Rally, we did Shiva Nata and asked questions to help come into a better relationship with the projects we were projectizing. My own project for the Rally was to plan the schedule, content and HAT* for my Week of Biggification**.

* HAT = Havi Announces a Thing page
** The word you’re looking for is pickles

Anyway, questions and answers. To my surprise, I ended up writing about these containers-that-aren’t containers. It was neat. The first questions:

“What do I need?”

In what context? Wait, in any context?

Better structures. Structures to help me make sure I get time for the things that support me. For transitioning in and out.

Structures that are composed of transition and ritual, so that everything is accompanied by ritual.

Structures that make life more like being on Rally (Rally!).

Actually, “life imitates rally” is totally better than “life imitating retreat”, but I still want to have play and rest in equal parts.

To have transitions between Ship mode and Port mode. Between pedaling and cruising. Between construction and deconstruction. To not have to rebuild each time.

Think poles and platforms. Like the tribe taking their poles with them but leaving the platforms to return to. Temporary structures.

“What do I know?”

How to build structures and these … “container”-like things. How to establish cultures of love and sanctuary and no-shoe-throwing.

Oh! OH! Sukkot!

These spaces are like sukkot!

And what is a sukkah if not a ritualized blanket fort? It is.

A container of the same mysterious kind. An intentional and temporary structure that exists to support you.

It’s a portable, temporary canopy of piece that holds a certain form for you for a specific period of time while you go through a process of metamorphosis.


“What’s next?”

Finding shelter. Claiming sanctuary. Asking questions.

Labyrinthing. Mapping. Acquiring more costumes.

Oh! We will have a Pomegranate Rally and let our projects sleep under the stars!

And at the Week of Biggification (pickles), we’ll teach about how to build shelters, how to move from one transition to the next, how to carry this wisdom with you so that it lives in your cells and your bones and your brain.

Talk about these themes on the blog. So your people know it’s possible to move from shelter to shelter. To know the freedom and spaciousness that comes from safety and containment. Draw a map. And then another one.

And comment zen for today.

We all have our stuff. We’re all working on our stuff. We let people have their stuff and their own experience. Without advice (unless someone specifically asks for it).

What I’d love today: more thoughts on these container-like things and what you might like to call them and different ways we can use them.

I have a bunch of other (semi-related and not-even-slightly-related) things that I wrote during the Rally. Maybe some of them will show up tomorrow. In the meantime, internet kisses to all.

And, as Mariko says, Happy New Year to those of the apples and honey persuasion.

The Fluent Self