I have been reading Philip Shepherd’s book New Self New World. Along with many other observations, Shepherd notes that when humans learned how to build houses, the result was they successfully “created a space…that securely shut out the world of nature”. Emphasizing this point, Shepherd adds that the Warumungu of Australia called white men “enclosure dwellers”. I find this an interesting name for putting up physical walls, and I wonder how much this contributes to the current destruction of our environment. But physical walls aren’t the only walls we enclose ourselves in.
This past Thursday evening, I was a guest on Speak Your Mind on PBS Northland. The topic was: Barriers to Growth: Why Aren’t We Happy? The conversation centered around the ways we impose things like judgment, comparison, and resentment on ourselves and others. We also spoke about how we send an ideal image of ourselves out into the public eye, keeping the real us hidden. All of these are ways we hide behind walls in the attempt to hide our imperfections. Freud and Jung recognized this enclosure pattern in the human psyche and termed it the “walled-in self”.
The truth is we are “enclosure dwellers” and “walled-in selves” because walls do keep us safe, comfortable, and cozy. But walls also keep us limited, out of the reach of full experience, and often distanced from our neighbors and the possibility of deeper, kinder relationships with all sentient beings. Perhaps the point is not to tear the walls down, but to know when to open and when to close the door, so that we don’t spend a lifetime suffocating and shrinking inside, cutting off the possibility of full engagement with life itself.