Black Box Reality: Stepping Beyond the World You Know

black box reality

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Think of a black box, with clearly delineated dimensions and solid, impermeable sides — this is a potent metaphor for our tightly held conception of reality, constructed of our beliefs, values and understandings of the world around us. Consider the vast, expansive space outside the box — this is true reality, unconcerned with our puny human constructs and limited imagination. What we can perceive and experience is delineated and limited by our black-box reality.


The Path of She calls us to step outside of the world that we know and to embrace what else is true and possible. Integral to this pathwork is enlarging the dimensions of our black-box reality, which in turn broadens the scope of reality and experiences available to us.

This is easier said than done because we’ve spent our whole life immersed in the self-reinforcing foundations and building blocks of our black-box reality, forged from the mainstream culture, our family conditioning and our personal adaptations to the world around us. Yet sometimes it only takes one illuminating insight or experience to crack open our black box and let in the light of new possibilities.

[heading] A Personal Story of Cracking My Black-Box Reality[/heading]

Early on in my spiritual journey, I experienced what I call a keystone moment — an event with enough potency to crumble a foundational element of my black-box reality and replace it with something new and expansive.

At the time, I was part of a Buddhist meditation group that met every Monday evening. Although my MBA-addled mind desperately struggled with the strange, new notions of my teacher’s weekly Dharma talks, still I had begun to sink into my meditations and experience a modicum of inner peace and spaciousness.

This night, shortly after I’d settled into my sitting, my body started to twitch and change. I felt my face extend into a long muzzle, with a cold, wet nose. My eyes became sharp, wary, and bristly, rough fur emerged on my cheeks. Then I flung my head back and opened my mouth in a long, silent howl. I had morphed into a she-wolf, perched on a hard pillow, in the middle of a group of silent, slow-breathing humans. The experience was visceral, embodied and undeniably real.

Now, I will admit, I was scared witless; nothing in my black-box understandings of life could help me make sense of this. But another part of me reveled in this glorious window into the true nature of my expanded, mystery-filled humanity.

[p-quote2] Through this one experience, a radical thought was born in me: I had no idea what it meant to be human. With this single thought, a lifetime of conditioning about who I was and what was possible crumbled into dust.[/p-quote2]

My black-box reality suddenly, irrevocably cracked wide open, exposing me to a vast, wild world of spiritual truth, possibilities and experiences. So began the next phase of my spiritual unfolding that continues to this day.

[heading] An Exercise In Expanding Your Black-Box Reality[/heading]

Though my personal story appears to be a spontaneous, dramatic instance of expanding my black-box reality, I’d primed myself for this experience through my commitment to self-awareness and truth in my meditation practice. This exercise is also one of seeking self-awareness and truth that can prime you to step outside of your black-box reality and let in the light of new possibilities.

For this exercise, choose a key aspect of your life that defines you: gender, career, family or anything else that feels essential to your identity and interface with the world. Select something that you’re ready to explore and expand beyond your existing black-box conception of this key aspect of your life.

1. Start by taking out your journal book and exploring this key aspect of your life with the intention of increasing your self-awareness.

How do you define and conceive this aspect of your life? How does it influence your beliefs and values? How does it inform your ways of understanding and engaging the world around you? How does it impact your choices and behaviors?

How attached are you to your current conception of this aspect of your life? How willing are you to step outside of this conception, and explore something new and different?

2. Bring this self-awareness into your everyday life to witness this key aspect of your life in action.

Watch yourself as you go about your regular routines and interactions.

How does your current conception of this aspect of your life define and limit your experiences and interactions with others? How does it support you and help you navigate your outer life? How does it impact your behaviors, and how others see and engage you?

What are the positives and negatives of your current conception of this key aspect of your life?
What else have you learned about your beliefs, values and understandings of the world in relation to this key construct?

3. Summarize the information and insights you’ve gained through Steps 1 and 2 for this key aspect of your life.

Define this aspect of your life and list your related beliefs, values and understandings of the world. These are the foundations and building blocks of your black-box reality that delimit your perceptions and experiences in relation to this aspect of your life.

4. Now image stepping outside of your black-box reality for this key aspect of your life and trying out something new.

What would this look like? Feel like? How would this change your beliefs, values, behaviors and understandings of the world in relation to this aspect of your life? What new freedoms would you gain if you stepped beyond your current black-box reality?

What could you do right now to begin to live outside of your black-box reality for this key aspect of your life? What first steps could you take?

As you do this self-awareness work, open yourself up to spontaneous insights and experiences that can shift and expand your black-box reality. And remember, there’s a vast, amazing reality out there, just waiting for you to show up and embrace its wonders.

5. Commit yourself to stepping outside your black-box reality for this aspect of your life in the ways that you’ve imagined and in alignment with your highest good at this time. Then see what life brings your way.

Know that this exercise has primed you for new experiences and insights. Now your task is to pay close attention to what life brings your way through dreams, new experiences, spontaneous insights and synchronistic events that can widen your black box and open you to new truths and possibilities.

You don’t need to change all at once, or have dramatic, black-box-shattering experiences. Little insights and little steps, letting more and more light into the previous closed, unexamined places in your psyche, can take you far on your spiritual journey into the wide, wild realm of truth outside of your current ways of seeing and engaging the world.

[p-quote2] Once you step beyond your current black-box version of reality — be it by expanding your conception of a single, defining aspect of your life, or by cracking open your black box in some other fundamental way — your life is irrevocably changed.[/p-quote2]

You’ve entered a bigger, deeper reality of truth and possibility, and expanded your capacity to perceive and experience yourself and the world around you. And so begins the next phase of your spiritual unfolding.

This journey of self-discovery and expansion takes a lifetime. As I discovered in my black-box story, our humanity is a vast, mysterious thing. Who we truly are, in our fully unfurled beauty and power, is something we can never totally grasp. Yet, if we stay open, fluid and humble, we can continue to crack open our black-box reality again and again, becoming ever more deeply and powerfully present in this wondrous adventure called life.

Photo Credit: Matthew Henry on Unsplash