Thursday, March 15, 2012

Stepping Outside of the Box

Stepping Outside of the Box            Copyright Keith Skelton;          
Every morning when I walk up the hill to the coop, the chickens are standing at the door.

The entire flock rubs their beaks against the aviary-wired door, clucking their morning "hello's", sashaying their little tail feathers back and forth. When I open the door, at least two of them jump onto the lower doorframe and peek out their heads.

Due to predators--namely my cat, hawks, a neighborhood dog, and a lack of fences--I've been hesitant to let the chickens free-range. Yet, their constant behavior of greeting me mosh-pit style in front of the door leaves me feeling guilty. So, the other day, I decided to grab two of the hens and let them explore.

With a cup of my morning chamomile/citrus tea in one hand and a chicken in the other (I made two trips), I brought two hens down to the "flatlands."

Coachie, my Giant Partridge Cochin, went into a snit. She was fine in my arms, but the minute I put her on the grass, she cawed out for the rest of her flock. Even when Sunshine, the Golden Spangled Hamburg, was set down beside her, she still cawed. With equal fervor, the penned hens responded. The communication went back and forth for over a half hour.

After 45 minutes or so, Coachie began to relax. Well, kind of. One peck here, and a quick twist of the head and a dash of the eye. One peck there, and a quick twist of the head and the dash of the eye. She clearly didn't appreciate being the Christina Columbus of chicken explorers.

I kneeled down next to her and petted her. I tried to reassure her with my best Chicken Whispers. Her agitation lessened but never ceased. After downing my cup of tea, I scooped her back up into my hands and transported her and Sunshine back to the remaining flock.

Coachie was having a difficult time being out of the box.

Settling into the "coop" of life is so much easier than stepping outside of the box, isn't it? When a challenging opportunity arises, instead of "going for it", it's much easier to heed the bugle blowing warning calls: What if I fall apart? What if I get sick? What if I die? What if I'm a failure? What if I'm away from my kids too long? Our mind rages with warnings like an overprotective parent. "Don't you dare do it," it screams while throwing a protective arm across our chests. "You could get hurt." So, we don't move forward. We stay. We listen to those whispering voices and nestle back under the wings of our existing flock. After all, it's warm there. It's comfortable. It feels familiar. Maybe life's just easier staying inside the box, we tell ourselves.

But, what happens after awhile?

We get bored. We suffocate. We pick fights with significant others.

Our minds and souls feel as if they are turning to mush.

A librarian friend once asked me, "How do you do what you do for a living?" referring to my career as a fundraising professional.

"I do it because everyday I wonder if I can. When I wake up in the morning, I have 'butterflies' in my stomach. I suppose it's the challenge that keeps me interested, keeps me engaged. My life's motto is,'Go for the butterflies,' " I said with a giggle.

"I can't even remember the last time I had "butterflies" in my stomach,"  she said.

Going for the "butterflies" adds excitement to life. It means taking ourselves beyond our own prescribed limits, testing who we are.

There was the time years ago I attempted to climb Vernal Falls in Yosemite, despite my deeply embedded fear of heights. I almost made it to the top. Even though I didn't climb the last twenty steps, I gained such confidence in my abilities that I landed a very significant philanthropic gift the next week.  I learned that "butterflies" in my stomach--although certainly not comfortable or at all desirable--are a sure sign that I am stepping outside of my box, or "wandering" away from my norm, and that "ain't all bad."

I interviewed a man once who helped found a branch of an international leadership organization and at 83 years old or so, still travels extensively around the world for work.

"What's the secret to your success?" I asked him.

He paused for a moment, deep in thought. Then, he looked at me, with amusement dancing in his eyes, "It's that I've never said 'no' to any offer. When someone asks me to do something or go somewhere, I always say 'yes', that is unless I have a sense that it's very dangerous or really not good for me."

"And, the result has been your success?" I asked.

"The result has been that I've done so many different things and been to so many different places that I had never expected or even imagined. I've led a very rich life."

All because he chose to step outside of the box. He chose to say yes to the "butterflies."

As I sat and watched Coachie's distress yesterday, I realized that I have often felt that distress, too. Stepping outside of the box isn't easy. It causes anxiety, fear, and sometimes pain.

Just this afternoon,  I sat at my desk reviewing my to-do list.  I added: create a safe space for the chickens to free-range. After all, they can't choose to free-range for themselves. The option has to be given.

But, for me...I have the ability to choose...

I, then, picked up a yellow sticky note and wrote on it in all caps: REMEMBER TO CHOOSE THE BUTTERFLIES. It's now posted on the keyboard of my laptop. After all, by choosing butterflies, I'm guaranteed wings.

P.S. According to research, the gut plays an important role in creating memory due to something called our vagus nerve (derived from the Latin word "wandering") and "second brain". This is all fascinating material. 

1 comment:

  1. Love this post, Nancy. I'm a big fan of stepping outside our comfort zones and taking scary steps. Makes life so interesting.