Of Fishbowls & Boxes
By Scott Kalechstein



When I was a kid I had pet goldfish. During bowl cleaning time we would put them in a large bathtub, and I was always curious why they continued to swim in the same small circumference as if they were still in their little bowl. Clearly they had never read Rumi:  

“Show me the way to the ocean; break these small containers.”

But then, neither had I.

In fact, I used to play a game in my young mind as I strolled down the sidewalk. I imagined I had to take one and only one step inside each of the square boxes formed by the concrete. I thought of all the terrible things that would happen if I would miss a step. To keep the sky from falling down and other assorted calamities, I proceeded with great caution, making ever so sure to keep my little feet inside the appointed boxes.

Like most of us in this culture of conformity, I was learning that there was a right way and a wrong way to do things. Afraid of making a mistake and being punished, I confined myself to walk a straight and narrow path, one square at a time.

Even in art class, where I once continued drawing leaves beyond the outline designated for coloring a tree ‘correctly’, I was told to stay within the lines. So I did. I also developed a strong dislike for art.

Keeping within the lines of imaginary boxes and fishbowls may grant an illusion of some security and control in what we believe is a world fraught with potential punishment and danger. Yet the quest for self-realization has constantly challenged me to think, step, and live outside the box. It is there that hidden fears and the unconscious beliefs keeping them in place are exposed, brought into the light, and healed.

Since the universe says ‘As you wish’ to whatever we believe, perhaps when fear arises it would help to ask:  

Right now am I operating from the belief that life is for me or that life is against me?  

Each time I stop and pose that question, I automatically relax and remember that I am safe and supported, held and guided by hands far steadier than my own. I remember it’s okay to stretch and risk. I won’t be punished or even judged for my mistakes, because God doesn’t even see them. When eyeing us humans, what God sees are babies learning to walk. Falling is to be expected.

So, is there really any such thing as a wrong step or a wrong turn? In whose judgment? When you declare yourself guilty of screwing up, do you really think God agrees with you?

Ken Carey’s visionary masterpiece, “The Third Millennium,” says this about the illusion of making mistakes:  

“In electrical circuitry the shortest distance between two points is rarely the best way for current to flow. Some of the circuitry that has been created in your human experience has been unnecessary. But all of this ultimately will be turned to advantage. In the end there is not one moment that does not contribute in some way toward perfection.

Even at those critical junctures where the optimal path was not taken, if you follow the tale further down the path that was chosen, you find that, though its course twists and winds, it returns eventually not to the original path but to a level of perfection one octave higher on the spiral of creative unfoldment.”

A Course in Miracles reminds us: “...all things, events, encounters and circumstances are helpful.”

Thomas Edison once quipped, “I make more mistakes than anyone else I know. And, sooner or later, I patent most of them.”

So why for many of us is re-inventing ourselves and stretching into new territory so scary? Is it our inevitable human stumbling coming up against our insistence on perfection? Perhaps on some level we fear being judged, by the world or by ourselves, if we screw up.

Freedom can seem more threatening than our fishbowls when we don’t know it is safe to make mistakes.

I’ve noticed that each time I have stumbled out of my comfort zone, for instance, to make a stand for more money or more love in my life, I have heard a disapproving internal voice say, “Just who do you think you are (young man)?” I’ve come to love that question, because I have learned how to answer it. I can respond with a wholehearted declaration of my worthiness, my innocence, and my unlimitedness as a child of God.

A stirring example of this is the first time I was ever paid for my musical services. No one asked my fee, and I was so excited to be getting the job that I didn’t bring the subject up either. After my performance, the man who had hired me took me aside to discuss payment. His words sent my head spinning. “Here is a check. It’s blank. Fill in what you think you deserve.”

He stepped a few feet away from me and waited patiently, a smirk on his face, as if he were saying, “Now is your chance, kid. Step up to bat and tell yourself, tell me, and God how much you value yourself.” I looked at the check in my hands, a little slip of paper with no numbers, no zeros. Freedom of choice had never felt so intimidating.

I did not like that moment!! I wanted someone to tell me what I was worth. I wanted familiar boxes and lines of definition, not free will and open space! I took a deep breath, pondering just how much I felt OK with being paid. Gulping, I added fifty dollars, wrote it down and handed the check back, trembling all the way.  

He glanced at it, smiled, and we said goodbye. The sky didn’t fall down, and the world didn’t come apart. Now, eighteen years later, if anyone dared to pay me like that again I might consider adding a zero to my comfort zone!

That night I lay in bed pondering my experience. I kept hearing those words: “Here’s a check. It’s blank. Fill in what you think you deserve.” As I started falling asleep, a still, small voice whispered, “That’s pretty much what I said to you before you came to earth: Here’s a life. It’s blank. Fill in what you think you deserve. Fill in what your heart longs to create.”

The Artist’s Way

splash the blank canvas
paint first, judge later
if at all
paint outside the boxes
they can’t contain the truth

have you been successful at squaring away mysteries?
 do they trickle out in rainbow colors
all over your well thought-out plans?

the predictable path is the one with the eggshells
break them all!!
enjoy the music you make
the sounds of your freedom
as caged birds fly free into the open sky
no map, no agenda to weigh them down
fear’s sorry substitute for the wings of trust

a child you thought you had cultured comes out to crack the shells
your path is wider now
there is room to fall down as tightrope tension dissolves
laughter, a fine companion to cushion the fall

no experts can diagnose your buried treasures
this is your archeological dig
can you dig?
yes, you can, and you do
your socially proper attire gets dirty and you track mud
all over your shiny tile kingdom
don’t scold this child who leads you home
sacred mud tracks the way

when the first streaks of your own gold catch your eye
you will get down on hands and knees
to dig deeper

(In honor of Julia Cameron)

Scott Kalechstein is an inspirational speaker who sometimes breaks out into song during his talks and workshops. He is also an inspirational singer who has been known to break out into speaking in between songs. Scott travels near and far, comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable. Please visit for song samples and more info.

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