13 Ways To Happily Live Outside The Box

The box is mainstream culture. It’s easy to live inside of it most of the time, without even meaning to. The box tells us to buy lots, consume lots and to be afraid of lots of things in the world (the things we buy are good distractions from scary things).

But when we’re rich in what matters, we travel outside that box. We live from our deeper values. We honor the earth, consume modestly, and are not very afraid. We tend to be happy, or at least content. Here are 13 ways to think and live outside of the box.

  1. Socialize across class lines. Inside the box is socializing with people whose incomes and education levels are similar to ours. It’s the most comfortable thing to do, worldwide. But socializing with people who are poorer or richer than we are can get us happily outside the box, away from fear, into other ways of being in the world. Public spaces are a great venue for doing this.
  2. Dare to mention the reality of climate change. Even in Portland Oregon where I live, supposedly the green capital of the U.S., people seldom talk about climate change since the recession. I try to bring climate change into my conversations, even though climate change scares me. 350.org helps me stay engaged with climate change.
  1. Make technology your servant, not your master. Everyone I know agrees on this in principle. But in minutes we are checking our smart phones, even if we rarely get to see each other in person. That compulsive behavior is an example of getting locked inside the box.  Later this year, during our 541 Threads subscription campaign, I will post tips on how to make technology our servant, not our master.
  2. Don’t assume that self-employment is the answer to getting outside the box. Possibly it is. But it could also turn out to be another box, another rat-race. Doing your current job from a desire to be of service could be another way to get outside of the box. Here are tips gleaned from my 11 years of being a self-employed artist.
  3. Embrace spirituality – your own, not a boxed, prepackaged version. In some parts of the country, living inside the box means going to Southern Baptist church services every Sunday morning. Whether or not you’ve really thought it through, and arrived at personal belief. Here in the Pacific Northwest, inside the box means dismissing the very idea of church, and saying, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” A box with different packaging. Me, I love church. But that’s just one path. What’s your own heartfelt spiritual path?
  4. Treat worship services as worship, not entertainment. These aren’t the same thing, at all. When we worship, we focus on our Creator, and our love for our Creator, and how we can happily surrender to wisdom greater than our own. When we’re being entertained, we focus on our own pleasure, on what’s in this for us. Don’t see worship as just another form of entertainment. Spirituality is supposed to transform us, however quietly and subtly.
  5. Find entertainment in nature instead of electronics. Connecting with the natural world makes us richer in what matters. Hm. This may be one of my tips for making technology our servant, not our master.
  6. Actively work for what you believe in. Inside the box is liking the Facebook page and then forgetting about it.  Outside the box is writing letters to the editor and to Congress, voting and helping to get out the vote, going to demonstrations like the People’s Climate March this past Sunday. Here’s a piece on how to create change wherever you are by my friend Jim Meyer.
  7. Eat low on the food-chain. Unless you are dollar-poor, in which case you should probably eat higher on the food-chain. The meat industry inflicts great suffering on millions of animals, and contributes heavily to climate change. Here are some healthy, tasty, inexpensive menus that are low on the food-chain.
  8. Live car-lite. Inside the box is buying the biggest vehicle you can. Outside the box is getting outside the car onto your feet, bicycle or the bus. Here is why a car is like a condom, and public transit rocks. However, if you live in a rural area (which also rocks), your car is probably crucial, and this idea may not apply to you much.
  9. Be curious about the opposing viewpoint. Inside the box is arguing that your viewpoint is right and theirs is wrong. Even more common these days is to ignore opposing viewpoints by cocooning with those who see everything as you do. Outside the box is learning why others believe as they do, instead of making them wrong. When my housemate of the other political party got terminal cancer last year, I really got, for the first time in my life, that differences make no difference, and I need to get past them.
  10. Put people first. Ahead of money, cars, electronics, entertainment, etc. Seems simple, but isn’t. People take a lot of effort. They talk back, and all.
  11. Ignore silly, unthinking rules like 13 being unlucky. This unthinking rule is so ingrained in mainstream culture that many hotels don’t have 13th floors – they jump from 12 to 14.  I say that 13 is a lucky number, because I was born on November 13th, and I am definitely a lucky person. More examples of rules to ignore: Never break the chain of command. Don’t wear pink and red together. Virtually all rules in Leviticus.

Which of these 13 tips on living outside the box works for you, or doesn’t work for you? What is your favorite way to live outside the box? 

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  • greenpowerguy
    September 25, 2014

    The article by Jim Meyer was really nice!

    • Alison
      September 26, 2014

      I agree, Green Power Guy (aka Thor).

    • ThereAndBackAgain
      September 27, 2014

      thanks gpg. i’m delighted to see Portland OR continue to stretch towards a multi-use transportation plan with our recent decade of light-rail expansion. 20k new arrivals each year slowly merge into the city, lets hope they’re not all looking for a parking spot 😉

  • Dana Whitson
    September 25, 2014

    I agree with most of these. I think you get on shakier ground though on #5-6. You seem to be generalizing a bit. I don’t believe spirituality and how individuals express/experience it can really be judged by others as inside or outside of the box. In arguing how others should be worshiping, aren’t you doing so from your own box?
    I heartily agree w #8. Actively working for what we believe in is something I definitely could improve upon and need to step it up a bit. (I’m both invigorated and dismayed w political causes…and so many causes are ultimately political). But writing the letters, getting the vote out etc are things worth the effort…if for nothing else than the example you set for others.

    • Alison
      September 26, 2014

      Dana, I’m reflecting that I must have sounded judgmental. Reading back, I believe I didn’t suggest worship per se, but just finding a heartfelt spiritual path that is one’s own. I’m seeing that spirituality is something that really needs a light touch when we/I talk about it. It’s deeply personal and while real, it’s largely invisible. Still, I love talking about it, because doing that makes it more real and vivid to me.

      About activism, a quick Google search just revealed to me that you’ve had several letters to the editor published in the Arizona Star. Way to go! Keep up the good work.