When I was 5 years old, I went to a church Halloween party dressed as a little devil. I wore a red mask, a black cape, carried a red plastic trident, and the only thing I now recall about the party is the Box Maze.
In hindsight, I see that the mistake I made inside that row of cardboard boxes taped together into a long, dark tunnel was the same costly mistake I have repeated all my life. This mistake has been the cause of inexpressible sadness, frustration, confusion, loneliness and failure after failure.
I’ll tell you what that mistake was and I’ll bet it’s the same one you’ve been making all your life and the primary source of your own sorrows. Unfortunately, telling you won’t solve your problems, but it will give you a place to begin.
All those decades ago, I got down on my hands and knees, and clutching my fiery trident in one fist, entered the maze. Everything turned pitch black but I crawled and scuffled bravely forward anyway.
At least I didn’t refuse to even try. At least I understood that the maze (and its allegory: life) was/is meant to be fun despite (or rather: because of) its challenges. Before entering the maze, it must have looked so simple. It was just a box with two open ends! How hard could it be??
But then something unexpected happened. Crawling forward, I ran into a box with only one open end – the passageway abruptly stopped. Unable to move forward, I scooted backward and discovered another passageway to my left, and crawled into that.
I had solved the maze! Nothing bad could happen now!
But, of course, it did. The left branch soon closed off in another dead end. My child’s brain quickly reassessed the maze problem and the answer sat before me in the darkness and stared me in the face: there was no way out.
This time I didn’t shuffle backward. I didn’t search the walls for a third option. I didn’t even retreat to the maze entrance, I just sat alone in the darkness and waited for others to crawl along so I could let them know. As they passed by, I poked them with my devil stick (just for fun) and told them there was no way out.
But something funny kept happening. After these people passed me by, one by one they vanished. How could that be??
I don’t know how many people crawled by before the truth finally dawned on me: there was another way out. I just hadn’t looked hard enough – in fact, I hadn’t looked at all.
And so, at last, I did. I crawled forward again and found a passageway branching off to the right. From that point on, the maze was a cinch, despite the continuing darkness and numerous blocked passageways. Not a single thing about the maze had changed, but now I knew how to properly react to dead ends. I could simply back up and try another way. Eventually, I would find the way back to the light.
That’s how the maze was designed – if it had truly been a dead end, if there had actually been no way out, then someone would have stood up and torn the boxes apart to make one.
Such is life. It’s dark. There will be many dead ends – otherwise what fun would it be?? It wouldn’t be a maze at all then. It would offer no challenge, no adventure, and no reward. It would have no purpose whatsoever. But life is designed like the maze, and there is always a way out!
Even before you find your way back to the light, you don’t have to crawl alone, but I didn’t understand that. At this point I could relate my various other errors in life where I reached premature conclusions and stopped searching for more options, but it wouldn’t help.
For example, I could explain the belief I too-quickly assumed as an infant that we are all disconnected and alone in this life, and relate how this perception has played out again and again in dead end after dead end, thus reinforcing my dim world view.
I never exactly quit, but I sometimes chose not to travel down promising passageways due to the fear and assumption of failure or anxiety-producing comfort zone violations. Furthermore, my beliefs provided a sensitive, vulnerable spot for the devil to poke me in the side and tell me there was no way out, that I may as well give up and stop trying.
On the other hand, I could go on for hours about the much more numerous experiences that prove the exact opposite, where I blindly failed to fully comprehend the rich abundance of love and connection that now, in retrospect, appears so vividly obvious.
I could also tell about all the friends and neighbors and strangers who crawled past me, as alone as I was in the perfect darkness, yet who kept crawling and “mysteriously” found their way into the light, resulting in the never-ending stream of wedding announcements and other rewards of their persistence.
But it wouldn’t really matter, would it? If you had told me about connection from your perspective (as many of you often did), I would have remained blind until I discovered the truth for myself. Plato’s allegory of the cave was right – just because I’ve begun to see the light now doesn’t mean I can see it for you. You have to keep crawling and discovering your own pathway options until the light appears.
All I can do is remind you the proper lesson to learn from dead ends: they are only an end, not the end. Just like me, you were wrong to stop, wrong to give up, wrong to not try again.
We are all blind to the true nature of the universe – our mortal condition has draped a deceptive veil over our eyes as effective as the cardboard maze of my childhood. Now the thing that most prevents us from seeing more clearly is thinking we know the truth. Our own limited perceptions blind us to better and truer alternatives.
Do you feel trapped? Is life hard and the world cold? Do you believe in scarcity – that there’s simply not enough to go around? Please believe me: you are wrong – or at least not entirely right. Reconsider. As my mother once wisely put it, “You’re clinging so tightly to one truth that you don’t have a hand free to grasp another one.”
Don’t give up. Keep moving, even if all you can do is crawl. Keep your eyes open for new possibilities to believe in and your brain will begin to perceive better passageways. There is a way out prepared for you. The moment you allow this idea into your mind, the light begins to appear, and your solution, your way forward, and your escape, can’t be too far away.