Our Imaginary Walls

We all live with imaginary walls. Some walls are necessary because they create healthy boundaries and offer protection. However, some of the walls we create are obstacles that hold us back. Maybe at one time, these walls were necessary but as conditions change, they are no longer needed. We easily become attached to certain conditions and continue to live as if life is fixed and unchanging. In his teachings, the Buddha emphasized the power of the human mind to create the world in which we live. With the proper mental discipline, we can live mindfully and can discern the necessary from the unnecessary.


When I was a child, we built an extension to our house. We enclosed the back patio but had left the sliding glass door in place separating the dining room from the new extension. I remember how over time the area right next to the fixed part of the glass door became storage and a narrow walkway the width of the moveable part of the door had formed. This made sense at the time since we couldn’t walk through the wall of glass anyway.


Around seven years ago, after living with this glass wall for over twenty-five years my mom hired a contractor to remove the door to widen the opening between rooms. This made a remarkable difference as a whole new open pathway was created. However, over time, I began noticing how the same area began filling up with boxes and how a narrow pathway was being formed again. Recently, I was home and was struck by how the former glass door had become an imaginary wall. That the now open pathway had become closed again.


In a Jataka Tale, one of the animal wisdom stories, the Buddha once lived as a Tree-Sprite in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains where he encountered a beautiful white elephant who had run away from her cruel owners. Despite being free, the elephant was so terrified of being caught again that even the wind rustling in the grass would cause her to panic. Living in a constant state of fear and agitation, the poor elephant grew thin and weak from exhaustion. One day, the Tree-Sprite took pity on the elephant and whispered to her how the fear in her heart would cause her to waste away. The elephant began to reflect and wondered if she really did have anything to be afraid of anymore? Had she simply fallen into the habit of being fearful despite being free?


What walls do we keep up despite no longer being necessary? What habitual patterns do we fall back into even when conditions change? Can we discover a new way of being that is appropriate to our current situation?


The Buddha’s teachings help us to see life clearly, enabling us to discern the truly necessary walls from the ones we can take down when they are no longer needed. This self-knowledge is the doorway to wisdom and a life of freedom.


Namo Amida Butsu.