Thinking Outside the Bento Box

20150318_160202Many years ago, for three years, I lived in Texas with my husband. Texas seemed to own the sky and it would sometimes open up into a display of light and sound that left us shaking. While driving anywhere, we could somehow see both our destination and forever, the endless road, a straight shot for eternity.

Both of us, having been born and raised in the Northeast, were homesick for our home land, the hills and trees; I longed for New England to contain me again, to give me just the vision in front of me and the sense that I was here but not there. I missed the twists and turns of the road and knowing what was around the next corner only because it was familiar, but not because I could actually see it. It felt more segmented, and much less vast than Texas.

And now sometimes when I feel like the weather has contained me too much, the snow covered sidewalks have shut me out, or more accurately shut me in, I find myself thinking of wide open spaces with no walls and no boundaries of an angry winter. I long for warmth and fluidity, and the bursting forth of spring, plants breaking ground, remnants of winter disappearing under the sun.

One season tiptoes into the next, haltingly, bleeding into the other, like mixing paint, some of this and some of that until the change is clear, the season defined. Still we call them by separate names. They are winter and then spring. One and then the other. Words, like walls, organizing our year, our lives. It is a relief when one turns fully into the other, when it becomes  this and not that.

This brings me to the popularity of the Bento Box with its built in compartments and my theory of why we love these. Originating as the Japanese lunch box, the Bento Box offers us a variety of foods, carefully placed in a single portion, each item separated by the walls of the container. No food touches the other.

How easy it is to compartmentalize with a Bento Box! In fact, you can’t not compartmentalize with it. And it looks so appealing and neat and special.

20150318_160117(1)Similarly, but much less tangibly, I came across a Life Box in a book recently. A diagram intended to help us balance our time and energy, it was divided into nine sections: family, work, contribution, friends, relationship, leisure, hobby, personal growth and alone time.  At first glance the life box made sense but then I thought of how many of my areas permeate other areas and how my life is just not nearly as segmented as that.

Sometimes my leisure includes family and my alone time includes contribution or work and a hobby leads to personal growth and so on.  So much of life runs together and really can’t be separated, and I’m not sure I’d really want it to be, though I suppose for some that would be simpler in a way. It would certainly allow you to deal with just one area at a time and to “shut out” the other areas in order to focus on the one.

With a Bento Box it’s been done for you, all separate and tidy and clear and contained. It has boundaries. Clarity. You know what’s there, you see it. There are no spaces that continue on or corners around which you can’t see or things running into each other. It’s just this thing, this material object of convenience, but metaphorically it’s more.

It’s how we imagine we might arrange our lives, or even just some days, if we could, but mostly we know we wouldn’t want to because we can’t be contained, not really; so we appreciate the little things that give us the feeling of containment, or the illusion if you will. The tree lined streets and the Bento Box and sometimes we may even crave the snow banks. But simultaneously, I think, we also want the openness of the sky and the prairie and all the vastness to hold that which we cannot contain.

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4 thoughts on “Thinking Outside the Bento Box

  1. Love this. I think that the sooner we can allow the lines to blur between the confining categories we have created for ourselves – in religion, politics, art, music, culture, even in day to day life as you mentioned – the more quickly and freely we will evolve and flourish. Letting go of our compartmentalizing attitudes enough to be unrestrained by false limits, but not so much that we feel lost is a fine line surely worth finding.

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