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  • Writer's pictureJulen Murguia

How to Change The Shape of Life 🫙

Updated: Mar 13

You know… I’ve been thinking a lot about the incredible power of containers lately. And no, I'm not diving into a discourse on Tupperware (though, let's be honest, they have their own kind of magic) or those sleek acrylic tubs that help organize our domestic mayhem — my partner, and my mom love those… ha, okay Freud.

I’m sure it’s happened to you. One moment you're communicating your thoughts with ease, speaking with wisdom, wit and confidence, three hours and a sandwich later, at another place with different people, and you're an inarticulate baboon struggling to string sentences together coherently.

Why is that? Did you have a stroke after the sandwich?

Well… surely it’s a number of things (and hopefully not a stroke). In a very real sense, these clashing personas aren't disconnected identities – they're you, modulated by differing circumstances. Just like the role of a single musical note will drastically change by the surrounding harmony, who we are (or who we are allowed to be) is really all a matter of context.

By 'containers', I’m referring to the particular social/environmental constrains that allow certain parts of us to be made manifest. That coax particular aspects of us to come out and play – or shy away. Just like Tupperware (and other interestingly shaped receptacles), they seem to hold the space for, shape, and give rise to contrasting aspects of our personalities. Some containers allow us to spontaneously flow in one way, while other setups suppress and block those behaviors from naturally emerging.

This phenomenon was made very apparent for me at a recent "Circling & Dialogos" workshop I attended — a form of applied philosophy that fosters deep interpersonal exchange. Its structured format, with a series of progressive experiential exercises and group practices, lead up to insightful, free-flowing dialectical exchanges of fantastic depth. Think of it as a philosophical jam session of sorts. Furthermore, the very container attracted personalities inclined toward such vulnerable exploration, like sugar-crazed ants, reinforcing the “shape” or “function” of the container.

It was easy to realize that entering into a similar dynamic would be rather unlikely at a Monday work meeting, a networking event or whilst "getting down at the club” — not that I actually excel at that last one. 

Speaking of jam sessions, I think the world of music is another great example where I’ve experienced the power of containers in action.

I often find myself troubled by the fact that, there are moments when I feel like my playing is on point, and that I can express myself in nuanced ways, clearly articulating the complexities of my inner world through the instrument. Yet other times I’m genuinely taken aback by just how much of a cluts I can be. Worrying my abilities have gotten tired of my antics and abandoned me (only to later find they are still there, and I’m just a bit of a drama queen).

It seems that moments when I perform at my best (other than when I’m practicing by myself, which is itself another type of container), are usually held snugly by the scaffolding of a specific set of factors including (but not limited to): dedicated time and space, primed conditions for sound quality (quiet atmosphere, adequate instrument volume/levels, etc), the right blend of musicians (who, besides bringing a high level of technical expertise, have what I consider to be one of the key elements distinguishing pros from amateurs, and that is a willingness and keen ability to listen), a shared understanding of intentions, etc. All set to increase the probabilities for the jam to catch fire! So much so that I'm sometimes even able to surprise myself!

A stark contrast would be this one time I attended an event comprised of live performances, an art gallery, drinks, games, etc. – pretty neat overall. At the back was a small, doorless “jam room” open to anyone, with some scattered instruments, sterile fluorescent lights overhead and less than desirable acoustics. A couple of us there were part of that familiar group we regularly jam with. The rest were pleasant strangers – LA strangers, if that means anything to ya. Amidst the eclectic cast of personalities and agendas, it soon became apparent that there wasn’t enough cohesion to hold things together. It was like trying to make a fire out of a couple of freshly cut twigs and wet candy wrapper next to an active sprinkler. The intentions weren’t aligned, we were competing against the DJ outside, people coming and going, etc. After a couple minutes of this confused dynamic, the jam simply fizzled out and we all went on to enjoy the rest of the evening activities.

It's important to note, there are of course other factors that determine how we behave in any given moment, regardless of the specific container. Like, did you only get 2 hours of sleep and eat a bag of hot Cheetos for dinner? That's going to impact how you feel no matter what. But the container increases the probabilities for certain possibilities of you to actuate. I guess if we're the jelly, the container shapes us, but it doesn't mean we're fresh new jelly or old and moldy!

Hahaha ok, I’ll stop with the odd metaphors.

Jk, I’ll never stop 😈 

All this points to something that I find profound and fascinating and profoundly fascinating: the remarkable nature of being human is that we are potentiality itself. We are not singularly defined individuals, but closer to fields of potential that get expressed in radically different ways. There are innumerable persons we can/could’ve legitimately become (obviously within the constraints of the possibilities themselves). Yet, as we are “confronted with actuality”, we collapse our possibilities into specific outcomes – as if we were the undifferentiated ink in a cartridge that is then printed onto the surface of existence as the specific shapes of our personal histories (although these are in turn infinitely interpretable in retrospect — a topic for some other time).

This makes me think of that well-worn notion of "who you surround yourself with matters" – because it really does. It's incredible how much impact even a single person can have on us, for better or worse. That's why we talk about people "bringing out the best/worst in me". The right person can unfurl those dormant qualities, with which we can knit a glorious scarf of personhood (I just really like scarves). Good friends, parents and mentors are incredibly relevant to who we become. 

Which is why I've been actively leaning into communities that resonate with me, conscious of how these 'containers' can shape my life. It's about curating our existence, mindful that the saying "Show me your friends, and I'll show you your future" holds a kernel of truth.

As you navigate your own life journey, take a moment to reflect on the "containers" that allow you to truly flourish. Nurture those environments and relationships that coax out the radiant aspects of your being. And who knows? You may just surprise yourself with the extraordinary possibilities that unfurl when you curate your existence with conscious intention.

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