The first time I fully realized that I lived in a mental environment centered around myself and people who shared viewpoints very similar to my own was during a trip to Mexico. A college classmate, Greg, and I took a brief winter semester break south of the border to experience some time away from the United States and also to escape an especially cold winter.
We ended up spending most of our break time in a small village in Oaxaca State because that’s where Greg’s big, old Pontiac Catalina broke down. We were able to get through our ordeal by virtue of our youthful, daring wits and my very rudimentary Spanish language skills.
The residents of the little town also spoke very little Spanish because they were members of the Triqui Indian tribe. At the time, the Triqui people mostly communicated in their indigeneous language. This condition meant that it was difficult for them to participate in the larger, mainstreem Mexican society around them.
It was a world that neither Greg nor I ever imagined until then. Both of us grew up in lower middle class families, we had been reasonably well educated in excellent US school systems, and we were generally satisfied with our lifes’ circumstances. Greg and I used to complain about our plight as impoverished college students, though.
The village, itself, didn’t have an infrastructure of the type we were used to. The residents were literally dirt poor. What really hit us hard, was how many little children were trying to earn money to help support their families. We encountered more than a few little kids hawking Chiclets chewing gum. Other children offered to shine our shoes. One five or six year old boy led us to the lone family for whom Spanish was the primary language. Luckily, that family also had a telephone.
Despite the dire living conditions, most of the Triqui people we met seemed to be quite happy, even though they were not very content with their living conditions. Greg and I both felt uncomfortable as we accepted their help. The need to repair the Pontiac’s engine overruled our shyness. After we left Oaxaca State, Greg and I felt enriched by our little misadventure. We also felt a lot of gratitude for the friendly nature of the Triquis we met. We saw more honest, genuine smiles in that village than we ever had at school.
At the time of this incident, the phrase, “living in a bubble” was not yet popularly used. As I reflect on those few days in Mexico, I can see that both Greg and I were freed from our beliefs. Because we were forced out of our comfortable situations for awhile, we were both transformed. We discarded much of our youthful cockiness. Sympathy and empathy filled in the resulting mental space. There was simply no other way for us to experience the world.
Our old bubble was attending school, pouring over studies, listening to great music, eating food, hunting for sex, and working our part-time jobs. After Oaxaca, those things were still OK, but we experienced them from a much broader perspective.
In later years, both Greg and I noticed that we often reverted to our old ways, too. We have had to make honest efforts to step out of our bubbles from time to time. We touch base now and then to reminisce about our college days. Often, we also share knowledge and bits of wisdom we’ve picked up since then.
We humans are instinctively concerned with our personal comfort and pleasure. “Coccooning” is popular for this very reason. We get anxious at the thought of having to meet new people. Sometimes we take refuge in a larger social bubble that excludes many types of “other” people. We feel discomfort around people of different social classes or income levels. We might feel uneasiness around someone of a different race, gender identity, or orientation. There might be nervousness around somebody who was born in a foreign country, or believes in a different religion or no religion at all.
These bubbles form without much conscious effort at all. These bubbles appear to protect us from the world, at large. The trouble with bubbles is that they insulate us from living a full, rich life. If we fail to step outside of our bubbles, the discomfort and fears eventually escalate within our minds.
We can see how the bubbles are really incubators of social strife and warfare. People who are trapped inside of bubbles are easily manipulated by aggressive, cunning leaders.
I’ve noticed that when a bubble forms around me, it’s because I’ve allowed myself to become mentally lazy. When I’m in my bubble, my opinions become more harsh and my empathy wanes. I imagine more hostility and insecurity. I regress into cultivating cherished beliefs.
Eventually, I become aware of my mental and physical tension. This is the time I stop stewing and start taking stock of my situation. My personal approaches include going for long walks, and sitting in formal meditation. The walks take me into the actual, physical world. The meditation allows me to observe the mental concepts that I have been nursing.
I don’t bring any electronic devices with me on my soul searching walks, nor do I listen to any recordings when I sit in meditation. Devices and pre-recorded sounds or guided meditations are distractions at these times. (Sometime later, I will include an iPod on walks or an occasional guided meditation for quiet times.) When my mind becomes silent, the bubble begins to melt away. Then, my little, limited world begins to expand. I get out of myself, my bubble, for awhile.
After I’ve left my bubble, I encounter life as it is, not how I believe it is. Oftentimes, there is a fear to face. Sometimes I find joy after the encounter. Other times I realize that I have work to do and things to learn.
Outside of the bubble, I am aware that the Earth isn’t just here to obey my wishes and satisfy my self-centered desires. There is an amazing, big world that is filled with people who have their own hopes and wishes. We all have a stake in this planet and have much to learn from one another.
When I step outside my bubble, I experience the thrill of exploring new ways of understanding life. To my relief, I found out there is no actual tried and true, set in stone way to live a happy life. While standards, tradition, and orthodoxy can be comforting, they also enable our limitations and bubbles.
There is so much living and loving to experience in the world.
Because I can only experience such small slices of these things, life takes on a particular preciousness. There’s a whole Universe out there, why should I want to spend my limited time, stuck inside of a bubble?