The Shoebox  

My guess is that it’s fairly common for women to have a ‘shoebox’ or something similar in which they store their ‘treasures.’ Letters, cards, photos, locks of their baby’s hair, basically things of sentimental value that seem to confirm their sense of identity, things that are pertinent to them and their lives.

In much the same way as kids love to layer papier-mache around a balloon, we humans love to build stories around who we perceive ourselves to be. We think that the music we listen to says something specific about us; that the food we enjoy eating says something special about who we think we are; that our hobbies make us more interesting and differentiate us from others and that the way we dress is a statement that sets us apart from everyone else. Our shoeboxes are where we store the ‘physical evidence’ of our assumed identity, which is why, when I think about it, I carried my ‘shoebox’ around the world with me. Throwing it out would surely have meant throwing away the evidence of my existenceor so I thought.

I had lots of things in my shoebox: concert tickets, photos, love letters and cards with sentimental words written ‘just for me.’ They were mostly things from specific people, however I had a couple of things in my shoebox that weren’t written by anyone I knew but were words I had cut out of cards and articles that had for whatever reason struck me as being significant.

I suppose the best way to describe these keepsakes was that rather than solidify my sense of self they alluded to a deeper aspect of life, and although I wasn’t totally clear as to why I wanted to keep them, I knew that I didn’t want to throw them out. Looking back, I can see that for most of my life I had an inkling that there was more to life than met the eye and yet I was never able to put my finger on quite what it was. I can see now that what I was doing was scrabbling around for what felt like tidbits of the truth.

As a child, the deeper aspects of life never consciously occurred to me; and looking back I can see that that was because I, like most kids, just lived it. Life and I were one and the same – we just bumped along together effortlessly. Up until the age of about nine I lived life from my body. I ran, jumped, skipped, hopped and rolled my way through my days. Whether I was building a dam out of rocks and pebbles or playing on a building site, I lived life through my body.  

My fingers still remember how it felt to squeeze a berry from the Snowberry Bush and they can still recall the squishy feeling of pulling putty out of window frames in the new houses on the building site where we played. My nose remembers the smell of our compost heap down the end of the garden and the smell of gas still reminds me of being in my Grandad’s kitchen. When I hear a plane flying high up in the summer sky, my ears take me back to lazy days spent playing in the back garden and when I hear the football scores read on the telly, I am transported back to feeling my boredom on Sunday afternoons when the sport was on TV. My mouth still holds the memory of how sweet the stem of a blade of grass tastes and the taste of strawberry jam reminds me of my daily dilemma of which spread to put on my toast.  

My eyes are just as instrumental in remembering my past: colours, particularly the colour white, brings back the memory of playing marbles and of how each different coloured marble had a different effect on my body. The sight of daffodils transports me back to my childhood joy at seeing their emergence in the field at the back of our house.  

The body, the body, the body… I lived life from my body. 

So what happened to me at the age of 9 to literally sever my connection from my body? Well, my family moved from a small village in North Yorkshire (the road we lived in was called ‘Crimple Meadows’) to Watford, a huge sprawling town an hour north of London. My sensitive young body felt like it had literally been assaulted and in many ways it had. Not only had my beloved countryside been replaced with concrete, but I was also picked on at school.

Many of the kids were hard and aggressive and up until that point I hadn’t been exposed to either trait, not even in adults. It was the girls in particular that upset me: they used swear words that I had rarely heard before and although none of the girls actually hurt me physically, looking back I can’t help but wonder if a quick kick would have been better than the numerous venomous verbal attacks I received. But it’s the way I chose to deal with it that’s particularly upsetting, because I chose to harden in exactly the same way that the girls that bullied me had.  

The me that had been me up until that pointthe young girl that had skipped and hopped her way through her childhood, the girl who had been as delicate as the spring flowers that she delighted in – chose to harden. And the reason why I hardened was in a desperate attempt to avoid feeling the pain I felt. Not just the pain of being attacked but the pain of feeling how awful it was to feel what had happened to the girls who had, at some point in their lives, been just as tender as me.

In hardening myself, I brought in a wedge between me and myself and in separating from myself, I also separated from the life that up until that point I had been part of. I subsequently spent the next 35 years living in separation from myself and therefore, from life. I feel to add that none of us can ever truly separate from life because life and us are one and the same, but by making our outer shell crusty, it gives us the feeling of being separate. This unclassified feeling of separation resulted in an almost permanent state of mild tension – a tension that I did a masterful job of covering up by managing to assemble myself into what can only be described as a ‘comfortably happy state.’ And why didn’t anyone notice what had happened to me? Well, because it had already happened to pretty much everyone else around me and living in separation from ourselves has become so normal and accepted that we neither recognise it nor speak about it. But deep down we all know that it’s happened and it is a pain we carry permanently.

‘Comfortably happy,’ would be for most a very enviable way of being and yet, deep down, I knew that it just wasn’t it. I had a sense of looking for something and yet was never quite sure what it was that I was looking for. I looked for this unnamed thing in some pretty strange places. I searched for it in extreme physical fitness, somehow believing that if my body was in what I perceived to be ‘pristine physical condition,’ then it would eventually lead me to some mystical elevated state.  

I explored the world of drugs, believing that an altered state could potentially open up a hidden trapdoor that I would be able to step through… ‘et voila,’ a hitherto hidden world would suddenly be revealed. I also dived headlong into the world of spirituality, feeling finally that I had found what it was that I had been looking for. But alas, spirituality eventually fizzled out in the same way as all my other fruitless pursuits.

At the age of about forty-three my previously athletic, buzzy body broke down. When I say ‘broke down,’ I mean that it kind of stopped going. It no longer wanted to power walk around the park; in fact it was so reluctant to even walk short distances that I had to start driving to the local shops. During this time, it seemed that I was suddenly able to really feel how my body felt and it felt like it had been hit by the proverbial truck. I literally felt like I had been mangled under the wheels of a semi-trailer! My body felt battered from the years of relentless exercise that I had put it through and it felt utterly exhausted from my fervently held belief that the more I did ‘as a woman,’ the stronger I was. There was nowhere for me to hide: my body brought me to the truth of my choices and I was left feeling directionless, despondent and in physical pain.

Surrounded by an ever-growing amount of crumbling beliefs, I began attending Universal Medicine workshops. Though I didn’t have any initial lightbulb moments or feelings of ‘coming home,’ I was none the less intrigued and have continued to attend workshops and presentations for the last 8 years. Over that time, I have come to realise many things.

One of the main things that I have come to realise is that self-care is crucial to evolution. The constant application of self-care has taken me deeper and deeper inside myself and has led to an unmistakable feeling of love deep within my body. An oh so familiar feeling and yet one that has a freshness to it that’s hard to describe. 

With self-care as my guiding principle, I have been able to systematically restore my body to the pristine condition that it was in when I was a child. A natural part of the process has been the removal of what doesn’t belong in my body. A bit like throwing ballast out of a hot air balloon, the majority of ideals, beliefs and pictures that I have imbibed over the years have been chucked overboard. With the removal of all that doesn’t belong in my body, I have been left with the truth of what does. And without any impediments to prevent it, I have discovered that the light of God is able to come through me, in the same way that it is able to come through all of us. The light of God is both extraordinary and at the same time very ordinary. It is what so many of us knew and never doubted as kids. It was, and indeed is, our natural living way, a way that is known intimately by us all.

So, the crumbs that I have been trying to follow my whole life and the small snippets of clues that I gathered and stored in my shoebox have been replaced by clear directions from my body. And it is by following these directions that I have found myself re-united once more with my body in exactly the same way as I was as a child. And it is through that re-unification with my body that I have been reunited once more with the body of God.

By Alexis Stewart, A woman who is actively engaged with Life in the understanding that it is our engagement with Life that will return us to the truth of who we all are

Further Reading:
The Vastness of Who We Are
The body is the marker of all truth
Returning to our body – The wonder, beauty and science of our body

96 thoughts on “The Shoebox  

  1. A great sharing of how we can hold onto sentiments and objects of experiences but not look after our innate and own well-being or be truly loving in all of our relationships. As others have shared I also have a few mementos but deeply appreciate how I do not reminisce or value these more than who I am.

  2. Alexis reading your article again today I was struck by your words that
    ‘we humans love to build stories around who we perceive ourselves to be.’
    And I wondered why this is? Why is it we want to set ourselves apart from each other? One thing I have noticed about life is that we all have similar stories to tell and I feel there is more to unite us and to divide us however we insist on looking at the divisions rather than what binds us as one.

    1. Absolutely and do we rush to tell our story or experience of things that happened to us or do we hold others with equal value in what they have to share. I often notice this in groups and have noticed how I have done this in the past as well, that is put what I have to say as something more important than another has to say, and can feel it when others do this. When another is talking instead of truly being with them thinking what I have wanted to say instead. When we make it all about us it never works!

  3. When we, at last, come to a standstill because as you say Alexis our bodies just stop or get very sick we are given a choice, we can either listen to our bodies and be guided by what it will show us. Or we can fight back and some people do. For example someone was talking about their family member who is ‘fighting’ cancer, but what if it having cancer was the body’s way of letting them know that they had been living in a way that was so poisonous to their body that the body’s intelligence was assisting the person from doing any more damage? Our lack of understanding energy and how it is everything in our lives keeps us on the back foot when it comes to understanding life and all that there is to know.

  4. Keeping mementos is something I can relate to, but looking back now for me it seems to stem from a view of the world where joy and delight are momentary flickers of light to be cherished amongst a bleak day. Today I am starting to see that the joy can always be with us and rather than collect memories what is more powerful is to commemorate and confirm learnings that come our way. This is the base for what helps us stand truly tall and live in a greater way.

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