You walk through a door and into the threshold of a hallway or a room, and what was on your mind vanishes. Clarity of thought turns to confusion as you struggle to remember what you came in for. Glasses? To throw something away? To feed the cat? Enter the doorway effect, a real trick of your mind; in the words of this article, "walking through doorways causes forgetting."
In the course of everyday life, this experience is frustratingly common. It interrupts what could be a productive hour or unbroken train of thought. Precious minutes become divided by the search for what you forgot to remember. When life gets shaken out of the ordinary, however, is this effect always negative? Let's say, for instance, you're embarking on a journey where the destination is far from home. Let's say you're even planning on making a new home in a foreign country. Walking through airport doors, ducking into narrow aircraft cabins, stepping into new apartments; each contains the refreshing sense of an empty mind. Your eyes adjusting to the light and taking in the color of the walls, discolorations, texture of the wood, height of the ceiling.
This is why new experiences, even small ones in travel, can be exhilarating. If mindfulness is one of the shortest routes to satisfaction and contentment, then the doorway effect can be counted as an unlikely aid.
I'd like to believe it's no coincidence that when you first enter a place your senses are heightened. Maybe this is due to some evolutionary measure to protect us as we entered a new territory. Maybe the eyes are hungry for new stimuli or the brain is refreshingly awake outside the four walls of routine. Usually when entering a new place, or leaving our apartment or building, we check to see that we have everything we need with us. As I was leaving the country indefinitely, I tried to plan, list, and gather everything I thought I would need, to the point of anxiety and paranoia (surely another trait leftover from caveman predecessors). A friend could sense this in me and told me that if I left the next day I would be fine. “You can’t tie up all the loose ends. Don’t try. Enjoy the time you have here.”
When we enter a new place, we have the ability in that moment to harness the doorway effect. What do we hold in our minds as we’re walking to another room? Forgetting the item we entered the new room to find is beguiling, but can be freeing. Walking into a new phase of your life, you can become aware of all you hold in your mind: the identity you’ve closely and carefully cultivated and guarded, the ideas you’ve grown attached to, the company you’ve kept and grown comfortable with. The trappings of being human, of being you to the people who know and love you. But what changes when you step into the lives of people who don't know you? Do you have to guard your personality so carefully? Would it be so bad to develop another facet of yourself, or to choose not to tie up the loose ends you tried to hide in the past?
As I walked through the airport door into the arms of my unknown new home, I found open arms waiting for me. I didn’t seek them, I didn’t look for them, but they were there. True, I'd seen this place before. I had friends living in this place, but I never considered it home, never thought I would stay longer than a few weeks. Suddenly the reality of taking root here became very real.
Along with the hectic nature of starting a new life, came the constant presence of new people to interact with. As with anything, the question is do we dip our toes in and glide into the water slowly, or jump? How will we be perceived? Will the rooms be open and welcoming? Luckily, in a capital city alive with international presence and the peculiar happiness summer brings to people, I didn't think too much about it. Echoed in an article about 29 "difficult" women who shaped our modern culture, was this notion of doors, rooms, and changing who we are based on our surroundings.
Women tend to be people-pleasers. But the problem of being a people-pleaser is that you wind up shuttering off more and more of your personality, like someone in a big house who keeps shutting up empty rooms until they are living in the kitchen and the front room. Difficult women have all the doors open in all the rooms. They are so fully human that, to keep the metaphor going longer, they are happy to walk through every door.
(Here, if you wish, replace "women" with any person, as I don't feel this trait to be strictly found in one gender.) When we are planted we grow according to the conditions there. When we find some acceptance with a group of people, even people that are positive for our development, we inevitably close doors on parts of our personality that don’t fit with their audience. Maybe these are small things we’ve observed and commented on that weren’t acknowledged or shared by these people. Or maybe they are enormous parts of ourselves; desires we have, convictions we're passionate about, dreams we're too scared to speak of.
When we walk through the threshold we have a chance to open those doors and air out those rooms, seeing who will accept the open rooms and maybe questioning our need to close them at all. Let them all open, see which ones serve you and which ones you no longer need. If the metaphor of doorways and rooms doesn't serve you, then consider your inner self as a multi-faceted stone. Which facets of yourself are you bringing to the light, and which do you hide? Can you honor yourself with the awareness to decide what to polish and what to let shine raw and roughcut?
Maybe instead of cursing yourself over forgetting what was so recently important in the last room, you can think to what you can find waiting anew.
- copyright 2018 Alex Ferel