I was with Bianca at a playground the other day. She was drifting around, playing with as many toys as she can touch, the plastic, soft ones, being her favorites. Building a house out of plastic bricks, floating in a pool made by plastic balls and so on.
At some point, an entertainer came in. You know the type, dressed as a clown, shouting and blowing up balloons in different shapes. In minutes he made a few flowers for the girls, two or three puppies and some swords for the boys. All made out from long, shiny and colored balloons.
Bianca took a balloon shaped sword and came playing with me. The moment I took the balloon sword in my hand I had a strange feeling. Couldn’t define it so I went ahead playing, then Bianca took another ballon shaped toy, this time a flower. And then another one and she started to make a garden around her soft, plastic house.
As I helped her arrange balloon flowers around her house I suddenly realized what my sensation was about. The sword and the flowers felt really solid in my hand. I knew they were just empty, but they felt solid. I also knew that the feeling was made by the pressure of the air inside. The bigger the pressure, the more realistic the feeling. But there was still something missing from feeling. I continued to watch Bianca as she was playing with her little farm.
As we were sitting around our little farm, the inevitable happened: a kid stepped on a balloon and what was a flower two seconds ago, suddenly became just a small pile of lingering plastic sheets. All with a big noise and a little bit of drama, as some kids screamed (and some parents too).
And then it hit me. The whole strange feeling revealed in a split of a second. It was so surprising that I had to sit back on a chair and start writing about it.
The balloons were just illusions, they had no substance. But as Bianca invested all her trust in them, they were not illusions anymore. They were as real as the plastic flowers from her plastic garden. Until somebody stepped on them. At that point, with a big noise and a little bit of drama, the illusion exploded. Normal flowers don’t explode if you step on them. You can change their shape for a few seconds, but you won’t blow them away. They’re not made out of thin air, like the balloons.
Our Own World Of Balloons
We live surrounded by two types of structures: the ones that our environment is giving to us (also known as reality) and then ones that we are creating ourselves, by blowing air into some empty shapes (also known as illusions).
We blow air into a partner, making him or her take the shape we want. We blow air into a career, giving it the shape we think it’s appropriate. We also blow air into a lifestyle, making it resemble to something we think we want. And we continue to live our lives surrounded by this mix of reality and illusions, until something tragic happens. Until somebody steps on our partner, career or lifestyle, transforming it into a pile of lingering plastic sheets.
Two seconds ago, you were playing with this partner you think you know, and, in a split of a second, he or she is just not there anymore. Instead, there’s something with no form, or volume, or consistency. Just nothing. Your first major challenge as a couple acted like a sting. A small sting able to deflate in a few seconds what you thought it’s indestructible.
We call these situations “bad times”. You know, when we lose our jobs or get dumped. Or when a crisis strikes with so much power that everything seems to vanish. Of course, not everything is vanishing. Only the balloons. But when your world is made almost entirely of balloons you will feel like the whole universe is going down.
Inflatable Life And The Heavy Bricks
Truth is we like these inflatable balloons. As we drift from one place to another in our own grown-ups playgrounds, we like to blow into a few days relationship and start playing with it. It’s fast, it seems easier and it doesn’t require any effort from our part. We don’t have to use the heavy bricks. It’s just there, fully formed after just a few chit chats and some social games. We can start using it immediately. And then, of course, it blows at the first sign of pressure. Leaving us as empty as we were when we entered it.
The same thing with our career. We like to pick a shiny and beautifully curved shape, as we saw at other kids, and start blowing some air into it. Of course, this shiny, empty form will stand up for as long as the weather will be fine. The first sign of crisis will blow it away. We will have nothing more than a pile of lingering plastic sheets, with no value.
Using heavy bricks is difficult. It takes time. It takes commitment and discipline. Blowing air into empty balloons doesn’t require any of these. You just blow and voila, your life is filled with beautiful and colored forms. With no volume, of course, but that doesn’t matter as long as life seems light and you’re just floating around, blissfully.
We love to surround ourselves with illusions. It gives us something to cling on and we can safely turn our heads from the things that really matters. Most of the times, those things are difficult. Or they are requiring some major involvement form our part. And we just don’t want to go with them. We just want to “enjoy” our life. Except this life we’re enjoying is made of empty, floating, inconsistent balloons.
You may be in such a bubble right now. You may live in a balloons universe. Some of these balloons may already have small holes in them. And the air is going away and your world seems to be deflating at times. So, you spend most of your times blowing them up again. Keeping the illusion going on.
Well, sting it! Let it blow. This is the only way you can tell the difference. Because, you know, the more air you blow into a balloon, the more consistent it will feel. There will be a point where you won’t be able to tell the difference anymore. A balloon relationship, fed with your constant desire of being deluded, will feel just like a regular one.
So, the only way to know if you’re living in the balloons world or in a real world is to sting them. Let the conflict arise. Manage it, but don’t avoid it. Face the crisis. Go through it.
If it’s about your partner, accept anything that could challenge your relationship. You may have blown your own air for way too long, just to keep the things going on. Just stop it. See what’s happening. If on the other side there’s a real person, if you’re functioning as a couple, there will be a balancing reaction. A real person will acknowledge the sting and respond back. If not, the sting will blow the balloon away.
And believe me, there’s nothing to regret about it. What you once knew as your partner, is now nothing but a pile of lingering plastic sheets. No form, no volume, no consistency. And although you’re alone now, you’re not in an illusion anymore.
The Real Garden
As I was staying on my chair in the playground, I started to notice the kids, the balloons and the clown again. Bianca seemed a little bit bored about the games. Balloons were exploding every few minutes and she didn’t seem very keen on the sound.
We went home. First thing we did, after we entered our house, was to water the flowers. Our real flowers. It’s winter now, and the plants are needing much more care than usual. But we both know that in the spring, the plants that were really taken care of, will blossom again.
A balloon flower will never blossom.