Brene Brown released a short video recently that made its rounds over social media. She was being interviewed about kindness, compassion and boundaries. In the video Brown shares that many of the truly compassionate people she has met have also been some of the most “boundaried.” Many of the yoga teachers, spiritual guides and enlightened beings I look up to seem to have clear margins around their time, opinions and life. Yet, the idea of boundaries has sat at odds for me with the idea that we are all connected. How do we connect, how do we love, if we have boundaries?
Looking back, I would say I was a pretty boundaryless person, allowing all the experiences of the people around me become my own experiences. I lived very much from this place seeing it as compassionate, empathetic and kind. But often this form of entanglement led to perpetuating the drama and suffering for both the people I was trying to help and myself. The more I tried to help the further into a suffering state I would go. How is this the way? I would wonder. How many people need to go into the suffering of another before that suffering is actually alleviated? Then, in more recent years, I had become very boundaried, as an attempt to deal with being overwhelmed, burnt out and scared. There have been experiences that have taught me the value of setting boundaries that allow me to feel safe and able to care for myself and others. But yet with each boundary I set I felt disconnected from some part of myself. Boundary setting had felt in conflict with the deep wholeness and connection of life that I knew was our true state.
This year I dove into the practice of meditation and mindfulness with two very skilled teachers (Tanis Fishman and Robin (Prem) Campbell). It has sparked a process that feels very much like a slow unraveling of the stories and structures that I felt formed me. The more untethered I become from the constraints that formed my experiences of this life, the more I feel I am returning to my self. The more I allow the boundaries to my experiences fall away the more solid and in place I feel. This practice has shifted my understanding of what it means to set boundaries.
In the messiness of this very human life, there are times when placing firm physical and emotional boundaries may feel necessary to establish safety. Without the sense of safety any further work is hindered. We must begin where we are and where we can.
As I continue to practice in the revelations of meditation there has been a shift into a true sense of being ok. Not in any grand “I’m special!” way, but in a very humble and of being- in-my-place way, with all the space I need and that I am ok just as I am. In this okness has come the experience of grounding, what I have come to call coming into our place. We are each given a space simply through the act of being born into this life and this is our gift, this place. To experience your place completely means all the parts of your self are here, even (especially) those ones you try to keep hidden or feel don’t have a right to be here. In this experience all your boundaries are innate but not in the rigid type of way. Not like walls. Boundaries then come from a sense of what is yours and what is not, of what space is yours to take up and what is not. What is yours to own and take responsibility for and what is not. As we come into our own space with full presence and full responsibility for all the gifts of life the less permeable we will be to others’ suffering.
If your heart is like my heart witnessing suffering in others is excruciating and motivates many of the actions we take. To witness another’s suffering has meant for me to experiences that suffering. For any suffering in the world that I witnessed, extreme or mild, I would feel threatened on some level. Threatened that that pain will be my pain. As long as I was unaware of what was my responsibility and what wasn’t, any thing outside of my self could become mine, not through choice but often simply by proximity. By residing in our place we hold all of life events as our own and in turn we allow the experiences of others to be their own. At first I know this can sound cold and removed but it truly is the opposite. This is how true love is expressed.
When we are in our own space, holding our own stuff, in complete experience of our self we are able to show up completely for those around us. We are able to see their suffering and not experience it as a threat to our own state and therefore remain with them as they move through the events of their life. We will not hold their choices, actions or words accountable for our state of being. This gives others the autonomy to hold their own space. And together we can truly be present in the shared moment with our individual experiences knowing we are not alone and that the space and experiences we have are ours to hold, our life is ours to live.
So if life gives you an experience that at first feels better served by setting a boundary of separation, try if you can to look at where you feel unable to hold your own space. Know that you are needed here in your life. This space that you are in was waiting for you; only when you show up is it complete. This is why the greatest of teachers suggest to students over and over again to keep practicing, to keep going to the mat, to keep returning to yourself and that all is coming. To come into your place is the truest of loving acts for all.