In this time of the pandemic, boundaries have surfaced in public consciousness. Quarantine and lockdown have meant that we may no longer have private physical spaces to retreat to when we feel it is necessary to ‘step away’ for a moment. Having our physical movement confined and restricted has made us more aware and sensitive to our inward spiritual and psychological space. We have been impelled to face our triggers, attachments and unresolved traumas at an exceedingly accelerated pace. For us to restore harmony in our inner world, we need to offer ourself the gift of self-compassion. The esteemed Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield proclaimed, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”
Boundaries are an aspect of self-compassion. Boundaries create safe personal space so that we may tend to the parts of ourself that are calling for our attention. Boundaries are used as an interface, allowing us to interact with the world on our own terms and in our sovereignty, whilst remaining mindful of the needs of our environment. They are not an escape, but rather a refuge into our inner sanctuary where we can perceive, regulate and restore our inner resources.
Boundaries are created around our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual capacity. They are based on an honest self-aware understanding of our energetic limitations. Which means that boundaries are malleable and moveable, as our capacity grows our boundaries adjust. They are an indicator of self-respect and leadership; as we learn to accommodate all the wacky and wonderful parts of ourself, the world around us gradually begins to mirror and reciprocate this act of compassion. It learns to accommodate us, too.
Boundaries may take many forms. It may mean going for a walk to clear our mind, or excusing ourself from a conversation we do not feel comfortable with or find emotionally overwhelming, or from seeing friends under circumstances that no longer serve us, or mindfully choosing the media we consume, or being precise about the time we can allocate to the numerous areas of our life.
Two tools that help implement and maintain boundaries are the power to pack-up and the power to withdraw. All things in the phenomenal world possess three fundamental elements – a beginning, a middle and an end. Whether it is a thought, a conversation or a relationship, one will find these three integral elements at their heart.
The power to pack-up is what allows us to act decisively once we recognise that something is nearing the end of its life cycle. It is the power that enables us to untether energetically and emotionally and move on. Many of us cling onto endings, often without realising that by doing so we are obstructing the birth of the beginning of something new.
The power to withdraw enables us to disengage from anything that is not resonating with us. It enables us to retreat from that which is not conducive for our highest good. The analogy of a tortoise is often used to describe this power. It can retreat inwards into the protective haven of its sturdy shell upon sensing danger. This image can often give the wrong perception that all we have to do to ensure our safety is withdraw from external factors. We must, however, go one step further than the tortoise, and that is to withdraw from unhelpful and unhealthy or harmful mental and emotional patterns.
Though we subconsciously use both of these powers intermittently throughout our day, a conscious application of them can give us a felt sense of reclaiming the power that we had once consigned to external entities. Practising these two powers and learning to use them skilfully grants us the ability to set firm, defined and yet adaptable boundaries.