Tag Archives: Spirituality

Leaning into is the Only Way Out

    vortice As long as we’re in this world, we can’t escape its hard knocks. Many problems are created by our own bad choices and negative thoughts. Some struggles are out of our control. While other life issues develop because of poor attachment to our original caretakers and as a result we don’t know how to form healthy adult relationships. A number of difficulties are a result of traumas. Some people develop a lack of trust in their ideas, talents or sexuality because others mocked or shamed them.

Working through this pain while staying connected to our humanity helps our Soul become stronger and more resilient. When we choose growth over pathology, acceptance over denial, healing over victimhood, we’re embracing our authenticity. When we honor our unique struggles verses denying we have any, we’re in touch with our Sacred Self.

Connecting to that sacredness is about leaning into the pain we feel and working through the puzzle of healing. When we avoid our inner turmoil by blaming others, self medicating or repeating old patterns that are harmful, we’re riding a whirlpool of chaos. The only way out is to confront our suffering. This way forces outside of ourselves no longer control us. Stepping out of the vortex puts us into the eye of the storm, which is where calm resides.

When we grow psychologically, we stretch — sometimes it’s messy, always uncomfortable. At times it’s downright painful. Like the twisting of gold wire to make jewelry, we’re applying pressure to achieve new form. The wire becomes stronger as it bends to hold the beautiful gemstone. It doesn’t change what it is, only manifests into something greater than its initial form.

Reclaim all that is within you.

Art-Deborah Koff-Chapin

Emotion & the Sacral Chakra

Celtic-Compass_art

Transformation. The word strikes fear in the boldest of souls. To transform means to willingly stride into the unknown.

The Sacral Chakra is the seat of transformation. This vigorous, radiant axis represents spiritual and emotional growth. Change. The fire element of this chakra converts matter into form, sand to glass, wood to ashes. Immaturity to maturity. While the brilliant yellow of this chakra acts as a driver for forward movement, it also steers us to places where we feel exposed. Just like the snake that sheds its scales to make way for a larger self, we’re left vulnerable during the process of expansion.

Transforming enough to heighten our awareness and compassion takes commitment. It takes a willingness to enter the forest of denied emotions and discarded hurts. It takes fortitude to accept responsibility for our actions, to look inward at the issues that kept our defenses insurmountable. It takes quiet bravery, since the only rewards are internal.

A man or woman become fully human only by his or her choices and his or her commitment to them, writes existential therapist Rollo May. People attain worth and dignity by the multitude of decisions they make from day to day.

Moving beyond our current state of pain and discomfort to a place of clarity requires intentional progress. May says, a choice confronts us. Shall we, as we feel our foundations shaking, withdrawal in anxiety and panic?

No. Emotional transformation is just as essential as physical transformation. Someone just forgot to put that into the life manual we were handed at birth. The good news is, transformation also connotes a movement upward. The end result implies full formation and positive results. The prefix “trans” denotes going across, beyond or through. “Trans” is an active, forward, yet impermanent movement that implies willingness. Yet, when combined with the noun “form” (physical appearance, shape or presence), this movement finds a home, a new place to land and new way of becoming. Driving toward our true Self lands us in the middle of greater peace and freedom.

The Power of No

CGJung“No” is probably the most powerful word in our vocabulary. Anyone who’s ever raised a toddler understands how frustrating the word can be. It seems their “no” stage goes on forever and controls everything and everyone around them. It’s challenging, exhausting and can prick some unresolved, primitive conflicts within parents if they’re not conscious about their responses.

That one syllable word coming from the mouths of our sweet, little cherubs who are supposed to love, adore and follow our every command feels disturbing. When a child begins to say “no”, parents may perceive this as a power imbalance and grow threatened. “No” changes everything for those children (and parents) but not in a bad way.  “No” for a toddler means she’s just beginning to understand she has choices over her life. She’s beginning to see she can decide what to wear, when to go potty (and where), what she likes to eat, how she likes to play and with what toys she wants to play with. No says, “backoff, I’ve got this”, even when she doesn’t.

In his psychosocial development model, Erick Erickson, refers to this “terrible twos stage” as the stage of Autonomy verses Shame and Doubt. When a toddler feels she can make choices, she begins to learn what she likes and dislikes. If she doesn’t have the opportunity to explore, she begins to question her preferences. She loses the ability to know what she wants and develops a sense of shame as a result. “No” for her can either hold clout or fear.

Sadly, lots of grownups are terrified to speak this word. Unlike toddlers who have the luxury of exploring their boundaries without too much understanding of their effect on others, grownups have been around the block a few times. “No” for some carries uncomfortable history. It may mean in the past people shunned them when they set boundaries, so they fear rejection. “No” might mean we’re really not sure anyway, so let’s keep things as a maybe. Then “no” carries a sense of  shame and doubt about what we want and who we are. Not being able to say “no” indicates a constant sense of obligation to please others.

To say “no” takes personal power. Personal power means we’re tapped into our internal locus of control – we know where to set limits. We’re able to understand where our emotional and psychological boundaries are and how they might be different from others around us. We have a strong sense of what’s important to us and as a result know what we’re not willing to compromise. We understand how to set those restrictions and aren’t worried that we won’t be liked.

When this inner gauge is broken, “no” is perceived as a dangerous word. That’s because speaking the word states we’ve made a decision that may be separate from what others want. It also states we’re willing to take responsibility for our choices.

Jumping into the world of a solid decision thrusts us out of a state of avoidance. Just like the toddler, we’re saying, “I like this and not that.” It’s a definitive sign that we’ve made a clear choice. Once made, we’re required to follow through. In this way, “no” is the jumping off point to freedom. “No” preserves your own energy and shows people you have self-respect. It preserves identity.

“No” also decreases anxiety. It provides clarity. When people understand where the limits are, everyone can calm down. Setting that boundary not only provides distress tolerance for adults, but it teaches children they’re safe. The toddler who throws a temper tantrum in the store because he wants that toy is also attempting to see just how much he can push people around. When he realizes he doesn’t have full power over a situation, he can sit back and let go of the reins. When “no” is consistent with both firmness and kindness, that child learns that “no” is safe. Even better, he carries that lesson into adulthood where he can set his own limits against people who attempt to push him around. That child will grow up to understand his own inner locus of control.

People who are too involved in fixing people have little personal power. The act of stepping in to rescue is the act of taking choices away from someone else. To step back and say, “No, this is your job to do,” resets the power imbalance. It frees whomever they were controlling to make their own decisions. Each person reclaims their own power.

The flip side of this is “no” can be used to control everything. It can be the fortress we set against the world. When we feel so hapless and insecure that we have to stop everything, we’re not setting limits we’re walling ourselves off.

Sometimes “no” requires explaining. Sometimes not. Yet, the reason for “no” always needs to be understood by the person using the word. When the speaker is clear, the word holds truth. Personal truth is the way to individuation.

 

Mandala Artwork-CG Jung, The Red Book

The Pull Toward our Soul

boatA lodestone is a naturally magnetic mineral. When combined with metal, these two objects are drawn to the magnetic pull of the North Pole. No matter where you are on earth, the needle of a compass will point north, directing you towards your intended destination. To this day, despite our amazing scientific abilities, geologist can’t explain exactly why this connection works. It’s still very much a mystery – an accepted mystery, but a mystery nonetheless.

The same mystery lies deep within us all as we make the journey back to our Soul. Just like the lodestone and metal are attracted to the pull of the North Pole, our spirits have a natural pull to a higher frequency – some deep essence of truth that leads us when we listen to it. Every time we feel there must be something “more” out there for us, when we feel off course, or when something inside just doesn’t feel right, our inner compass is telling us we’ve lost our way.

The draw toward our guiding principles is already in there. Yet, when we continue to repeat old, destructive behaviors, deny our pain or when we don’t take the time to identify what our needs are, we’ve muddled the needle’s direction. When fear overrides any other vision, we can’t see where we should be headed. Our simple, natural compass starts feeling like a complicated GPS system with directions written in another language.

Yet, if we would only step back and let the simplicity of the needle correct itself, we could find the way back home. By purposefully doing less, reclamation can be accomplished. Thomas Moore in his classic, CARE OF THE SOUL,  refers to this paradox of Soul work;

It’s not easy to observe closely, to take the time and to make the subtle moves that allow the soul to reveal itself further. You have to rely on every bit of learning, every scrap of sense, and all kinds of reading, in order to bring the intelligence and imagination to the work. Yet at the same time, this action-through nonaction has to be simple, flexible, and receptive. Intelligence and education bring you to the edge, where your mind and its purposes are empty. 

No matter how each of us defines what and where that spiritual place of origin is – what their truth is – the fact remains, we’re drawn to seek it. We crave the connection to ourselves so deeply that we’ll go to great extents to find it, even outside of ourselves. This leaves us with addictions or giving our power to others whom we feel have the answers. Humans are full of dichotomies. We have everything we need to understand the right path for ourselves and yet we don’t listen. We bend our compass to point away from our magnetic pull because our ego decides we want to go in another direction.

This knowing is not a community knowing, though there’s a component of the collective in it. The knowing of our Soul speaking to us and guiding us toward the things we need to do in order to grow, utilizes what Jung calls the collective unconscious. Symbols, energy, archetypes all connect us to an ethereal family. Like a lost first language, if we listen, it will come back to us. Moore says;

Observance of the soul can be deceptively simple. You take back what has been disowned.

Another way to look at this is, our knowing is our soul. If we turn away from what we know to be true, we’re turning away from the deepest essence of our being; the God-given light in all of us. That is the compass which will guide us in all things and get us through our storms.

Release and Reclaim

We are part of a complex tapestry of energy. Our environment – the soil, the air, fire, water – is energy. Some energy is denser than others. A rock’s energy is denser than the sun’s, however both possess energy.

Scientists measure energy in the form of atoms and molecules. We put names to energy. Yet, we seem to forget that regardless of how we measure it, we’re also connected to energy on a more ethereal level that’s hard, if not impossible, to measure outside of our inner knowing.  While many people grasp that our body is energy – because it’s easily measured through science – our feelings, actions, thoughts and souls are energy, too. When we choose to stay mad, we are choosing to hold onto that negative energy. When we choose to feel love, we are embracing our higher energy frequency.

Depression is an energy that forms from either early traumas or negative thoughts. It creeps into the essence of our bodies. It sometimes lies dormant for years before it can explode, full force, and affect every aspect of us, including our etheric energy field.

Etheric energy must be managed in the same way we manage the healing of more concrete parts of self, like a broken leg. In fact, etheric energy affects our bodies more than we may give it credit. Even animals must manage their etheric energy. Have you ever seen a stressed dog? How about a cat that was not raised in a litter and was thrown out to fend for itself as a kitten? These animals, like us, have to manage their way through the world and this affects how their physical and etheric energy flows.

Amy Weintraub, who has suffered from depression herself, has spent years helping people work through deeply seeded emotional disturbances with yoga. Through the use of mudras and chants along with asanas, she helps clients reestablish functioning in their chakras. In her book, Yoga For Depressions, she writes:

Talk therapy, though a vital component in our individual recovery from depression and other psychological disturbances, also has its limits. If, as most psychologists agree, the seeds for depression are sewn in infancy through patterns of relationship with significant others, prior to acquisition of language, how can we root out the depression solely through language? Recovery from depression must include the body.

Working through the emotional aspects of this trauma is more than talk therapy. We hold traumas in our bodies, even if we have never had a violent hand laid on us. If you were raised with abuse in any of its forms; physical, psychological, emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, neglect, mockery, then your energy has been tampered with. When people block love from you, they block an energy flow in you. If you minimize the abuse or think the abuser is now dead and therefore you no longer have any issues this way, then you’re more closed off from yourself than you think.

There are multiple ways we fracture ourselves. We can separate from our bodies, we can disconnect from our emotions, we can shut down our thinking and even emotionally cut off people we love.  Regaining connection to all dimensions of who we are is the first step toward healing. One of the first and best ways to do this is through your breath and chakras which means bodywork. As Weintraub says:

When you practice Yoga with awareness of the sensations in your body, your thoughts, and your feelings, you will grow in self-awareness. And as you grow in self-awareness, you begin to have glimpses of what it means to feel utterly and wholly connected, how your small self is not separate fro the Absolute, the Self of the universe.

It’s also important to remember, we also hold love, acceptance, and caring in our bodies, too. Reconnecting to the most fundamental aspect of our existence, our body, we can release that which is holding us back and reclaim that which fills us with the Divine.Image

Flying Home…again

Pigeon Columbidae Bird Flying in Cloud Sky

In my constant search to find the meaningful connection between the benign and the spiritual, it occurred to me we’re all like pigeons (stay with me, I promise there’s a point to this). Here’s how this conclusion came to be:

Each day, while I’m working to stay present to my clients’ stories, I’m also working really hard to ignore this flock of pigeons that inhabit the neighboring rooftop. They cluck, they coo, they peck, they copulate, sometimes they even fly at my window. I’ve been told they’ve increased their population over the years, staying put and not flying beyond the roofs and gutters. This makes them easy prey. Recently, a hawk caught one of the pigeons. I heard a thump, a squawk, then saw a stream of grey feathers trickle between the buildings. It was like watching a disturbing cartoon.

As their quirky bird shadows invade my office and challenge my attention span, brave souls sit with me and share their deepest insights, feelings and fears.  My client’s bring vulnerability and pain to the sacred space I hope I’ve created for them. Each and every one of them is a soul struggling along life’s tumultuous journey. Many want reclamation of Self, inner peace, or understanding of the challenges they face. Others fight desperately to stay put, because they can’t  envision change and only want some temporary relief. Some come for existential reasons, others to battle the daemons left by trauma. Some are willing to make the journey, others refuse the call. The one thing they all have in common – as is the case with everyone – they’re seeking a way back to their center.

Life has a funny way of pushing us away from ourself in an effort to bring us back home, doesn’t it?

Journey in itself connotes forward movement and that means obstacles along the way, since no path is without its potholes or fallen trees.  In Joseph Campbell’s brilliant classic, The Hero with  A Thousand Faces,  the voyage of humanity is mapped out through the use of myth, dream and archetypes. In the beginning of everyone’s psychological adventure, we’re thrust into a departure, which repeats itself with each life experience. This call for departure incites fear of the unknown. We fight like hell against leaving.  We want to stay put, to cling to the familiar, to not look beyond the rooftop where we were born.

Yet, when we stay, we stagnate. We become psychologically (and sometimes physically) obese. We cling to illusions of self-importance. We use ego defenses, harmful behaviors or judgment to convince ourselves we’re right. Campbell writes:

Often in actual life, and not infrequently in the myths and popular tales, we encounter the dull case of the call unanswered: for it is always possible to run the ear to other interests. Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or “culture,” the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved.

      Despite our best efforts to resist this calling, life forces beyond our control will thrust us out of our comfort zone. In most cases, those very real energies show up as depression and anxiety. These are major indicators that something isn’t flowing, that we’ve resisted a call. If this pain grows big enough, we seek aid to help make it across what Campbell calls the first threshold. When we do this, we can then open up to new possibilities and integrate deeper meaning into our lives.

 “…some chance word, the smell of a landscape, the taste of a cup of tea, or the glance of an eye may touch a magic spring, and then dangerous messengers begin to appear in the brain. These are dangerous because they threaten the fabric of the security into which we have built ourselves and our family. But they are fiendishly fascinating too, for they carry keys that open the whole realm of the desired and feared adventure of the discovery of self.”

So many of us are like those fat pigeons outside of my office. We don’t want to fly great distances, we don’t think about what lies beyond our own rooftop, nor do we want to. We may not be content, since our stagnation makes us weak and annoyed, yet we know this rooftop.

There’s another type of pigeon, though. One that can look beyond its comfort zone and embrace what’s out there. It knows where it’s going because it’s flown great distances before. This type begins to fly short distances when it’s young, yet it always returns since it’s deeply connected to home. Over time, it gains strength and makes longer flights. It understands how to manage turmoil, since when in flight it reaches its legs back and hold its tail feathers to keep from fatiguing. This pigeon has the same ancestor as “old fatty” yet operates differently. The homing pigeon can push its way through high winds and bad weather. It brings back messages from far away places. It returns home with the wisdom it experienced and then it rests until next time.

Yes, we’re like pigeons. All of us. We can choose to exercise our wings and make strides. We can develop the strength to manage in times of trials. We can learn to fly out of our comfort zone – or not. We can embrace life’s journey or remain dormant and dependent. It’s our choice. Safe travels.

Artwork: Kim Seng

Sending Energy The Old-Fashioned Way

16l Johannes Vermeer (Dutch Baroque Era Painter, 1632-1675) Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window 1657I wrote a letter to a friend the other day because it was the only way to contact her. I was complaining to myself that an e-mail would be faster and then it occurred to me that what I was doing was sending my very metaphysical friend my personal energy. I changed the negative thought and reflected on loving energy. What better way do we send energy to someone than through our touch? What a lost art, not just in taking the time to write our words but in taking the time to send our intentions.

In our fast paced life, it’s much easier to fire off a text or e-mail. Yet, what energy are they receiving? Ours? The rest of the world’s? The person who wrote the html programming?  I don’t have many friends left whom I can even imagine sending a letter to, but I would like to try to be more purposeful about it. Even a card with a note has this energy attached. We have touched it. We have chosen it. Our feelings for them are carried in the paper and ink.

This energy became very apparent to me during a dirty Santa session with friends last Christmas. I chose my gift on the table based on the flow I saw emanating from a bag. It turned out to be a hand-knit scarf (which was subsequently stolen by another friend). This was the only handmade gift that year. The idea that of all the gifts on the table this one was beaming, stayed with me. This was confirmation to me that the intention of our energy embeds in the things we touch. This is what we do when we send a note or gift forward. We’re sending forth a piece of ourselves.

 

 

The Spiritual Necessity of Ego

egoblogIn any spiritual community the discussion of ego regularly comes up. The common message – whether spoken or unspoken – is that the more spiritual you are, the more egoless you become. I think the exact opposite occurs. In my observation, the more spiritual involvement someone has, the more ego seems to be involved. Maybe this is just the converse elements of the human condition working themselves out, like Yin and Yang or Anima and Animus but spirituality and ego work in opposing ways that seem to fuel each other. This can be for good or bad.

It takes ego to step into a pulpit. It takes ego to get on television with your latest insights, write a book, lead meditation groups, standup at a Spiritualist retreat and do readings, trust in your visualizations and yes (gulp!), to write a blog. It takes a sense of purpose to practice spirituality and the only way we’re able to obtain this purpose is through the management of our ego.

Ego is necessary to the human condition. Ego is how we choose to see ourselves. It’s needed to operate in our world. We need our egos to maintain balance and identity. When we make choices about who we are and what we need and want, we’re making value statements. These values are what form our unique brand of spirituality. David Richo in his book HOW TO BE AN ADULT states:

A psychologically and spiritually conscious person acts from a consistent – though always evolving – sense of values. To value is to esteem the worth of something, to declare that it has meaning for us (pg. 48).

Those on a spiritual journey, no matter what their road looks like, are seeking meaning in their lives. They’re applying their identities to this process and that takes the use of our egos.

No great spiritual leader who lived on this earth was without ego. Jesus certainly had one. So did Gandhi and Buddha. In fact, the whole concept of Buddhism is about managing ego-mind to obtain connection with our inner light. In the modern-day example of a man of spirit who stayed consistent with his values, Nelson Mandala could not have achieved what he did without ego.

It’s what we do or don’t do with ego that’s important. An unhealthy ego, or what Ricco calls neurotic ego, keeps us locked in dark places. It keeps us from working through old hurts, it develops a false sense of Self because we fear going inward, it keeps us looking for the stimulation of addictions because we’ve wandered too far from our spirit, it keeps us in the victim/perpetrator/rescuer mode of abuse. When we work solely from ego, we’re unbalanced. We have no psychological boundaries and cannot honor others’. Just think of spiritual leaders who have used their positions to molest or steal.

When we’re attracted to the “spiritual limelight” because ego wants the hit, we’re not seeking truth we’re seeking an adrenaline rush to keep our false self going. We’re not seeking the light, but choosing to manifest our darker places. As Ricco says:

     Psychological and spiritual work – both necessary for full human realization – are meant to proceed both separately and simultaneously as life unfolds. Effective psychotherapy attends to both ego and Self and is the primary form of help in the process of change and transformation.

     Psychological work is the linear chronology leading us from problem to solution, from inadequacy to competence, from dysfunction to high level functioning.

     Spiritual work is a journey from the compelling attachments of the neurotic ego to Here-and-Now centered Self (pg. 105).

 I recently listened to a modern-day self-help leader state that she has managed to work herself out of her ego. Perhaps how she manages her ego is different these days, but it’s exactly her ego that allowed her to perform that interview – and that’s okay.  It’s when spiritual leaders and practitioners deny their ego that the temptation to deny their humanity gets out of whack. Then they lapse toward self-aggrandizement and judgment. Talk about the neurotic self!

Like the feminine Yin and the masculine Yang that balance the Self in active and passive energies, so ego and spirituality force us to work that fine tee-totter effect of becoming. The recognition of our very human ego, is what keeps us closer to our spirituality. When we embrace our limitations, then we can find our infinite potency. ~ Namaste~

Mind: That Great and Terrible Wonder

images9QTLBV1MthinkThe brain is a filter that helps us make sense of our world. This organ, compared to all others, is the most mysterious, immeasurable organ in our bodies. We can love without a spleen. We can express feelings if we have an artificial heart. We can understand our meaning in the world with one kidney. We can’t do any of these things without our brain. Without a brain, we can’t have interpersonal relationships. We’re incapable of self-reflection. We can’t identifying what we feel. The function of the brain goes far beyond the reasoning process. The brain truly is the link to our Soul.

In the past decade or so,  research of the brain has yielded some fascinating insight. Scientists now understand from what regions of the brain energy flows, what hormones and chemicals are released to affect mood and what type of circumstances affect brain function. As a therapist who works with traumatized clients, this information has been invaluable in helping facilitate healing on emotional as well as energetic levels.

Through studies, the question of “how?” can now be answered. However, the question “why?” may never be determined.  Scientists cannot pinpoint the exact source that stimulates neurons and creates brain functioning. This is where the mystery of universal energy has to be accepted and embraced – perhaps even revered by those who seek to measure it.

This universal energy source is Soul energy. It affects every aspect of our multifaceted Self.  It charges our muscles with movements. Soul energy manifests feelings. Its power motivates us toward personal growth and healing. If listened to, Soul energy will guide us. Its force is wisdom and truth and stillness. Its intent is reconciliation with original Divine energy. The combination of Soul energy and brain are what I refer to as the Dimension of Mind.

It’s from the Dimension of Mind we first become aware of our feelings. These feelings bring us into the realm of relationships. The delicate symbiotic dance we perform through our interactions with others is one of the gauges by which we can understand ourselves. As Daniel Siegel states in The Developing Mind, the ability of one mind to perceive and then experience elements of another person’s mind is a profoundly important dimension of human experience. This dance can keep us alive, help us fall in love, or make the right career choices.

Mind reflects our awareness and our state of being. It provides us with the ability to notice what arises in us. It can get in our way and keep us from everyday functioning or it can release its limitations so we can connect to the universe. Mind is not only about an emotional connection with others, it’s the choice we make to live fully awake. Mindfulness practices are intended to still the constant chatter that thinking creates because our brains can get ahead of the rest of us when we’re not careful.  Mind Nature in Tibetan Buddhist practice is considered the universal existence. Mind creates happiness or suffering depending upon the person’s awareness and how they choose to use their thinking. The ordinary Mind (sem) is the one that creates duplicity, jealousy, pettiness, anger, aggression and many other states of discord. The aware mind (Rigpa) is the awake mind. Rigpa is present to the moment which brings us full connection to the Soul.

Our Soul seeks wholeness and has a need to connect to its Higher Source. It needs Mind’s assistance to accomplish this. Through an inner dialogue with symbols, we also connect to our world beyond the five senses.  Dreaming, visualization through meditation,  daydreaming, the use of art, form and movement are some of the ways we stay connected to the world beyond facts and figures.

Our preverbal existence (10,000 years or more ago) used the images  brought forth through Mind to connect with each other. Our more recent verbal society developed reasoning  skills which prioritized exterior facts as our primary communication. Our brains can handle both, but we’ve been taught in our modern world to value the tangible over the experiential. As a result, Mind wants to find answers to everything. It wants to measure, adjust, explain its way out of the subjective. It’s learned to stir dissent in our Self, to tell us everything about ourself is wrong and incomplete. This process has created inner conflict and is leading us down a road toward depression and anxiety that still again, our brain wants to reason us out of.

We’ve forgotten that brain doesn’t run the show and that it’s just one of many factors that complete the Dimension of Mind. Yes, brain is the steering wheel but not the whole vehicle. We can’t drive the car without it, but it can’t hold us hostage, either. Our brain and our Soul need to remember to work in conjunction. Both need to negotiate and sometimes our brain needs to slide out of the driver’s seat and let Soul steer for a while.

 

 

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The Art of Negotiating Boundaries

SCAN_PIC0001smallThe difference between living a life of happy engagement or miserable chaos rests in how we apply boundaries. In my work, I hear clients speak about boundaries all the time. However, when it comes to applying them they seem confused. A lot. So, here’s a primer.

A boundary looks a little different for everyone. A perfect metaphor is a fence. Some fences are higher, some are lower, some are more open, some are harder to scale. Boundaries are meant to protect, ensure, define. What a boundary is not is a fortress wall that blocks out everything. Nor is it an open puddle that anyone gets to run through. We’re responsible for setting our own boundaries. When we expect someone else to do it, we’ve pretty much violated ourselves.

Boundaries fit into two categories: outer and inner. The first is easily understood because outer, or physical, boundaries are a tangible concept. Physical boundaries include setting limits around your body, your possessions, your personal time, your work and living space. It also includes your etheric space. Etheric space is your physical or auric energy that expands beyond your skin and bones. It’s the unseen yet often felt “circle” that feels penetrated when someone you don’t know stands too close.

People have no right to touch you if you don’t want them to. They have no right to steal your things, tell you to do something that hurts you or make themselves at home if you want them to leave. They also have no right to drive your car without your permission or go through your desk drawers at work. These examples of boundary violations are pretty obvious. What’s not so clear is how to enforce the boundaries.

Inner boundaries are harder to assess because we can’t physically touch them. As a result, those boundaries get horribly dishonored – by those who possess them as well as by those who offend. This more dubious concept of boundaries bewilders people. It takes intentional work to first identify them and then to learn how to effectively set a limit.

What makes up the world of inner boundaries are your feelings, thoughts, beliefs, spiritual experiences, creativity, memories, fantasies, hopes and dreams. Yet, many people aren’t connected to theirs. We can determine where our body ends and another’s begins, but if we don’t know what we feel, believe or want, how can we know if we’ve been infringed upon?

Violations of inner boundaries range from emotional abuse – if the behavior is purposeful – to clueless insensitivity. Name calling, commenting on someone’s body, passive-aggressive behavior, withholding attention or affection, mocking and mimicking, adultery, raging or intentionally distressing people are some examples. Enmeshment, which is when someone wants to know your every waking thought or feeling and tells you how to think or feel, is a massive inner boundary violation.

The initial work to establish inner boundaries is to take a few steps back and develop a loving dialogue with yourself. Exploring your inner world and being able to identify the difference between your thoughts and feelings is important. Stating your dreams, developing your beliefs based on your sense of integrity, allowing yourself to visualize your future, all this doesn’t happen overnight. It’s extremely useful to do this work with a licensed therapist if you’re struggling, because more than likely there are influencing factors keeping you from committing to your individuation.

Defining if a boundary has been violated is about the ability to measure your discomfort level. If you’re okay with a house guest staying a few extra days, that’s one thing. If you’re desperate for time alone but find it’s easier not to tell him, then you’ve lowered your boundary threshold. Only you are able to determine what that threshold is. Is it a mild inconvenience or total violation? Saying “no” is not a bad thing. It may be a last resort after you’ve politely stated having a guest three more days doesn’t work for you, but it doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you a person who respects your time, energy and space. When you respect yourself, so will others.

The gauge when enforcing an inner boundary is much like enforcing an outer boundary. Again, it’s about measuring your discomfort level. How do you feel about what that person said or did? What in you is unsure, even though you feel horrible right now? We can state that we expect better treatment from them. Whether they choose to give it, is out of our control.

Part of setting a boundary is to establish a consequence that you’re willing to follow through with. That consequence can’t be something hurtful to the other person or infringe on their integrity in any way. So, if you say to your spouse, “If you choose to ignore me the whole day after we argue, then I’m hitting you over the head with this frying pan!”, then you’ve completely overstepped his boundaries and are the violator.

A consequence is something within your control that sets a limit. It also must match the boundary infraction. “If you choose to ignore me the whole day after we argue, then I choose to go shopping and have dinner with my friends.” You can’t control if he choses to stonewall you, but you can control how to get your needs met in other ways.

It’s also very important to explore why you allow your boundaries to be manipulated. Are you afraid the other person won’t like you? Do you fear you won’t be heard or that you’re not worthy of being listened to? Boundaries don’t keep us from being intimate. It’s exactly the opposite. If we establish a boundary with someone, we’re negotiating with them. This requires engagement and exploration of the issues around the boundaries. We’re showing the other person we respect them enough to negotiate and more importantly – we respect ourselves enough to be negotiated with.