The Edges

“There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it, and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an idea of boundary. But the idea was real. It was important. For seven generations there had been nothing in the world more important than that wall.
Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon which side of it you were on.”      ― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed

 When you think of a boundary, do you think of what is kept in, or what is kept out?

boundary

/ˈbaʊndərɪ; -drɪ/
noun (pl) -ries

1.  something that indicates the farthest limit, as of an area; border

When my mother died, one of her closest friends was one of my very few living links to her; this woman comforted me and brought my mother back to life in fleeting moments when we recounted a memory or allowed ourselves a moment of our shared sadness. This woman became incredibly important to me and I relied heavily on her in this context.  Later, as our conversation continued and we grew into our own friendship, I confided in her, something I needed to pursue.  She was conflicted about my pursuit and interjected what she thought my mother would feel about it if she were still alive. Much as I loved this woman, much as I had come to need her, this particular area was not one she understood nor did she realize my mother and I had discussed often over the years.  I came to understand that she was projecting her own fears and concerns regarding the matter and so I took more time to explain and share; all the while I remained steadfast.  It was in the midst of this conversation, not feeling supported or understood, that I realized something important  – the matter was core to me and who I am and that I was willing to draw a line in the sand for what I knew I needed. I noticed an important shift within me and that I was willing to stand my ground despite her inability to come along with me.  My need for truth and authenticity became greater than my fear of disappointing her if it meant not pursuing something so central to who I am.  As with an invisible fence, a boundary was activated and it both surprised me and scared me.

Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.
– Brene Brown

Setting boundaries is not easy. In fact it’s hard work. I look around and from where I sit, it can appear so easy, so natural for others and it’s easy to wonder if I’m somehow missing something or struggling unnecessarily.  Being perfectly honest, it has seemed, that of late, the Universe signed me up, unbeknownst to me of course, for a Boundaries 101 course. Complete with a ‘text book’ of sorts.

From the book, How the State Got Their Shapes it is written that The 50 states in the U.S.A. are easily recognized by their shapes, their outlines, their silhouettes. Their boundaries. Their furthest limits. Colorado and Wyoming are both rectangular in their shape and are therefore hard to differentiate. The value resides not in knowing their shape but why. Asking why a state has the borders it does unlocks a history of human struggles, it’s history. It’s story.

Co and Wy

 

The more we look at borders, the more questions those borders generate.

Is it the same for us? 

That  the more we understand each other’s boundaries, the more we realize we should know about each other and our stories?  And, subsequently, the more we do learn about one another?

A state border is both an official entrance and a hidden entrance. 

Couldn’t we claim the same truth?

I draw a boundary based on what I know I need to feel safe, secure, seen, understood and strong. If you know, and understand, and accept what that is, you gain ‘entrance’.

The official entrance is the legal threshold to a state. But it’s hidden. Entrance beckons us into the past.

Is the same true for us?

Our own edges, can at times seem somewhat hidden, but if understood, and respected, beckon others in.

Into…

Our story.

Our selves.

Our past.

Our hurts.

Our scars.

Our quirks.

Our disappointments.

Our fears.

Our regrets.

Our dreams.

Our hopes.

Our future.

Here at the state line we can come come into contact with struggles long forgotten and now overgrown by signs saying things like, “Welcome to Nebraska. Please drive carefully.”

Couldn’t we say the same?

Welcome to my heart. Please drive carefully.


It’s easy to consider drawing boundaries as keeping something out, but what if we change that to keeping in that which what we value while at the same time also building strength?  And yet, it is circular, we can’t draw a boundary until we know what we need and want and desire, on the inside.

We know from what has hurt in the past, what hasn’t felt good. We know when someone bumps up against our edges. It’s fear. It’s disappointment. It’s feeling invisible. It’s feeling dismissed. It’s too much at once.

When my son was about 9 or so, we were having a conversation that led to me saying something about respecting his boundaries.  The way he looked at me when I said that, I knew immediately that he had no idea what I meant.  I thought for a second about how to say it in a way he’d understand;  I said to him that boundaries are the edges of when we feel ok, and that when we bump up against the edges, it doesn’t feel good anymore, or it’s uncomfortable, or it’s too much and so we stop.

When we set boundaries, we own what scares us. That which makes us feel alone in the world. By knowing what to ask for, we also identify what we cannot receive. Rejection is hard on both sides of the street.

When we talk about boundaries, setting them, respecting them, we often think of it as drawing a line – a line in the sand so to speak.  Creating boundaries, however, is not only about protecting – keeping what is not safe on the OUTSIDE.  It can also be about strengthening and fortifying what is on the INSIDE.

I have found that creating boundaries – and then establishing them – is like building strong muscles. It requires discipline, diligence and a plan. It requires that we do things that sometimes we just don’t feel like doing. It’s not easy.

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote recently:

“I don’t like conflict. I aim for appeasement. I often dodge the chance to directly address problems early on, because I hope the problems will go away. I deny and I duck and I put my hands over my ears and say, “La-la-la-la-la.” And then, guess what? Sometimes those problems don’t go away. In fact, they blow up in my face… I am still learning this. I can see messy things that happened in my life this very year, because I didn’t want to cope with problems sooner”

“Liz, stay alert. Heads up. Start speaking your truth sooner. You’ve been put on watch.”

It’s work, this setting of boundaries. We have to accept the uncomfortable moments of owning our anger and understanding what lurks below its surface,  trusting our own instincts, facing the fear of conflict with someone we have decided is important to us. It requires that we stand ready to let go of something that has taken up residence within us, even when it’s not good for us. Because we get comfortable.

It dawned on me that setting boundaries and letting go are in essence, kissing cousins.

For when we set a boundary, are we also not at the same time choosing to let go of something?

$T2eC16JHJGMFFpfi!d7!BSe2vGu-Tw~~_32When we set boundaries, we have to know what defines us. What fits. What makes sense. What fills us in positive ways.  Learning to recognize when we are no longer willing to be uncomfortable or misunderstood for the sake of making someone else feel comfortable. Even when that someone is us, and for just a temporary moment.

Sometimes this process requires trial and error – as a toddler experiments with sorting shapes – and until we sort it out, we can feel empty for awhile when we only allow entrance for the shapes that actually fit. When we say no to someone or something – at first it can feel so lonely, but only then do we make room for what does fit.

Creating boundaries demands of us honesty with ourselves, being able to endure shifts in power, changes in dynamics. Sometimes, our own power has the power to scare the crap out of us. That’s nothing short of hard work, man.

In pushing our bodies in exercise, we endure the short term pain, discomfort and possibility of failure because we want something more. We want what comes when we have strong muscles; the definition, the strength, the knowledge and the confidence that come from knowing we are capable.  We work our bodies because we know that we want to be able to do the other things that require that muscle strength.

Isn’t the same true for our own boundaries?

When we work our boundaries, is it not because we know that we want more; more inner strength, more of what allows us to truly align with who we are, to be surrounded by others who understand and accept us? Authenticity. To be surrounded by others who truly see us, for all that lies within our squiggly, messy lines or our boring geometric edges. And love us.

The challenge, of course, is to not be too rigid, to find our balance with this line – we get to choose the amount of fluidity in the line, and we can only know that by being brave enough to start, to try.  Like Elizabeth Gilbert, we must start speaking our truth sooner. We must put ourselves on notice.


240099_567045576756225_2818715820781149113_oOn the back cover of the book, a review by the Wall Street Journal says:

“Give me the splendid irregularities any day. God Bless the panhandles and notches, the West Virginias and the Oklahomas.”

To that I say:

“Give me the splendid imperfections any day. God bless the vulnerabilities, the differences and the fears, the secrets and the quirks.”

For isn’t that the beauty of what is inside?

 

 

Ps…Why are Colorado and Wyoming are so similar in their shapes?

-Colorado – Money: gold

-Wyoming – Space: 7 degrees of width, coal & waterways & trails (Oregon, California and Overland Trails). Oh, and Utah’s involved too.

But, like with us, it’s way more complicated than that.

sig4

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30 thoughts on “The Edges

  1. Hi Bonnie,
    I followed you here from DK’s blog. I love this post. Your careful consideration of all the angles relating to the idea of boundaries excites me. I especially love your insight that boundaries are not only what we keep out but keep in. Very useful insight. It suggests to me, to remember that anywhere there are boundaries, or borders, there is very much still a connection.
    Warmly,
    Debra

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    • Hi Debra, thank you so much for coming here from DK’s blog. It makes me happy to hear that how I considered the tricky issue of boundaries excites you! It took such consideration to get my arms around what I was sensing for myself as I looked at all this with new eyes. It’s cool that it makes sense to you too! So glad to have you here.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. For some reason I’ve learned to be able to put up boundaries and then let them down very quickly. I think it has something to do with protecting my energy (which is probably for a whole other post!) I protect my energy because there are so many people out there who are very quick to steal it (sometimes without even knowing). This is a fantastic post and I’ll be reading over it again this afternoon because it’s so very important, Bonnie 😉

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    • Dianne, you are one of the folks I watch and say, hmmm, she makes it look so easy…AND…let me watch her some more to learn from her. 🙂 We need examples in all things, and this is no exception. It makes sense to me, the protecting of your energy, so much sense (write that post! 🙂 ) . Thank you for your comment!!

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      • Thank you so much, Bonnie 😉 I must write an ‘energy protection’ post one day (when I find the right words). I’ve met a lot of people in my life who are energy vampires and if I’m not careful I feel very tired after dealing with them xxx

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        • Energy Vampires..yes! That is such an accurate way to put it. I have some of those in my world/life too and I agree, I don’t think they even may realize it, but it is exhausting! I stay far away from a particular colleague as this person likes to always win the ‘busy-battle’ and this always makes the boundaries pop up! xo

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    • Denise, you have no idea how much that means. When that occurred to me, a curtain of understanding was pulled back, and so much of it all made more sense to me. It is true and I so appreciate the shared resonance. Thank you!

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  3. Ahhh, boundaries, a sticky wicket to be sure…. Setting them has long been a struggle of mine–raised to be a ‘good girl’ who doesn’t make waves or cause trouble and *certainly* isn’t disagreeable. Sometimes it’s damned hard to meet all of those criteria and at the same time respect one’s own ‘sacred space.’ As others have observed, there is *so* much grist for the mill here, my friend, much more than these little white boxes can hold. But what a gift you have given us all by encouraging us to think about our boundaries–what’s elastic, what’s impermeable, what’s non-negotiable, and what can perhaps be completely redrawn. I am striving for greater authenticity every day, and girl, as you know, it can be TOUGH. But as I’m realizing with every passing year, it is SO worth the struggle. Sending you blessings and love….xoxo, l

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    • Lori…How I wish we could just sit in a coffee shop; this is exactly as you say, a sticky wicket. This post sat in my drafts for weeks, with me plucking away bit by bit – so elusive and yet so much a part of everything, I just kept coming back to it over and over again. I so very much hear you on the paradox of good girl vs. being true to ourselves – it’s a long and circuitous journey without question. Do you think there is ever a destination? I think what’s come from this post is validation certainly, for one, but beyond that, the fact that it’s caused some thinking – it remains part of my everyday reflection as opposed to something I was thinking about for awhile. To know that you and others are in this dialogue too is tremendous gift to me. Sending you flexible-when-needed and straight-as a-rod virtual steel rebar whenever you need!! xoxoxo

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  4. Deep. I thought about your post throughout the day Bonnie. Esp “My need for truth and authenticity became greater than my fear of disappointing her if it meant not pursuing something so central to who I am.” This its core to my peace. Great post. Thank you.

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    • Thank you David. I am glad that resonated with you; that was one of the early turning points and I hold on to it often. It’s a topic that requires much thinking, but that goes without saying at this point I suppose.

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  5. great introspection here. It’s like a chapter in a How to Live Well textbook 🙂 I’ve never given much thought to boundaries. For sure I’ve not set them tightly enough and done major damage because of it. Especially liking your two-sided view about keeping the good in instead of just keeping the bad out. I have a good friend who sets strict boundaries with her time and while it seems a bit severe to me, I know it is who she is and I respect her for it. I suppose everyone’s boundaries are going to look different. You’ve given me lots to think about!

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    • Thanks Liz! Between you and my friend Rhon, I have a side job (teacher and text book writer! Haha!) What i love the most is that its given you something to ponder. A few others said that and it’s kind of neat to imagine this virtual think tank going on! I am intrigued that you haven’t given much thought to boundaries – my guess is you may be one of the people I am giving sideways glances to, thinking…’hmm, wonder how she does that?’ I think the key to healthy boundaries, is that there is some give in them – they have to be there and for reasons we choose, but to have none or be too rigid doesn’t feel quite right. With each new comment, I have even more to think about – I like that too.

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  6. It came out beautifully, Bon. I loved the analogy to states and their boundaries and how each are unique. The idea of welcoming people into our hearts is fantastic and scary. It wouldn’t be quite so scary if we knew people were “driving carefully”. Being vulnerable is probably one of the most important things we can BE in order to learn but we certainly don’t want our persons to be stepped on so go ahead and put up that fence. I know I need to. Love you.

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    • Thank you Tiff!! Was so great to get to talk with you that day! The states and their boundaries just made it so much more tangible to me…when it’s really such a matter that is so intangible in so many ways! Your comment is perfect – you are right, if we knew people were driving carefully, things would be much less scary. Love you too! xo

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  7. Thoughts are spinning a mile a minute here. You have cut away the brush hiding the sign that says “You are entering protected territory, tread lightly or I’ll deport your ass…If, or as soon as, I gain the strength and courage to do so” See what I mean? We want and need these boundaries…in fact, as you’ve noticed, we appreciate and (envy?) those who are able to establish them so easily (or so we think). I have a horrible track record with this…and the inability to set mine has come at a price. This post is an honest to goodness BAM! wake up call Bon…and through this excellent analogorical (is that a word?) piece, I think going forward, it will help to envision those in my life, including myself, as human (meaning fluid) states with human (ever changing) boundary lines and be more conscious of the borders…mine and theirs. I hope that made sense…like I said, thoughts spinning a mile a minute. You have an excellent teaching manner my friend…xoxo

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    • It makes perfect sense what you say and I love that thoughts are spinning a mile a minute! To set in motion an offline and virtual conversation – then I feel that my struggles and grappling with this are beyond worth it. It’s so important, and as I realize more and more, hard for more of us than not. It is so easy to look around and see those who seem to take to it like a duck to water. And perhaps we are to be grateful for them, for showing us what it can look like? Just love your reflections Rhon. xo

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  8. Many of my most worst problems, disappointments, and real tragedies were self-inflicted by a lack of boundary, and being unable to love myself for fear of disappointing others. It’s a learned skill. If your family doesn’t teach you (my family had no boundaries), the universe will. And once you learn, the gratitude is boundless (no pun intended), kinda like Wyoming! 🙂 What a lovely and thoughtful post – good work my friend!

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    • Maureen – yes, you say it so well, how the lack of boundary leads to disappointment and tragedy, it is just seemingly the obvious (after the fact) outcome when something so vital is missing or weak. I so very much agree, it is learned, and from what I see, not like riding a bike – something to constantly practice and re-learn in new and sometimes only slightly new situations. But when we see that we got it right, oh isn’t that a feeling!? Like a million bucks! So glad to have found you along this winding road!

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  9. Ah BonBon – so much here to consider, so much to discuss – too much in fact for this little ‘response’ box. Beautifully done, providing much food for thought and what a perfect way to describe boundaries to your son! I also think that boundaries move – contracting, expanding, shape-shifting – depending on what we learn, where our comfort level is, etc. And I guess there are also some boundaries that are impenetrable and firmly fixed – for they need to be. Wow – lots to think about and more to say…fantastic post..xox

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    • Hi Mims…first thanks, this is a living organism so to speak 🙂 It’s ironic, that a topic about what is contained within holds so much – it’s a lot to get our arms around without question. That it sparked thoughts and more to say is great to hear. I completely agree, about boundaries moving and shifting as wee do …. I found that I think of it as a fluid kind of line – like the edge of a bubble that won’t pop…push a little here, give a little there. Yes, lots to think about, it’s just one of those things…. xoxox

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