A Rebellious Gal's Guide to Boundaries
Limits and boundaries are not my favorite concepts. When someone starts lauding the virtues of rules, restrictions, or structure, I visualize myself yelling, “Free bird!” and then flinging my body into a sea of people whose hands transport me away from the “boring person.”
When I first began practicing yoga, I was looking for a way to enhance my fitness. A few powerful practices later, I’d caught the contagion of curiosity. I’d long been excited about the sheer range of possibilities embedded in my body and I became fascinated with pushing into the boundaries that were currently my body’s limits. Essentially, it was contortion-ism, and it stemmed from an insatiable desire for exploration and freedom that expressed itself in many areas of my life. I wanted to experience everything!!! The glory of exploring your boundaries physically (and emotionally, for that matter) is you soon discover that whatever or wherever you believed your limits to be, they have now changed. More possibility than imagined reveals itself suddenly and often unexpectedly. A body that was once rigid now becomes supple and mobile, or one who could barely withstand plank now spends multiple breaths with their weight in their hands alone. It was incredible to watch my body grow more and more capable in its ability to execute certain specific tasks.
However, at this point in time, I did not understand or value some of the very boundaries I was pushing my body past. I refused to comprehend the repercussions of overusing or over-stretching. I wanted to do it all! I yearned to dive deep. Stop telling me where to stop! Stop enforcing limits! I don’t believe in them. I reject your limits and your idea that life is a scary place! I am safe! I am free! I am impervious. I am the exception. I was also very, very wrong.
During my 200 hour yoga teacher training, I lost my shit. Immediately following a three hour hatha practice, tears of rage began to pour down my face in response to being asked to actively engage while holding energetic poses for minutes at a time. These tears continued to pour out of me for the next three days. I later discussed the experience with my teacher. She informed me that the truth of my heart was written all over my body. Written in my body was the truth that I did not want to hold still, even briefly. Written in my body was the truth that I refused to hold steady, even for a few minutes. Written in my body, Elka declared, was that I wanted to “give and give and give and never be strong.” She told me to read the chapter in our text, Anatomy of the Spirit, about the manipura chakra, the energy center of our relationship with self. I thought she was full of crap. I thought derisively, “I’m strong! How dare she say otherwise!”
After our conversation, I brought out the book she suggested and took it to the park next to the restaurant at which I waited tables. My shift didn’t begin for forty-five minutes, so I sat down on the rotting log outside the back fence and began to read the section assigned, bitterly, of course. The chapter discussed what it meant to have a strong solar plexus or sense of who you are, which at the time, I thought I knew. The book also asserted that a strong solar plexus requires that we learn what we need and want and how to recognize when we are unknowingly giving those things away, with or without anyone asking it of us. The author, Caroline Myss believed that a solar plexus also was at risk for growing overactive or rigid. In this case one might be utterly unwilling to empathize, compromise, or give weight to anyone's feelings, needs, and wants other than their own.
As I read, I began to grow very uncomfortable. I was sitting outside of my workplace and while I lallygagged with my pleasure read, people were inside working. I prided myself on being the person who showed up early and started working right away, even though I couldn’t clock in. I’d always told myself that this exemplified a strong work ethic, but deep down, I knew that this stemmed from a drive to excel or “be the best.” In order to be a valuable employee, I perceived it to be my duty to do more work than anyone else. Even if that meant I had to show up early and work while being unpaid. Another motivation that I rarely wanted to examine was the desperate desire to be liked. A piece of my psyche was sending me the message “If you can help someone more than they help you, then they have to like you.” I’d been wooing my coworkers and friends alike for affection and appreciation with varying degrees of success and more than a little disgruntlement .
There I sat, in a park, reading a required text for a credential I’d been passionately pursuing and seeking to alleviate what felt like inescapable suffering, and I felt guilty for it. Instead, I felt compulsively drawn to toss the book into my bag and sprint into the restaurant and start rolling silverware. That would be the virtuous thing to do, the unselfish thing. How dare I not work unpaid! If I didn’t help, then I risked being rejected. Yet, I also greatly resented that no one seemed to return the favor. I wanted to be the most helpful, but I also wanted help. I also wished others would show up early and stay late and do for me what I did for them, and when they failed to do so, well, it made me angry. I felt used, taken advantage of, and unappreciated. It led me to be less kind and more short tempered with the very people with which I’d been attempting to ingratiate myself.
Suddenly, it clicked. I’d been dishonest with myself about my motivations. I’d given my time and energy away at my own expense and no one had asked me to do so. I’d adopted the role all on my own and here was the real kicker. I’d done it for selfish reasons. I wasn’t helping because I wanted to serve my fellow man. I’d been taking on an extra workload so my fellow man would like me, and now I had less time to do the things I truly wanted to do, like study yoga. I couldn't calmly study and follow my dreams because I was too busy being a self appointed martyr. I knew I loved chips and dip, but I had very little insight into my own motivations. “Know thyself” broadened into “Know thyself well and thoroughly.” Know what you do and why and who you seek to benefit. Know yourself well enough to recognize that if you aren’t getting what you need, whether it’s acknowledgement or enough time to read in a park without a guilty conscience, you might need a new set of boundaries.
Fast forward a few years, I’d invited a boy (boy being the operative word here) that I’d been seeing casually to stop by my home once he’d finished playing pool with some friends. Within seconds of his arrival two things became blatantly obvious. Firstly, he was clearly intoxicated. Secondly, he’d driven. The relationship was young enough that I was certain our budding romance couldn’t withstand the collision of my hurricane of moral aversion and his curated apathy. I paused then thought to myself,
“Give the guy a break this once. His father is dying.” Then, in reverence to the time honored tradition of those who grow resentful, I said nothing. Instead, I kissed the boy whose pain seared so ferociously that consciousness and accountability were too harrowing to sustain for any duration.
Thus began the chain of events that led to a great deal of wreckage. It’s not even a plot twist, that a chunk of the wreckage was Sparticus, my reliable silver corolla that I’d planned to run into the ground. Looking back, it all seems so embarrassingly predictable. At times, I drew late and lenient boundaries around drinking and hard ones around driving, but it didn't prevent the car crash or the havoc because I hadn’t drawn the most important one of all. I hadn’t yet realized that if someone doesn’t have the capacity to choose actions which display a respect for human life including theirs, even if they have beautiful blue eyes and every reason to be angry with the card dealer in this game we’re all playing out, then their application to be my accomplice should immediately be stamped denied.
It’s a boundary. It’s a limit. It’s a decision you make to keep yourself safe. It's the line you draw to prevent resentment. It's recognition of the wisdom that while some of us may be intrepid, we are not impervious, nor are we the exception. Eventually, no matter who we are, if we lean too far in the direction of any one boundary, we will meet pain. I'm learning….. slowly…. that every backbend doesn’t need to touch my head to my toes. I don’t need to surrender my strength and support in order to open up my body and mind. Helping someone until I despise them is counterproductive. I can choose not to spend time with someone who fails to cherish human life, mine, theirs, or anyone else’s. I do not have to allow people entry to my heart and home and stories. I might decide to, but it is not required of me. These boundaries are mine.
The idea of yelling “free bird!” and crowd surfing away from responsibility remains alluring. Yet if I make the choice to hand over my body or my free will, then I may find myself mishandled or moving in a different direction than I'd hoped. Worse yet, history indicates I’ll probably get dropped on my head at some point. So instead, I practice standing with my feet on the ground, as counterintuitive as it may feel, standing still and holding steady and hoping that one day, it won't feel quite so scary. I hope that down the line someone looks at me, sees my soul and says “Damn, girl! You are solid!” and instead of scanning the room for exits or diving into the sea of irresponsibility, I’ll smile knowingly, wink for old time’s sake, and speak truthfully when I reply “Thank you.”