Invisible Borders ~ by Mo Henderson ~ part of the Borders, Boundaries and Barriers series.

This week, we continue our series on Borders, Boundaries, and Barriers with a very informative and enlightening piece by Mo Henderson, in which she outlines the work of Doctors Without Borders and how we, too, can live without borders.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) which translates to Doctors Without Borders was founded in 1971 in Paris by a group of journalists and doctors. Today, it has grown into a worldwide movement of nearly 68,000 people. They provide medical assistance to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from healthcare and are bound together by a charter guided by medical ethics and the principles of impartiality, independence, and neutrality. They are a non-profit, self-governed, member-based organisation and members agree to honour their charter principles, these include:

1  Providing assistance to populations in distress.

2 Helping victims of natural or man-made disasters and victims of armed conflict, irrespective of race, religion, creed or political convictions.

3 Having neutrality and impartiality in the name of universal medical ethics and the right to humanitarian assistance and claims to full and unhindered freedom in the exercise of its functions, while respecting their professional code of ethics and maintaining complete independence from all political, economic or religious powers.

4 Finally, as volunteers, members understand the risks and dangers of the missions they carry out and make no claim for themselves or their assigns for any form of compensation other than that which the association might be able to afford them.

I am deeply impressed by people who selflessly offer their service for others in this way, how do they move towards suffering, not knowing what to expect? Individually, they may have all kinds of reasons, but without their help, many would not survive.

Volunteering to go and help others you don’t know must be a particular kind of calling, and not everyone would deliberately seek such work. Those who choose to engage in humanitarian work in difficult conditions, such as war, famine, or natural catastrophe, and who consistently return to those conditions must be blessed by having cultivated specific virtues. For example, courage to take risks,  patience to be with difficult circumstances and the diligence to wholeheartedly be with the process, applying effort and hard work to protect the team and everyone in many different ways, while at the same time not abandoning the humanitarian principles illustrated in their charter.

The faith to do such work without knowing the outcome is essential to carrying on. Having the courage to continue this work is often supported by the reciprocal relationship, which survivors reflect through having their faith in humanity encouraged by experiencing the existence of human kindness, which seeks the good in people and being accepted despite their identity as allies, opponents, race, gender, religion or political convictions.

I never cease to be amazed when I see, on TV, acts of kindness within the most extreme struggles of war. People focusing wholeheartedly on rescue work, holding and hugging those who have lost loved ones and struggling to do the best they can for their families and friends, while all the time surrounded by the horrors of war.

In a sense this humanitarian example is comparable with what the Buddha taught, that suffering exists and there is a way of responding to it with practice in our daily life, the virtues described are not too far removed from the practice we as a community do our best to cultivate. We may not be called to travel to other countries and our daily life may not be so extreme, although relatively speaking we can experience wars of a different kind, where suffering can be created. With practice, our work could be viewed as becoming border less in a way that frees us to take risks, lessens the hold on grasping at identity and helps us to let go of the uncertainties of life. Having faith in the work that comes to us and making decisions to act, or not, needs courage and focus in order to do our best for all, not forgetting ourselves in this process. I don’t doubt the humanitarian work described is well supported by their organisation, educational training, and working teams. Similarly, the Three Treasures of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are, in our order, an essential foundation in the cultivation of enlightened training.

Thank you to all the helpers, whether it is consciously known or not.
With Bows

Without Borders ~ by Anna Aysea ~ part of the Border. Boundaries and Barriers Series.

We continue our theme of Borders, Boundaries, and Barriers, with a post from Anna Aysea, in which she talks about the borders, or lack of them, between self and others and how this is often experienced.

Statue by Julian Voss-Andreae
Statue by Julian Voss-Andreae

Walking into a room where there is a tense atmosphere, you can instantly feel the tension without anything being said. This is one of the ways our interconnectedness is manifested.

A newborn child has not yet developed a sense of a separate self and lacks the filters that come with it. A baby is highly sensitive and impressionable and is not yet able to differentiate between self and other. This changes during the process of socialization the child undergoes when growing up.

Due to a combination of predisposition and environmental factors, this high sensitivity can remain intact in adulthood. In that case, there are no filters in place and the emotions of others are experienced as the emotions of the self, that is, the emotions of others are experienced from the first-person perspective.

Up until around my mid-twenties, I believed that I was emotionally unstable. It was a surprise to discover that not all of the experienced emotions originated from this body-mind.

I used to have a recurring dream about doors. In the dream, I have locked all the doors of the house but somehow the locks don’t work and people can just walk in. They can even come in through the walls.

This borderless state where the feelings of others are experienced from the first-person perspective is confusing, to say the least. In the end, it doesn’t really matter where emotions like fear or anxiety are coming from. How you deal with them is the same in all cases: allowing the feelings to arise within the space of awareness, knowing that that space cannot be disturbed by whatever is arising within it.

When you start to notice a correlation between the arising of certain feelings and being in a particular situation, that insight gives you the freedom to walk away from these situations. The lack of filters as symbolized by the dream of the failing locks is less problematic by becoming more and more established in the space of awareness and the freedom that comes from gaining insight into particular situations.

Fences ~ part of the Borders, Boundaries and Barriers series ~ by Karen Richards

This week, Karen Richards explores the reasons that we have borders and boundaries and what life would be like without them.

My neigbour brought me samosas and birthday cake, left over from a party. We chatted, by my open front door, on a warm September evening. I invited him in and he thanked me but did not cross the threshold.

Instead, we ‘put the world to rights’, on the doorstep. He asked after my husband’s health and I about that of his mother and father.; an exchange of pleasantries. sincerely meant, we turned our talk to food and family, hopes and fears.

He told me he dreamed of a community in which we all came together to pool our resources in a common space, with a commonly shared garden in which to grow things, to sit and take time to talk to one another.  I smiled and said I had the same vision. That, when I look out of the bedroom window, and see the little patchwork squares of garden, each one sectioned off by larch lap fence panels, I sometimes want to rush out and flatten those boundaries to make one great quilt of land; to say, ‘Hey, let’s share this space, arrange it with benches and a communal vegetable plot, flowers beds and a little firepit to sit around, fairy lights and a games area for the kids”. A place to talk and laugh and not be islands, sufficient only to ourselves but to enjoy our oneness and interdependence.

We basked in this possibility for a while, as if we had just discovered something new and achievable but, when I eventually thanked him again for the food and closed the door, I went once more to my bedroom window and gazed on the very different plots of land below me. It was a nice idea but perhaps an unobtainable ideal. For, without boundaries, my wild, cottage-style patch would creep out into next door’s neat, minimalist garden and my energetic lurcher dog would torment Ruby, the cockerpoo, that lives at number 4. Watching the children playing and digging in the dirt would, perhaps, be an idyll to some and an annoyance to others. Would we live in utopian harmony, or would we come to resent that we did not have a space to call our own, unique to us, to express ourselves on our own terms?

Across the globe, there are bigger patches of land, each with its own borders. The inhabitants of these patches mostly live in harmony with those on the other side of the fence and some, sadly, do not. Some share the same space but are so different from one another that finding common ground is difficult. Others see beyond the differences and try to make it work.

Borders and boundaries have their usefulness. There is a protective nature to them that provides us with the privacy and peace to be ourselves. At the same time, they can compound the notion that we are separate from one another, becoming a barrier to seeing life as it truly is and enjoying the fruits of our oneness with all life. It is a lifetime’s work to flatten our own fences and enjoy that oneness. Better to start sooner than later.

I hope you enjoy this video.

Boundaries – part of the Borders, Boundaries and Barriers Series – by Chris Yeomans

This week, we begin a new series of posts on the theme of Borders, Boundaries, and Barriers. Our first post is by Chris Yeomans who writes about the dilemma of knowing when it is good to set boundaries and look to our own needs.

When I saw the headline in a Sunday supplement ‘Ten Ways to Improve Your Life’, I immediately turned to the article. I’m always up for ways of making things better.

The central advice seemed to be to learn to say no, or, as the author put it, to ‘focus on your non-negotiables.’

It sounds so easy. Ring-fence what is important to you and don’t allow others’ demands to impinge on those things. But the reality is that I struggle with this. I struggle to work out exactly what is important to me and whether it is worth making a fuss about. Is it more important to finish something I’m doing, or to go and help my husband sort out his computer muddles? Would it be good to cook something I like for dinner, even while knowing that other members of the family like it less?

Of course, what eventually happens is the build-up of resentment, which results in irritability or bad temper. It is all too easy to think ‘What’s good to do here?’ but to ignore the fact that meeting my own needs might be just as good to do as meeting the needs of other people.

Then there is “Do the next thing’ or ‘Do the work that comes to you.’ And this encouragement seems so often to be calling upon me to be endlessly unselfish and compassionate and to set my own needs and wishes aside. Because when I look at them closely, often what I want doesn’t really seem to matter that much. It doesn’t much matter what I eat, if my television programme is turned off or if I am interrupted in a task. In the big picture, none of it is really that important. Or is it?

So then we come to boundaries. I’m not sure that I’m terribly good at keeping my boundaries. I try so hard to be accepting, to be tolerant, to work on my ‘opinions’, to try not to have expectations. These are all good to do, of course. These are all fundamental to our practice.

But sometimes, perhaps I could reflect that, in order to be able to keep on giving out and doing things for others, I need occasionally to do things for myself. To feed my soul maybe. To give myself the strength to keep on keeping on. “Always going on beyond…’


Dew on the Grass
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