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…’