The Boundless Boundary

Lately I have been contemplating the relationship between boundary and freedom. One of the first lessons I learned in yoga is that freedom without boundary results in chaos and boundary without freedom leads to rigidity. One without the other creates imbalance.

Like a child, dependent on parents to teach appropriate boundaries, when I first began to practice yoga I did not have fully developed boundary systems and had to rely on my teachers and other experienced practitioners to protect me. I was extremely vulnerable and needed their protection to remain safe. This is how I learned to protect myself and choose safe ways to be vulnerable enough to go deeper into my practice.

Yoga taught me that boundary is not a limitation, it is a frame of reference. It is where we start not where we end up. When we learn to honor boundary we find freedom. When we don’t honor it we create limitation. This is the paradox.

One of the most intriguing aspects of boundary that I have experienced in my yoga practice occurs in handstand. As with all yoga postures there are stages of the posture and sequences that move toward greater refinement as well as difficulty. When I do handstand near a wall I am fearless because I know if I kick up with too much force the wall will catch me and keep me from falling over. When I have the wall as a reference point I am more easily able to find my balance in mid-air albeit for a nano second, but there I am. What’s even more amazing to me is when I don’t have a wall as a frame of reference, but have an experienced partner who can act as my wall, I make it into handstand fairly easily without fear.  Then when all he/she does is create a subtle boundary by placing a fingertip on the tip of one of my heels, I find my balance and can extend more fully into the handstand finding more freedom. I am able to hold the pose until I get too tired to do it any longer. Aside from the thrill of what I regard as an amazing feat in my practice, how does this have any practical application in everyday life?

Like an adolescent seeking autonomy, when we equate boundary with restriction, limitation, and loss of freedom  we rebel against it. We throw caution to the wind, mistakenly thinking that freedom is the ability to say and do whatever we want, whenever we want, however we want. In this frame of mind we tend to make immature rather than wise choices, ultimately creating more limitation for ourselves. Sometimes we even mistakenly call this rebellion against boundary “creativity.” Genuine creativity, however, requires discipline. We have to learn to master structure before we can become truly creative. Just like being in handstand, we need boundary to find our balance.

According to Pia Mellody, “Boundaries are invisible and symbolic energetic fields that have three purposes: (1) to keep people from coming into our space, (2) to keep us from going into the space of others, (3) to give each of us a way to embody our sense of “who we are.”

Boundaries are both external and internal. Our external boundary defines our physical space, allows us to choose our distance from other people, and enables us to give or refuse permission for them to come too close. Our external boundary also keeps our bodies from invading someone else’s space.

Our internal boundary protects our thoughts, feelings, and actions and keeps them functional. Honoring our internal boundary means taking responsibility for our thinking, feelings, and behavior and allows us to keep them separate from that of others. We stop blaming them for what we think, feel, and do. We also stop taking responsibility for the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others, which allows us to stop manipulating and controlling those around us.

When we go deep enough into our hearts we discover that our internal boundary is actually love. It is the core, the border, the outline, and the edge of life. We discover the patience, tenderness, gentleness, strength, passion, forgiveness, understanding, generosity, and joyfulness that exist within each of us. We experience our limitlessness, expansiveness, and boundlessness by exploring this boundary of the heart. We experience our connection to one another. When love is our frame of reference, we stop thinking of boundary as limitation. Since love is unbounded we experience its quality of boundlessness.

Nelson Mandela is an example of someone who used the boundary of prison to cultivate his awareness of the boundless boundary of love.  Ultimately love became his freedom and the freedom of an entire culture that had been locked in the prison walls of apartheid’s rigid restrictions and extreme limitation. This awareness required great discipline and tremendous sacrifice on Mandela’s part. It did not come without effort. It was not free. Like Nelson Mandela each one of us has the capability of stretching into the ever-expanding boundary of love to find more freedom.

Whether or not boundaries grant you greater freedom or create greater restriction depends on your state of consciousness. Are you driven by anger, fear, and limitation? Are you frightened and overwhelmed by the magnitude of life? Do you attempt to make your life small enough to feel safe or are you driven by love, joy, and a desire to become big enough and strong enough to endure a life that is rich and full of possibility? Which boundary do you choose to cultivate?

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4 responses to “The Boundless Boundary

  1. Jason Parker Johnson

    Conceptualizing boundaries in this way is very helpful! Thank you.

  2. You were the first person to teach me about boundaries, and I always have to work to use them to grow. Thanks for the good examples.

    • And there in lies the paradox – boundaries help us expand into our greatness. You are an excellent example of this truth.

  3. Tom Johnson MD, MBA

    Very insightful!!! Thank you for sharing your knowledge!


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