The way growth works for me is that an idea is sparked-- by an experience, an interaction, a problem-- and this idea or question becomes so interesting that I need to turn it over and over, like kneading dough. And like the dough, there are in-between times, when the question needs to rest and rise anew on its own. As I turn over this idea, I write about it, I ask my friends or family for their opinions, I do some internet research, I meditate on it. And slowly, in fits and starts, meaning grows, a satisfying plateau is reached that feels right. Rilke wrote:
“...I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear Sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
- from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (translation by M.D. Herter Norton)
So this "kneading the dough" feels very much like living the question, living along into the answer...or some part of an answer. For me, the interesting idea du jour is about boundaries and protection.
Some background: I have found over the course of my life that I am a pretty sensitive person, perhaps even a Highly Sensitive Person (that's a thing!). I know this because I have been told many times that I am sensitive or "too sensitive." And I know this because I feel deeply and am affected a lot by other people's words and moods. Often this is wonderful, because is has to do with having sensitivity to other people's needs and feelings, and being intuitive about what is required in certain situations. And often it feels terrible, as if I am walking out into the world each day with skin that is much too thin, being so easily affected, confused, and overwhelmed by what's around me.
As I think about this, I can see a pattern in my life where I have been very affected by other people. I have had intense friends, dynamic family members, co-workers with strong personalities, and while none of this is bad (these relationships have often been very rewarding), I see a pattern of myself suffering in these relationships. This suffering can feel like being overtaken, smothered, or continuously poked, and can lead to anxiety, panic, and resentment...and then, often to feelings of guilt and frustration-- "Why am I like this? Why are they like this? Why can't things be easier than this?!" In these times, it's easy for me to feel like I am a victim, like I'm being attacked. Because I feel attacked, it can be difficult to remember that most times, no one has any intention of hurting or overwhelming me. They are just being the way they are, and I'm being the way I am...and the combination of our default styles of behavior happens to be tough for me.
AND...I can't change other people. No matter what I think or how attractive that idea sounds, it isn't right and it isn't productive to try to change the way other people are. Soooooo, that leaves me! It is in my hands to reflect on and be curious about my own reactions and responses.
In my reading, in my kneading, I have often worked on being more assertive, on communicating my needs, on setting boundaries and saying no. All of these methods have helped. And at the same time, for me, there is sometimes a sense of rigidity around this-- like I am building a wall and guarding it tightly. It can be exhausting.
Recently I've become interested in the idea of taking time and intention to simply engage what I already know: that I am safe within myself, that I am integrated and whole just as I am...no matter what comes my way on purpose or inadvertently. I am usually not big on visualizations, but in reading about shielding meditations, I have found some ideas that speak to me. The concept of a shielding meditation is to imagine a protective shield, egg, or bubble around you. This shield is seamless and unbreakable. Its material allows love, empathy, understanding, and all good energies to pass through. Anything that is not for you and all negative energies glide harmlessly off its surface into the earth.
I'm sharing about this because I've used this visualization a few times now, and felt very positive effects. At first I felt a little guilty about this-- as if I was building protection against someone. But actually, it is simply for me, in support of me and my own energy. Rather than feeling this shield as a barrier between me and the person I'm interacting with, I walk into the situation feeling whole and safe already. This allows me to interact fully and warmly, without holding back for fear of being overtaken or attacked. It has me feeling self-assured so that there isn't a need for defensiveness. So this protection for me, this engaging of my own sense of agency and sufficiency, helps improve my relationships, rather than setting up a wall. "Good fences make good neighbors." Robert Frost might not agree, but that's ok. ;)
Here's how I've been using this: In my formal meditation practice, I have been leaning toward compassion for others and self-compassion. I've been doing this on my own mostly in the morning, or listening to guided meditations by Dr. Christopher Germer and Dr. Kristen Neff. Then, before I leave for a meeting or other interaction, or in the car when I'm parked, I spend a few minutes with a meditation that I wrote:
Breathing in and breathing out.
I am right here, supported by the earth underneath me, beloved by so many on earth and in my heart. I am enough, just as I am.
I sense now my shield of protection, a beautiful, seamless bubble that cannot be broken, within which I am safe.
I am safe.
Love can freely pass here, compassion and understanding, too.
Anything that is not for me cannot pass. Any damaging energy harmlessly glides off the surface of my shield and is neutralized by the earth.
I am safe and strong.
For me, this meditation is effective partly because it begins by bringing me into this space and time ("I am right here"), and reminds me of the bigger picture of support in my life, that I am not alone ("Beloved by so many"). I recorded this on my phone and I like to just close my eyes and let it play. It's definitely not a professional recording, but I want to share it here in case it's useful. I'm really excited about this new tool in my "happiness and wellbeing toolkit!"