“Good fences make good neighbors.” Robert Frost
I listened intently as my client described how lousy his past week had been. Up to that point in our work together his progress had been steady, and his energy level had gradually increased. This week, however, he felt miserable, physically and emotionally.
I asked him if he could identify any factors that might have created the shift in his energy. He told me about some increased pressure at work and that he stopped doing his daily spiritual practice, something he had made a commitment to himself to maintain.
Suddenly, in the middle of our investigation, he changed the subject and began to tell me about a small drama unfolding with his neighbor. He shared that the adjacent boundary lines with this neighbor had never been clearly defined. Recently, the neighbor took it upon himself to mark the property line with some stakes according to his own interpretation.
The neighbor’s act annoyed my client. It also re-opened a can of worms that had been closed long ago. Although reticent, my client was ready to initiate a conversation with the neighbor. He wanted to clarify the property line question. What became strikingly curious to both of us was why he’d been willing to tolerate the unclear boundary for so many years.
I then pointed out what seemed like an interesting connection between his lousy week, stopping his spiritual practice and the property line issue with his neighbor.
I could see it in his eyes as it dawned on him that perhaps he had not clearly defined and stated the importance of his own internal boundary, in this case maintaining his spiritual practice. He unconsciously dropped something instrumental to his self-care in deference to the demands of his work.
How interesting that what was reflected in my client’s outer world was a projection of what was going on in his inner world. His irritation with the long-standing property line issue and the neighbor’s action came to light when he discovered that he crossed his own internal boundary and began to feel undesirable consequences. He was having a hard time “staking” off his own inner boundary and became aware of it when his neighbor took the initiative to stake off his.
With this profound awareness, the property line dispute began to look like a gift. We were both awed at the way things show up in life to offer valuable lessons.
What’s happening in your outer world that might point to an opportunity to learn something about yourself? Where are you crossing your own internal boundaries and projecting them as “problems” with the world?
Here are a few suggestions to help you clarify your own boundaries:
1. Look for the irritations in your own life. Where does it appear as if the problem lies outside of you? Take a look at what boundaries you might want to set for yourself.
2. It’s often not enough to just “set” your boundary; you need to communicate it as well. What good is having a boundary if no one knows about it?
3. Ask for help in maintaining your boundaries or your commitments to yourself. Can you enlist the support of a friend or loved one to help keep you on track?
4. Be flexible with your boundaries. Having a wall around you isn’t the goal. The intention of boundaries is to remind yourself that you deserve what’s important to you.
As the session came to a close my client knew what he needed to do, both inside and out. He was already seeing creative ways to address and resolve the conflict with his neighbor as well as reinstate the practices that kept him balanced and focused.
I could sense his relief in having the boundary lines clear after many years of tension. He went on his way feeling better and looking forward to living what he learned. Not only do good fences make good literal neighbors, they make us good neighbors within our self as well.
It’s YOUR life…imagine the possibilities!