If You're Alive, You Need Boundaries. Here's How To Create Them.

This post is going to be a bit more far-reaching than most.  I hope you'll stick with it.  We're going to talk about:

  • Strength
  • Life
  • Boundaries

Just to name a few threads.

Some of the ideas won't make sense right off the bat, but if you can hold them in the same conceptual framework, it'll change how you live your life.

I'll keep it as conversational as I can, but there'll be a bit of necessary nitty-gritty along the way.

That's part of the beauty of writing. 

It actually helps you organize your thoughts better. 

On a related note: that's why I write ongoing reflections on the books I read...in the margins, on notecards, on pieces of paper at the end of each chapter. 

It helps to anchor the ideas in my own cognitive map. 

And that's the point of reading anything anyways, right?

So here we go.

When you think of what the hell the definition for "life" might be, one of the first attributes is that it's self-sustaining. 

It aims to keep itself going.

This applies to single cells.  This applies to you.  This applies to populations of deer (a population is, after all, a sort of meta-organism).

Let's talk cells at the start.  They're simpler.

Kinda ; )

Draw a circle on a piece of paper, and you have a working start for understanding cellular function. 

But it's not a fixed thing, so much as a process.

What I mean is: the cell isn't just the stuff inside the circle.  And it's not quite the circle itself. 

A cell is more like the process that keeps that circle from being erased over time as you smear your hand back and forth over it.

At the root of it, what we call a cell is basically a process that maintains a bit of bounded stuff within a semi-permeable cell wall.  This wall provides a functional distinction between "cell" and "not cell."

(It's worth noting that the "cell stuff" is never the same stuff across time.  It flows.  The lines between "Self" and "other" get blurry.  This'll be important later.)

This is important information for the cell to know.

Without that knowing, the cell dies.


Well, how do you suppose a cell keeps itself going?

Fundamentally it needs to take in some stuff from outside and get rid of some stuff from inside

Now, it can't be all willy-nilly with this process. 

If it doesn't take in enough from the outside, it can't sustain itself. 

It turns out that nutrients are pretty useful.  And it can't generate those on its own.  It doesn't live in a vacuum. 

But if it takes in too much outside stuff, it bursts. 

(By the way that's why salt water fish can't live in fresh water, and vice versa.  Their cells die.  And because they're made up of cells, they die.)

There's a Goldilocks point of in and out.

Ok, so who cares?

Well, you do hopefully. 

Because you're not so different from a cell. 

Structurally you're kind of like a tubular cell.  Stuff comes in one end and out the other.  Of course your semi-permeable membrane (including skin and digestive tract) is a bit more complex.  But at the end of the day you go through the same balancing act of taking in and sending out, just like the cell. 

You (the "self") need to be able to assimilate parts of your environment ("other") and integrate them into your being.  Food, water, ideas...each of these gets digested and incorporated into your Self.  And like the cell, you can't do this randomly.  You need some diligence.

So how the hell do you figure out what's "self" and what's "other" in the first place?

One of the most fundamental ways is through movement.

Movement establishes an embodied sense of you-in-relation-to-everything-else.  That's hyphenated because it needs to be.  There aren't distinctions between those things in your cognitive maps.

An infant learns about what's "self" and what's "other" through movement.  Those early spinal movements start to develop a mental map of the bodyweight centers' relative positions in space. 

Every instant of tactile contact provides more information for it to map out the relationship of self-within-the-world.  The relationships between things are SO damn important.  The relationships between things are more real and more important than the things themselves.

I wish I could download from my brain into yours how crucial this is.  I'm trying, but words only get us so far.

One of the clearest signals the infant gets of self vs other is when he pushes into that surface and gets pushed back.  For example: when he pushes his belly into the ground and is able to raise his head to look around. 

That's massive.

Without the ability to yield and push into the "other" that is the floor, that infant wouldn't be able to generate the strength to lift his head.  Strength doesn't exist in a vacuum. 

If something is going to come up, something else needs to go down. 

That's a basic application of physics.  If you want to reach higher, you need to sink lower.  If you want to push harder, you need to root deeper.

Your embodied understanding of "self" and "other" is crucial for how you make your way through the world.  

You know what causes weakness?  As in, both physical and emotional weakness?

A lack of (understanding of) boundaries and relationships.  An inability to distinguish between "self" and "other" and make use of that difference.  

If I want to rip a fully loaded bar from the ground, I need to have intimate awareness of how my feet contact the ground and how my hands contact the bar.  I can't blend into it like a pile of mush.  I need an understanding of where my bones are relative to the floor so that I can create maximal leverage.

If I want to be strong within a relationship, I can't be a codependent, cowering, flimsy person.  I need an embodied sense of self.  I need to be able to put my foot down and stand my ground (hey, embodied metaphor!)

The breakthrough comes when you understand that these aren't separate things.

The physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, and whatever the hell other -al's you can think of are merely aspects of the whole.

It's perpetually a case of the blind men and the elephant.

It doesn't make logical sense. 

But our organismic being is older than logic.  It's under no obligation to make logical sense to us.  There's a process of wholeness that we're only beginning to understand.

So look, words can only convey so much.  But with that theoretical foundation in place, you might be in a better place to explore these practices and get an actual feel for it.  Try these out:

That's a lot to digest, but I'd love to hear whatcha think,