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Art Of Keeping Boundaries

Recent email from a friend: "As we get deeper into this momentum of communities and cross pollination, I'm wondering how to draw boundaries and not get sucked into random activities."

This is a fantastic question to hold around boundaries. :)

On one side, you have fleeting birds that keep on wanting to roam from one place to another to a third. In part, they hold a certain unconscious fear of dealing with the troubles and boredom that arises by staying put. Why get married when you can just date perpetually? :) They just want a lot of loose ties, because that doesn't require them to deal with the pain of others, or more accurately, expanding their compassion to hold the pain of others with equanimity. Such people just dig three feet here and three feet there, and never find water -- and as their merits deplete, they fall on the ground exhausted.

On the other side, you have serious "chipkoos" (as Guri calls it), who are so attached that they're afraid of losing what they have. They never venture out, and even when they do, they see everything through the same lens. Rich and famous people are often good examples of this. Even if you put a businessman in gift-economy setting, they are often thinking about return on investment. They never get to "return on equanimity", as Parag would say. I sometimes worry if I'm myself in this boat with Guri -- every year, I'm traveling for many months, and everyday I talk to her about death, just to remind myself to stay detached. :) For such folks, life gets stale. The whole ocean is flowing in its majesty, but I'm left watching my bucket full of water evaporating under my very eyes. It's a sad way to inflict misery on oneself.

So there are two questions to ask: is my heart big enough to stay put? And is my detachment strong enough to move on?

If we ask the wrong question in any situation, we arrive at the worst case scenario. You're attached with the good in your life and you keep running away from the worst. Then, solid misery is your inevitable destiny.

If we ask the right question, we head towards the best case scenario: give yourself the gift of being detached while also tuning into the freshness of the mundane. Then, you are no longer hopping around out of fear of pain nor are you clinging to stale merits of the past.

The problem arises when we don't have the capacity to hold the right question, and yet we want the benefits. Master Hua would call this "climbing on conditions". This is a subversive form of greed. We know we really aren't ready to serve in a particular situation, and yet we want the benefits that can potentially come out of it. That greed clouds our judgment and we go in, sub-consciously seeking the benefit, and then boom, we're stuck. The problem is exponentially more complicated when we are in a web of unwholesome connections. Say, my wife really wants to climb on a certain condition, and she doesn't see what my detached mind sees, what do I do? If I give in to her view, we both suffer; if I oppose, there's a fight; if I do nothing and hope for the problem to go away, I'm neither here nor there. It's a mess. And then multiply this by a whole web of confused views that govern my reality, moment by moment, and you can see the real problem. It's so vast, that it's so tempting to just "climb on conditions" and pacify our pain. :)

To address this, we must first be humble. Humble enough to see that we're in a royal mess, and that it is a result of a series of "climbing on conditions" moves that we ourselves have made. After that, acceptance: we learn the art of drawing boundaries. I say "art" because you want to put a boundary at the level of mind and matter, but not at the level of heart. "I'm sorry I can't help you in that way, right now, but I'll come back when the time ripens and I have sufficient capacity to live into the right question."

To your question about boundaries, it's an overwhelming yes. In fact, if we don't put any boundaries, we're seriously deluded -- or a Boddhisattva. :) We must put boundaries, with ourselves, with those around us, and with those we serve. The trick is to put the boundary skilfully, so you are saying "not right now" without wrapping yourself up in convoluted karmic situations.

Eventually, we cultivate enough inner resources to hold both of these questions. Then, we afford ourselves the option of seeing the situation objectively and responding with the right question for the right situation. Then, we're happy. Some wake up and some continue to serve others -- either way, boundaries are no longer constraints, but a stroke of color in a giant collage of love.

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