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Drawing Boundaries, With Compassion And Skillfulness

In our circle, we have a participant who disrupts the spirit of what we're trying to do. As a "ladder", I'm trying to be inclusive, but what are your thoughts on boundaries?

Boundaries are certainly necessary at times. However, I would hold a question around the intent.

Typically, we draw a boundary out of frustration. This is a lose-lose situation, because we don't feel good about it and the other person leaves feeling excluded -- and will likely repeat that pattern with someone else. If we are not mindful during this process, it just leads to coercion and externalizes so much pain onto society.

However, we can also draw boundaries with a heart of compassion. For instance, if someone is indulging in a self-defeating pattern by greedily grabbing resources from the commons of a circle, we can resist for the benefit of *that* person -- because if that individual keeps up that pattern, sooner or later, he/she will be completely isolated and that's not something to wish onto anyone. This was the foundation of Gandhi's entire movement, for instance.

Of course, in some moments, we may be neither here nor there. Drawing a boundary is necessary right then, but we aren't feeling so magnanimous. In those times, it has always helped me to remember what I once shared with a friend going through a divorce -- all that doesn't end in love will continue to repeat itself, until it ends in love. Ending isn't the challenge; sooner or later, everything will end, whether we like it or not. The challenge is the love part. We want to close with love. If we are feeling ill-equipped to do so in a particular situation, we can draw the boundaries by saying, "Not now". That is to say, "I'm drawing this boundary today and it's not out of compassion, but I'll return someday with stronger inner capacities."

The reason why this heart of compassion is important is because it is directly proportional to our skillfulness.

When compassion arises, we feel connected and the noise of our mind quiets. In that connected stillness, we can see things much more clearly. That seeing allows us to address situations in its early stages. As Master Hua once said, "Off by an inch in the beginning, off by ten thousand miles at the end." If we are putting out fires when things are blowing up, we are simply reacting at the ten thousand mile level. But compassion allows us to catch things in the inches. A subtle nudge and a subtle nudge there, and the complication never comes to bear.

One of the most common places where this shows up for a change-maker, and particularly a "ladder", is not seeing mixed-up motivations. At an individual level, I may be volunteering partly to build my resume, partly because my trusted friend recommended it, partly because I'm lonely and want to build connections, partly because I want to learn something new, partly because I want to change myself. That's natural. But when we have twenty such people volunteering together, say at a Karma Kitchen, and everyone has multiple motivations, how do we ensure that we are leading with inner transformation? That's a very significant job of any ladder that's holding space, but our skillfulness is directly dependent on how much we are able to see -- individually, collectively, and in its dynamic emergence.

As we start a project, if we are too idealistic, we likely won't have the breadth of engagement. (Unless you want to put up a sign that reads: Only Saints Can Apply, LOL) On the flip side, if there is no values-alignment, the spirit of the circle will feel very diffused and there will be no regeneration. As a project matures, we have similar issues but with different manifestations. Too much idealism and there'll be an echo chamber. Too much "mobiosity", and there will be no core to anchor the values.

It requires a skillful balance. Finding that dynamic balance requires inner work. This inner cultivation is about cleansing the mind, so we don't act with a pre-conceived agenda; free from any outcome bias, we are tuned into the "inches" of the process with clarity. Combine that skillfulness, that is borne of practice, and we are equipped to "ladder" the group.

A good ladder isn't someone who is always in the back or always in the front, but rather someone with a nimble mind who can frictionlessly go to the front as a leader, stay in the back as servant, or be in the middle as an everyday hero. The key there is frictionless-ness, which again is borne of a mind that is connected and still.

When we start projects, we have to provide leadership and set the culture. If, in the name of humility even, we shy away from that role, we will create a vacuum and other greedy voices may happily fill up that vacuum with their intent. Then, as the space holder, we are stuck in a fundamentally defensive posture -- reactively fighting fires instead of proactively reinforcing values. Of course, if we hang onto that leadership position too long, we will create a dependency and limit the many-to-many potential of the group. So the real trick is to be fluid -- which is a function of our internal resources combined with the external systemic design.

The best part of this process is that all our inner complexes come to the surface. I'm not enough or I'm arrogant; I'm too subservient or I'm too bossy; I'm too dependent or I'm too isolated; the list goes on. If I look at my journey, it wasn't very native for me to lead, give talks, take meta-decisions and all that jazz. Yet, in my late teens, I stumbled into love. I saw its might, felt its affinity in my consciousness, and surrendered to it. I decided to do whatever it takes to add an extra drop of love in the world. So when I was in front of a crowd and worried if I would look like a fool (see CNN story) or when I would start an "impossible" project and be worried that I would be a laughing stock of all the naysayers, I would just ask myself, "Is this about you? Or is this about love?" When it's about love, it gives us a quiet kind of fearlessness. At least for me, I can say that I never dissected my inner complexes -- I just overrode them with my love of humanity, and much to happy surprise, I noticed that the complexes just dissolved themselves. Almost as if they were never real, to begin with. :)

So yeah, draw boundaries if necessary, and do it with as much compassion as possible. Along that journey, our heart of compassion will help us see more, and our practice of serving will make us more skillful. Then, we'll just do what's needed, in the spirit of love. If it's dishes, great; if it's leading, great; if it's being anonymous, great; if we have to struggle and suffer, great; if it's a bumpy ride, great; if it's hard work, great; if it's effortless, great. There's no room for an agenda because every part of the process is the outcome. It's all great, because it's all for love.

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"Service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take."

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