Life Is Too Short For Boundaries

May 6, 2011

When my third book came out in 2005, a new translation of The Book of My Life by St. Teresa of Avila, my agent flew out from New York to New Mexico to celebrate with me.  She joined me on air for radio interviews, helped make arrangements with the venue, introduced me at my reading and book signing, and even picked my outfit and styled my hair for the event.  It’s not as if we had received a big pile of money for the book – the advance was modest – but my agent is not an ordinary businesswoman.  She is someone who embraces the people in her life with frank and unsentimental devotion.

“Life is too short for boundaries,” she told me once.  This comment penetrated what small walls I had tried to build around my heart in the illusory effort protect myself and others.  I don’t even try anymore.

When I sit with grieving people, I sometimes find myself down on the floor scooping them into my arms while they wail, tears streaming down my own cheeks as I take the power of their pain into every fiber of my being.  This is not what they teach you in therapy school.  I don’t care.  It is the only thing that makes sense to me.  When someone calls out to me from the heart of the fire, the only possible response is to climb into the flames and burn with them there.  I have already been annihilated again and again.  I have nothing to lose.  Plus I know from experience that we will both be held safe in the invisible arms of grace.

If I encounter someone I know who has recently experienced a loss, I do not hesitate to go to them, to touch their arm if they are shy or embrace them in a bear hug if they are open, and express my sorrow at the death of their loved one.  I am not worried that they might cry in the grocery store aisle: their tears are the blossoms of their love.  I am not afraid that my gesture will remind them of their pain: I know that hardly an hour goes by when they are not thinking of their loved one, and my reaching out helps them feel like they are not alone in carrying the knowledge that this person mattered.

I choose this boundary-melting approach based on experience.  When Jenny died, I longed for others to acknowledge that she had lived, that I must have loved her with all my heart, that I’m bound to be missing her with a ferocious yearning.  It made me feel less exiled when a friend or even a virtual stranger reached out across the chasm of my silent suffering and said, “In this moment I am feeling your pain with you.”

This does not mean there are not arenas in which it is appropriate to behave with a little more restraint.  I do not recommending confronting your child’s teacher in line at the movies and demanding to know why he is failing algebra, for instance, or asking for medical advice from a doctor at a dinner party.  I have made the mistake of telling a therapist about my blog at the gym so that she could direct her grieving clients to it, while she was trying to concentrate on exercising.  It’s a fine line, sometimes, between disarming our own hearts and violating other people’s professional or personal sensibilities.  But I would rather make a mistake with love than miss a healing opportunity out of fear.

Life is too short for boundaries.

11 Responses to “Life Is Too Short For Boundaries”

  1. Living a life with an open heart was an intimidating endeavor for me at first. As a man, being that vulnerable scared me. But I’m learning that when my heart is open, I connect with others in a deeper way that benefits me too. I was expecting that. I can now see that living a life without boundaries is an important ingredient in community. I’m also seeing that life is sweeter too. Thanks for your beautiful post Mirabai!


  2. I like your blog. Wish I knew you in person. You sound wonderful.

  3. Yes, better to error on the side of concern or compassion than to error on the side of fear.. (I almost always sometimes say… :))
    Or perhaps better put, “Compassion is the natural response to seeing clearly (or perhaps feeling clearly)”….
    Thanks for the reminders and the beautiful heart thoughts Mirabai.
    Doug in Traverse City

  4. Babs said

    A dragonfly has been in the screen enclosure of my pool for several days. He is beautiful, irridescent turquoise, a color that cannot be replicated.
    I have enjoyed his beauty but, it is time for him to go or he will die.
    The enclosure is massive comparatively to his small size, yet it is still a cage.The food supply is adequate,many small bugs find their way in under the doors. Even lizards come and go. They all crawl.
    It is funny when you think of it, creatures that fly are thought of as free, but this dragonfly is not free.He does not crawl-he can’t fly out.
    He has explored the cage and has found no opening to the sky he so longs for.
    When I open the door will he find his way out or has he quit looking.
    Today the opening will come. Will he choose it?
    A hawk flew.
    He chose it anyway.

  5. Babs said

    Post script to the story.
    I went to close the door after the dragonfly had exited and noticed a wasp had entered.
    I did not perceive his beauty or appreciate his antics.
    He had the power to hurt me.
    I ran into the house and left him to find his own way.
    He did!
    I have much to learn!

    • Mirabai said

      Wow! I love how you see the lessons in these events, and especially in your own reactions to them. Good “witnessing” work! You write like a Haiku master.

  6. Claire said

    This reminds me of something one of the teachers I had during my Paramedic training said to our class as we were discussing long transports- she said “and then you lean over and you hold the hand of your patient, because after all of the work has been done, you will be just two human beings in the back of an ambulance, one of whom is scared, and tired, and hurt, and the best medicine you can give is to be another human being sharing that experience with them, with kindness and compassion” Life IS to short for boundaries.

    • What an amazing teaching to receive in a field dominated by training in how to DISCONNECT from your personal feelings. Or maybe EMS is changing. I fully support this position. Have you had opportunities to implement it? Thank you, sweet Claire, for these reflections. And last time I checked, your baby stool was still in the wash house at Lama! I hope you know how very much Jenny loved you and Elizabeth.

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