Relationships are difficult. They are messy, uncomfortable, unpredictable and profoundly moving all rolled into one. We struggle to keep our own identity while opening our hearts to the possibility of letting someone in.
Everyone talks about boundaries and I wanted to look at this word in relation to our attachments. I like to think of a boundary like the wall of a cell. It is a semi-permeable barrier that regulates what comes in and out of the cell. Some things pass easily and quickly through, while bigger things need to be assisted or regulated, depending on the needs of the cell.
I find many social interactions, that don’t have much emotional charge, are like the small ions that pass in and out of a cell. I smile at the person at the counter in Starbucks, I hold the elevator door for the lady with the cane. Many small engagements come and go, leaving no strings of emotional attachment in my self.
Other things bump up against my barriers with more of a struggle. I debate internally over whether I need to open up, or push away. A sick friend wants company overnight, my mother asks me to listen to her struggles with my Dad, my daughter calls and asks advice about her boyfriend for the millionth time. These are like the big proteins that a cell has to decide whether to let in or not.
Do I need this right now? Is this something that has worth to me? Do I need to be generous with my time and energy or conserve my resources? Is this person or thing I am being asked to do, worth it from a more global system perspective? Does the need of the whole organism supercede my own personal wants just for now? How do I stay in balance with all of this? Do I sacrifice myself as a cell might, for the greater good? Do I shut down and isolate myself but give up the relationship to the bigger picture?
A boundary that is impermeable and unchanging does not meet the needs of the cell. If the walls are so thick that nothing can get through, the cell slowly dies. In the same way, if there is no barriers at all, and everything can move freely in and out, the cell loses its ability to function or have integrity.
Biologically, cells are amazing. They have developed special channels, protein gates, lipid barriers, and all sorts of ways to check and balance the needs of the cell with the environment it finds itself in. I am in awe of the complexity and marvelous precision with which our millions of cells manage this process every minute of every day.
I am only beginning to realize and create my own such system. Through trial and error I am finding a way to build my own channels, test the environment and see what I want to let in or out of myself in this moment, build my own semi-permeable barrier, find my integrity.
My relationships help me do this. The hard ones, the painful ones, the wonderful ones. The experience of longing and loss, the feelings of love and connection, and everything in between. This is all helping me be aware of my own internal environment, and how I want to relate to the external world.
So, upon reflection, I am grateful for every experience. It is helping me create my boundaries. I am learning to place myself in more wholesome and healthy environments, where the things I need and want to let in, are there waiting for me to open up and ask for them.
We are very like a cell, in our whole being. As above, so below. The macrocosm is like the microcosm kind of thing. I like to think of it this way, as it helps me understand that boundaries do shift and change. Sometimes we need more nutrients, and sometimes we have more waste to discharge. Sometimes we need to open up our gates and let some bigger things in, and sometimes we need to close the doors and recharge.
Hope this analogy helps you to think about your own boundaries, and your own unique wants and needs. Also, how you exchange and interact with your environment.
Here’s to having healthy and functioning cell walls!