Saturday, November 11, 2006

Pema Chodron on Barriers vs. Boundaries

I think that I have been given faulty information on what constitutes good boundaries over the years, so it's refreshing to read Pema Chodron's take on it. Too often, "having good boundaries" is about closing oneself off to alternate or conflicting information. Chodron sees this as setting up barriers rather than having healthy boundaries.


Pema Chödrön Transforming Confusion into Wisdom
City Retreat | Berkeley Shambhala Center
Fall 1999

Let me address this question of: What's the difference between dissolving the barriers and setting good boundaries?

This came up in some of the discussion groups, and this question also comes up —you won't be surprised— in many of the places where I do this teaching. I've given this some thought —and I've heard a lot of other people's views on this too, so I've been educated by other people's thinking on this. Currently, this is my answer, and I'm sure it's a work in process.

I feel that setting boundaries, good boundaries —the intention of that— is to allow for communication to happen. And, barriers are shutting down communication.

To set good boundaries takes a lot of courage. And you have to be going through this process of acknowledging your pain, and also what triggers you, and acknowledging how much you can handle and how much you can't handle. Theres already a lot of courage that's gone on in coming to the place of setting boundaries. But, the intention is to make communication clearer.


A barrier is this turning away and staying stuck. There's ignorance involved in barriers. Maybe that's one of the main ingredients of the ego and the self-centeredness, or the barriers, cocoon— however you say it— is ignorance: not really looking at what's going on.
When we set a clear boundary, we are clear within ourselves on where we stand. We can hear conflicting information, opposing points of view, and not feel threatened or shaken. We feel centered.

But many of us confuse clear boundaries with setting up barriers, with just saying, "This is what I believe, so leave me alone." This position is closed to new information, new perspectives, or to the natural flow of change. If feels safe because it protects the ego from having to risk exposure to a different way of being.

But if we are truly centered in what we know and believe, we do not feel threatened by alternate views. We may even be open to hearing what others think with the stance that maybe there is something to learn.

I have found myself setting up barriers in some parts of life, and I have struggled with others who confuse barriers for clear boundaries. While I try to maintain an open mind, there are still things my ego doesn't want to hear. And this is why I meditate, so that I can see those moments when my ego is feeling threatened while they are happening instead of allowing myself to get defensive and fall into barrier creation.

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