One of the biggest challenges of life is the struggle to understand boundaries. Everywhere we meet another person, every social encounter we have, we meet boundaries. What is my boundary – what am I comfortable with? What is your boundary – can I understand and recognize your boundary? Will you understand and recognize mine? How do boundaries shift? When do they stand here and when do they stand there?
The process of growing up is a process of learning about boundaries. In those three first precious years of childhood, each child learns an enormous amount about boundaries. She learns where she begins and the Other begins. She learns about boundaries of space and time as she learns to stand upright, to move forward, to adjust to the rhythms of life. She starts to learn about social boundaries – what to do when, how to behave. Throughout this time, she is totally enfolded within the Madonna Cloak, that etheric link which binds each mother (birth or otherwise) to her children. Via this link – which can also be viewed as a boundary – a child starts to find her place in the world. She starts in the long road to Becoming Human. At this stage of life, this learning is unconscious – and so it must be in order to provide a firm foundation for later conscious learning.
My suspicion is that when the Madonna Cloak is severed prematurely, when children are thrust out into the world and out of the nurturing aura of the Madonna Cloak, that one of the profound things which happens is that they begin to have great trouble with boundaries. Their mother – their matrix, their foundation – is not present and they thus are thrown back onto their own resources and own undeveloped Selves to orientate themselves. They must,necessarily, become more conscious in their orientation to life and thus they miss out on some of the foundational basis of their early stages of development.
Looking around at the general health and well being of modern day children builds this suspicion of mine. Enormous numbers of children manifest challenges ranging from autism to sensory integration issues, from attachment disorders, to attention deficits. All of these conditions or pictures of challenges have to do with boundary issues. Who am I am who are you? Where do I end and you begin? Am I able to interact peacefully with the environment and those around me or do I feel threatened, overstimulated, invaded? Ours is a society that values early separation of children from parents and which undermines the healthy growth of children by side stepping those kinds of activities which strengthen the child’s sense for boundaries – ie physical, grounded, non intellectual and imitative work which involves the whole body. The highest praise one can heap on a child is to admire how alert, how clever, how conscious, she is. Can there be no link between the way we as a society raise our children and perceive them and how they turn out?!
In the first 7 years each child must find her relationship to boundaries by learning where the boundaries are. By being with mama (or another committed adult family member) a child learns how to be in the world. She learns about cooking, about caring for the home, about taking a walk and visiting neighbors, about caring for pets and a garden….She learns by doing, by imitating and by being immersed in the loving presence of an adult who cares about her as an individual. A boundary she also must learn is the one which lets her know that although she is important, she is not the center of the universe. She starts to learn how to interact socially with others.
As she grows, she finds her boundaries between the in and out breathing of the rhythms of her life. Rhythmic play, a well ordered homelife, and an artistic rhythm of sympathy and antipathy as she learns about the world continue, in the second phase of childhood (7 – 14), to help her learn about boundaries. She now has an increased sense of Self and is rightfully moving toward increased consciousness. She has learned further lessons about boundaries. Childhood games, the rough and tumble of play and of sports, the interaction with people outside of the family, all teach her about boundaries. Parents who discipline clearly and with compassion and understanding help enormously in this. Discipline which is too rigid is as bad as lack of clarity about rules or having parents who give in at the slightest provocation. Children need firm discipline so that they can push up against boundaries and internalize lessons they need to learn.
And in the last stage of childhood (14 – 21)? Suddenly there seems to be as much to learn about boundaries as there was in toddlerhood. The question “who am I” becomes more poignant, to the fore for every teen. Intellects can stretch endlessly or seem disappointingly cramped; emotions can soar out of control; and the body that was a friend suddenly can seem an inhospitable and strange place. Now is the time for children-who-are-becoming-adults to be conscious. But so many were pushed into premature consciousness that now they run from it, numbing their consciousness with computers, music, shopping or other drugs. It can take a lot of time for a young person to heal sufficiently so she feels she can be truly conscious and in the world. Boundaries can help with this. These can be terrible years for teens if they do not continue to find the boundaries that they need. Parental clarity, honest and compassionate communication and firm boundaries for behavior are all necessary for teens so that they can find themselves in relation to the outer world. Without boundaries they are lost. And when one is lost, one often seeks to avoid the pain by numbing one’s consciousness.
Obviously, the need to understand boundaries does not end when one crosses the great threshold at age 21! As adults we continue to bump up against boundaries for as long as we interact with other people – for as long as we are alive. Who am I – where do you begin and I end – this question takes on new meaning as we create our homes with our partners and move, sometimes gracefully, sometimes awkwardly, through life. And when we become parents?! All I can say is that if we don’t consciously address these questions, if we don’t consciously strive to understand the new boundaries that surround us, then we are sunk! Those boundaries, instead of being social guides, can become prison walls. Where do I begin and end and my husband, my children, begin and end ? Who am I? Who am I as me? Who am I as a spouse? Who am I as a mother? We must be conscious about these questions and face them with candor and honesty.
Being clear about boundaries is critical to our well being. But in adulthood there is a change – there is no one to give us boundaries or to define them for us. We are alone. Sure – we have our partners, our friends. But ultimately, it is down to each of us to answer these questions for ourselves. And now, in the freedom and full consciousness of adulthood, we can truly look within and find the larger outer worlds, the spiritual worlds, where we can find the answers to some of our questions. In our “lone-ness” we can now find that which connects us, across the boundaries, to the divine in all of life. Boundaries can take on a new meaning. But we must be fully conscious in our humanness to do this work.
Then the answers which we find can bring meaning and fulfillemtn to our everyday lives, as we struggle to identify, meet, embrace and understand boundaries.
Posted on April 21, 2009 in Family Life and Parenting