October 29, 2013

Boundaries & the Spiritual Path: What’s the Right Approach?



Dear Wisdom Heart,
Could you please comment on the difference between:

Wisely stepping out of one’s comfort zone into more openness to life/Wisdom Heart consciousness versus a lack of healthy, loving, personal boundaries?

Where is that edge? For me, maintaining healthy, peaceful, and strong enough personal boundaries is often more of a challenge than not being vulnerable enough.

Thank you,


Thank you, M for this deep question—it brings to mind an old yogi story.

Once upon a yogi time . . .

The wandering sage Narayana was seated in meditation at the edge of small village. As he opened his eyes, returning to everyday awareness, he found himself face-to-face with a large cobra.

The snake spoke, “Oh, Narayana, please instruct me in the practice of yoga.”

The guru was delighted by the request and began by explaining a foundational principle of the spiritual life: ahimsa.

“Ahimsa is the non-violent stance of the spiritual seeker,” he explained,

“It is a way of relating to life with openness, curiosity, and mindful presence. By adopting the attitude of ahimsa, you will be able to meet all that arises with loving awareness; you will learn much and create a minimum pain or suffering.”

Narayana explained that ahimsa is an essential practice for all yogis and particularly for a cobra, whose very body was created and conditioned to strike out with violence and venom.

The snake thanked Narayana and slithered away into the dense undergrowth that ringed the village.
The sage stood up and continued his pilgrimage, as he never rested more than three days in any single location.

A year, passed…and Narayana, again found himself approaching the same village.
“I wonder how my cobra disciple is faring; and how his spiritual practice is developing,” he thought to himself.

Just then, the sage heard a groan rising from behind a nearby tree.

Following the sound, Narayana discovered his disciple cowering in the dirt. The cobra’s body was bruised and battered; his sharp teeth were shattered; and his left eye was swollen shut.

“What has happened to you?” the sage exclaimed.

“Oh, guru-ji,” the cobra lisped through broken teeth, “You would have been so proud of me. I took up the practice of ahimsa with great dedication. When the young boys of the village threw stones at me, I smiled.”

The cobra continued: “They were surprised by my new gentle demeanor and came closer carrying sticks. But, I continued to smile and welcome them. They struck me and beat me; they kicked me and tied me in knots; they broke my teeth and bruised my eye. But, I didn’t bite or strike back.”

“Oh, my disciple,” Narayana shook his head, “I told you not to bite. I didn’t say you shouldn’t hiss.”

Okay…how does this relate to you, your practice, your life?

Here’s how: you can hiss.

Yep—you can protect yourself from forces that would harm you. How you protect and the attitude with which you protect—these are what make the difference between a health loving stance and a defended one; between a generative boundary and a contracted one.

You’re going to have boundaries.

On the earth plane, boundaries and distinctions are part of the game. So, what’s the difference?

  • In the defended stance, you set up boundaries to protect your self and those you love from life.
  • In the wise and loving stance, you set up boundaries to protect yourself and those you love for life.

The defended stance pits you against life.

Whatever arises on the other side of the boundary is alien; unlike you and threatening to your very existence.

The wise and loving stance places you in the midst of life.

Protected by wise and loving boundaries, you maintain your connection with the aliens. They can still puzzle you—but they don’t threaten. Rather than generate fear, the presence of the aliens triggers curiosity and interest.

But, this doesn’t mean that you smile if the stones start flying.

Being for life includes being for your body, mind, emotions and circumstances.

If others approach with sticks—hiss. Bare your teeth. Flash your claws. And do so without anger; without painting the aliens as your enemy.

They’re not threatening you; they’re enacting their conditioning.

Wise boundaries allow you to see the suffering underneath their violence.

You see how fear and inner fragmentation are expressed in mental, verbal, and physical violence. You see how their inability to meet this inner suffering perpetuates their defensive stance towards the world.

You see how easy it would be to follow their lead; how easy it would be for you to shift from hissing to biting; to meet their defensive, suffering-fueled actions with your own.

Seeing this, with clarity and without blame, allows you to love and strengthen the boundaries that honor your deepest values and act in ways that embody those values.

All of these perceptions and processes happen in the blink of an eye. When the sticks and stones fly, you don’t have time for reflection. That’s why it’s important to do two things:

1) Become established in meditative awareness
2) Become a student of how defensiveness arises in your body

Through daily spiritual practice, you establish meditative awareness as the default mode of your perception.

You learn how to reside in loving awareness and witness thoughts, emotions, sensations rise and fall.

This capacity makes it possible for you to study the signature thought/emotion/sensation patterns that arise when you shift into defensiveness. As you study these patterns of defensiveness and reactivity, you discover something wonderful.

Your patterns of defensiveness and reactivity are marvellously redundant.

Even if the situations that trigger the defensiveness change – the reactive pattern of thought/emotion/sensations don’t.

This is particularly true at the bodily level of sensations.

The somatic signature of your reactivity repeats itself with virtually no variation.

It’s an automated response that flows through a well-grooved neural pathway and arises as a signature pattern of sensations.

Whenever this pattern arises, the tendency is create reactive, contracted, fear-based boundaries. This pattern is the signature of a defensive stance. You can count on that.

Combining meditative awareness with the study of your defensive patterns, allows you to dissolve defensiveness—as it arises. And to then cultivate the boundaries that allow you to serve, create, and enrich life.

And by life, I mean—your life and the lives of all the aliens you encounter on your path.

So, my dear cobra . . . what does this suggest to you? Share your comments in the comments below.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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