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October 16, 2019

Ahimsa: My Boundaries are a Garden Wall {Chapter 1}

*Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a series—lucky you. Head to the author’s profile to continue reading.


I woke up so pissed off today. I dreamt that a little girl couldn’t be helped. She stared at me and I was helpless. It scared me awake. I think it was my internal alarm clock because I didn’t want to be sleeping more than I was.

I have a lot to do in the day besides moan about.

I have been really emotional these past few days. It’s like, a real Sadness, a physical sadness in my tummy. It feels like a scared bunny is whimpering in there. Feels like my internal organs turned to sand and weightlessly, like they never had anything to do with me, slipped down the path of least resistance and escaped out of a hole in me to another dimension. It feels like sadness crawled in where my stomach was, and I can tangibly feel it crying there.

And today anger overlays the sadness. I brought the milk cup for my coffee upstairs without any milk in it. Fuck. When I filled it up, I spilled it immediately. Like, 3 oz of milk somehow cover the entire kitchen. I swore loudly again. The cat ran to the basement.

I took a moment to remember how ridiculous all of this is, but the anger is stubborn like an adult.

When I get like this, I don’t know a lot. I can’t focus, I can’t recall facts, I don’t care to be logical. It’s like waking up in a pile of leaves in the middle of the woods unable to remember how I got there. I follow a tried and true path to my sanity. The first rule is to make decisions to lull me out of listlessness. The second rule is to follow through with those decisions. The third rule is nothing goes according to plan. The fourth rule is to not react when the plans and decisions bust. That’s what I’m working on today.

It’s hard to write because these demons, I imagine, stand in my way, taunting me, threatening me, holding my pussy over their heads and chiding me to jump for it. Still, I compose myself through writing; I don’t want to learn to control my emotions like a cyborg. I want to swim in them like a mystical Pisces princess thriving in my natural habitat.

I’ve been a writer since I could scrape clay rocks against suburban cement; I’ll be damned if I let these weak fucking imaginary beings get in my way. Anxiety-inducing memories are nothing but cartoon demons with my rapists’ faces pasted on like an Adult Swim animation. Fuck that. I’m the writer; I decide what happens. The demons put down my desires and scamper away into the woods to do nothing forever.

I will always be an emotional person. I will not give that up because I know that’s where my strength is. It’s time to be stronger.

I thought of my boundaries as a chain-link fence, like the kind that border government property you come across on a hike. Barbed wire wrapped in live wire. On the other side of that fence weird shit happens, like aliens and banshees and a scary door.


I’m changing the story. I’m the writer, I decide.

Now my boundaries are a vertical garden I maintain every day. I make my home in the center. I choose more welcoming scenery. I want my boundaries to be liberating, not a haunting zone I labor to steer folks from finding in me. In a garden, I can choose to step outside my comfort zone and maintain from there if I want to, and I can retreat back inside at my discretion. I adjust and prune and regulate like a gardener in any garden. Whatever works, whatever is best.

I build my boundaries with the ten Yamas and Niyamas—a universal code of conduct outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Yamas apply to our relationship to other people and our environment, Niyamas concern us with our internal, ethical practices. Each of these ten disciplines is developed in their own way in every human culture: nonviolence, truth, not stealing, respecting other’s dignity, not coveting or obsessing over wealth, cleanliness, contentment, personal drive, self-study and study of scripture, and spiritual intention.

Ahimsa, non-harming, means to refrain from causing harm. It is the foundational discipline, and I find I must return to it often because it’s easy to forget. This is not a hippy-dippy call to peace. We will inevitably cause harm. We will need to build, take space and kill other plants or animals to eat. And I’m going to spill my milk and scare my cat.

And my stomach collapses again as I remember my dream. That little girl. They say the people in dreams are simply reflections of the dreamer, manifesting their emotions into characters they can empathize with. Surprise, I am the little girl. I need to be kind to myself.

“Being firmly grounded in nonviolence creates an atmosphere in which others can let go of their hostility” Yoga Sutras 2:35.

I aim for others to feel like they can relax and be themselves when I practice ahimsa, but I don’t always succeed. When someone needs to become aware of their position in my space, I give them that awareness like offering a piece of fruit that grows on my wall. “I don’t need this, but let’s do that.” They can take it or leave it. I grow a lot of lemons and people don’t often enjoy biting into lemons as much as I do. It’s good for you. Anyway, it doesn’t matter what their attitude is about my fruit. I need my space because I am arranging my life into something special.

I am not trying to be mean. I am trying to be clear.

Being kind to myself means I need to be vulnerable with myself. I need to be honest and I need bravery to face the facts about the ways I feel shame. Brene Brown invites us to share our shame in her book Gifts of Imperfection, but she reminds us that it won’t help to be vulnerable with any random hoe. She lists several typical responses we should anticipate and avoid when looking for someone to be open with. They are:

  1. Friends who feel shame for Sympathy vs Empathy “Oh you poor thing.”
  2. Friends who are disappointed.
  3. Friends who scold you.
  4. Friends who look for someone to blame.
  5. Friends who refuse to acknowledge you can be crazy and make bad choices.
  6. Friends who confuse connection with the opportunity to one-up.

I need to respond to my Sadness baring these harsh responses in mind. When I take the time to manage my emotions, I am ready to empathize with other people. I want to grow more kinds of sweeter fruits for a wider range of pallets to accommodate more people’s specific needs. I mean, I am planting seeds to be kinder on a broader scale to relate better to you. I don’t feel like I have to do that; I want to. I embrace that response-ability like vines clings to any structure.

When I am kind, logic and reasoning become unfettered. But I need to be kind to myself to be grounded in nonviolence. I need to retreat and duck into the sea, gathering as much of my emotion as I can handle in my mouth and spew it all over the page, edit it, and conduct my playful rhythm and tone. I am learning how to be kind to others by being kind to myself.

Now that I have planted seeds for my vertical garden, I am safely relaxed into whatever I am. I can reflect. What do I need to do to nourish my prosperous vegetation? What actions, what behavior, what routine? Yamas precede Niyamas, that is; I begin by maintaining a connection with the world and proceed to explore my authentic self.

Instead of worrying about finding the time to do everything in a day, I’ll aim to manage my energy to be conducive to my desires. I don’t have to punch a clock, don’t have to throw myself around willy-nilly to heave and hoe around someone else’s field.

Maybe I need to tell everyone, I can’t hang out or listen to you vent or watch your kid while you nap—I am writing. That is my priority. Not hanging out with you. Not being emotionally responsible for you. I need to write. I need to be emotionally response-able for me.

And I need to not be bothered if they are bothered. It’s not a silly hobby, it’s not rude. I am allowed to do my thing first.

Maybe I should not keep it a secret. Maybe I should say: everyone I am writing a book! I am taking the time to do it, so please leave me alone. Then, when we do see each other, they will ask how it is going and I can tell them. The conversation can be centered around my center, and I’ll connect more genuinely with my loves. If they can’t abide by this, well, they can eat my lemons.

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