When someone recently forwarded me a brief article written by Cynthia Bourgeault on boundaries, it made my heart sing. Cynthia started out by saying “It’s not about boundaries, it’s about integrity. … This means being so deeply rooted in your essence and your inner honesty that falsehood is not an option.”
This resonated deeply in me because she articulated something that I had experienced throughout the years of learning how to be okay with having boundaries. And what I had been trying to communicate in inviting others to feel the permission to set boundaries – the cost of ignoring your true self. If we don’t know who we really are and how our inner core expresses itself, how can we ever expect to feel deeply rooted in life?
I decided to look up the definition of integrity just to see if it would further shed light on what Cynthia was saying. One definition of integrity was “the state of being whole and undivided.” Another source said, “It literally means having “wholeness” of character, just as an integer of a “whole number” with no fractions.”
“It’s not about boundaries, it’s about integrity” because it is about honoring yourself and not allowing yourself to be divided. Why are boundaries such a large part of the focus in much of our personal work in therapy, 12 step programs, personal coaching, etc.? Perhaps because all of us have, in some form or another, experienced boundary violations which have resulted in a division in our true essence? We were made in the image of God who is Divine Love and at some point that truth was questioned, challenged, shattered.
It may have been a moment you were shamed or disapproved of for something you did and a part of you left and went into hiding in order to never be shamed or disapproved of again. It may have been a moment you were violated and someone took something from you that was not theirs to take or they would not respect your limits and a part of you decided it doesn’t matter what I want or don’t want because people don’t listen anyway. Then you cut off your desires so as to never feel that much pain or that out of control again.
These experiences contributed to an internal division, a fractioning. If you want to live a life of integrity and love that is “deeply rooted in your essence and your inner honesty [so] that falsehood is not an option,” it is necessary to remember who you are. All those parts and pieces are still in you beckoning to be recognized as part of the whole. When we allow those pieces of ourselves to re-emerge and acknowledge them as part of our essence, they can come back into balance. If we are living from our inner core, then we have nothing to lose and nothing to prove. When we reject parts of our core, they don’t go away. Instead they inadvertently gain power and try to protect us by using anger (fight) or running away (flight) and if those are not an option then becoming overwhelmed, depressed, or hopeless (freeze).
Our responses to life in the moment are exaggerated because we are responding to all of the moments in our lives when we experienced our essence being divided. Deep inside there is a voice that said long ago “never again.” Never again will I be shamed, controlled, rejected, hurt.
I invite you to listen to that “never again” in a new way. Instead of reacting in situations from a place of “never again” coming out of anger, fear, or overwhelm that is disproportionate to the current circumstance, let’s listen deeply to who we really are when we aren’t in those challenging moments. Then we can come closer to responding the way we desire to. From a place of our true essence which is much stronger, more solid, and can see what energy is appropriate for the current moment.
Towards the end of her article Cynthia said ”I wouldn’t worry about being labeled “difficult,” I’d worry more about passing through life without ever having tasted who I really am, and how my inner core expresses itself.” The real danger isn’t disappointing someone else. It is never getting to be who you are.
Throughout the years I have reflected on a quote from an old Hasidic rabbi. This quote resurfaced in an email I received today so I am passing it on to you to reflect on as well. Rabbi Zusya said, “At the end of your life, God will not ask you: ‘Why were you not Moses or Jeremiah or some other leader you admire?’ He will ask you, ‘Why were you not you!?”
Here are some other questions I like to ponder. I invite you to take a moment to answer them for yourself. What do I think about that idea, experience, etc? What are my emotions underneath the surface? What do I want/desire to – eat, do today, do in this situation, say to this person, etc? What are my dreams? What am I passionate about? Who am I if I’m not afraid to be me, if I have nothing to lose? Who am I if I’m not trying to prove myself to others?
Now take a moment to stand up. Feel your whole body standing there with your feet on the ground. See if you can identify where in your body the part of you who knows who you are lives. Can you sense your integrity? Does it have a shape, color, texture? What posture has your body taken on as you have become aware of where your true self lives in you?