Boundaries and the Freedom to Say “No”
by Malayna Dawn
I usually think of freedom as unbounded. Arms wide open, heart wide open, nothing in my way. It’s a nice vision.
Conversely, however, I’m beginning to understand how the boundaries that I choose and agree to, ones that I can shift as I grow, keep me feeling safe and free to focus on what really matters to me.
Today, on this day of Independence, I don’t need freedom from bondage. I need boundaries to set me free. The more freedom I have to choose, the more work and energy it requires. Freedom of choice requires at least some freedom FROM choice (as sung about in the above video accompanying the song by Devo) – things that have already been decided and don’t need to be re-evaluated from all angles each time.
The symbols of freedom we use aren’t without their caveats either. The bald eagle is not a happy-go-lucky type, but rather stern and focused. The California state flag is not a teddy bear, it’s a grizzly bear. Fireworks must be carefully controlled to avoid burns and fires.
I work for an organization called “Unity” — a concept that means there is no opposition. So how can I say “no” to anything? This is my current struggle.
Unity is not just my work, it is also my spiritual path, and the bulk of my social life. As the third generation of my family in Unity, it’s part of my family identity. It’s my course of study and my career path. It’s my emotional support. It’s infuses my entertainment and inspiration, my past, present and future.
And yet, in this place where Unity is everything and with my heart open wide, I say no to a lot in the process, because I’m exhausted. I say no to socializing with old friends, to creative hobbies, to a regular exercise routine and to meditation time. By saying “yes” to everyone else, I say “no” to myself.
“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside. ― Stephen R. Covey
For example, I spent a whole day trying to coordinate events for work, and found that all the nice people I work with were happy to do whatever would work for anyone else. Finally I had to make the final decisions so I could get something done. Then I was angry that it was left up to me. But isn’t that what we ask of freedom? The freedom to determine our own path? Freedom to have it our way? But it can get out of control.
Creating boundaries for myself is actually rather painful. I want everyone to be happy and I don’t want to be a source of disappointment. In the 12 years I lived in Sri Lanka, I saw the havoc created by this same cultural proclivity. Westerners felt that they had been lied to when the product or service they’d ordered for a specific date and time wasn’t ready. But the shopkeeper wanted to tell their customers what they wanted to hear, so they’d leave happy. It’s not sustainable though, since the happiness turned to anger when reality set in.
I can’t sustain my preferred joyful, bubbly, way of being when I become the one who has to repeated say “no”, or when I’m exhausted from trying to meet everyone’s expectations, by saying “yes” to everything.
Today, I cannot celebrate any freedom but the freedom to shut the door and shut everyone out. To think, to sleep, to rest. I’ve enjoyed too much freedom and now I’m miserable.
So instead, today I will set new boundaries for myself to conserve my energy to enjoy something – friends, family, events, church, community, work, goals, career, studies, travel — anything.
Our Founding Fathers laid out some good guidelines. The one I’ll focus on for myself is the separation of church and state. If “church” is about faith, then “state” is about the logic of material reality and getting things done. Separation of faith and logic. When my work hat is on, even though I work at a church, I declare my freedom to say “NO”, graciously and without anger or apology. I choose to be present without being permeable.
It all comes down to me, really, I can’t blame anyone else. I do have and claim the freedom to make my life what I want. But I alone must have the strength, courage and clarity of mind, heart and spirit to direct my energy into what I want to create, and to say NO to what I have no affinity, attachment or investment in. So that what I love will grow and sustain me, and leave me energy to share with others that I love.