Discovering a Sense of Boundaries
Time for my Walking in this World Week 6 Check-in.
This week was interesting to say the least. At first when I was reading the chapter and thinking about it, I felt like it didn’t apply to me. I think I’m good with boundaries, with making sure to take care of myself. And then I realized that’s due largely in part to working through this program the last time.
The last time I did this program, I had no boundaries. Especially to my creative work. I put other people first, without exception. My writing suffered, my mind suffered. My life suffered as a result.
Then I worked through Walking in this World and made a paradigm shift. I finally got that whole “put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping another” plane crash scenario. Ohhhh…. right. If I don’t take care of me, I’m no use to anyone else.
I used to suffer from a paralyzing panic disorder. I had to take tranquilizers to get on the subway. Going to restaurants or rock shows, no matter how much I loved them, was painful and unpredictable. I was doped up or terrified at any given point.
Then I started working with someone on meditation, on breathing. On setting boundaries and voicing them. I practiced these tools relentlessly. The miraculous happened: I didn’t need medication anymore.
I haven’t had a panic attack in almost eight years. I can feel it rise up in my chest, threatening to claim my airway, but I breathe deeply and use my voice. For example, I’ve learned I have only 20 minutes of tolerance for a grocery store on a Sunday afternoon. The chaos overwhelms me – playing bumper cars with shopping carts, crying children, stockers running up and down the aisles, loud music.
If I’m with someone else, I tell them before going in. “I’ve got 20 minutes. If you need more time, I’ll wait for you outside.” I’ve learned to reconize when I’ve reached my limit. I’ve learned to say, “I cannot be here. I need air. I have to go.”
I can’t emphasize how difficult it was for me to set boundaries like this — especially when another person is concerned. I would regularly put myself in compromising positions so I wouldn’t inconvenience anyone else. I never asked them for anything, just to hear what I was saying and let me leave.
Yet that little act took a whole lot of practice and strength. It still does. Especially since people without panic disorders don’t understand, even when they love me. “Just relax. I’m almost done.”
I am relaxed. And I’m trying to stay that way.
Too Much Input
The section of the chapter on “Inflow” hit home for me.
“Our energies are drained not by coping with our output of creative energy but from coping with the ceaseless inflow of distractions and distresses that bid for our time, attention and emotional involvement.”
Also known as “too much input.” I feel this at least once a day.
I never thought about it until I read this paragraph — I’ve never felt “exhausted” or “drained” from working hard and long at my creative dreams. If anything, I feel more energized — even after 12 hours at the computer madly pouring love and attention into my writing, my photo, my design, my code.
I am drained not by exhausting myself through too much creative work, but by the constant onslaught of input from the outside world.
This factor explains my aversion to Twitter, and to a lesser extent, Facebook. (At least with Facebook you can pace yourself.) It all just feels like so much input. I’ve discovered that in order to be creatively engaged, I need to unplug from the outside world. Sometimes even softly playing music is too much.
I need a sensory deprivation tank — just lukewarm salt water and silence.
When a creative artist is fatigued, it is often from too much inflow, not too much outflow. When we are making something, we are listening to an inner voice that has many things to tell us — if we will listen. It is hard to listen amid chatter. It is hard to listen amid chaos. It is hard to listen amid the static of ungrounded and demanding energy.
Creating boundaries and controlling inflow are of course intertwined. We need to draw boundaries and defend them in order to stem the vicious tide of input. It’s easier said than done. Just try taking a couple of weeks off from updating your site and see what happens. ;)
This sentence so clearly captures exactly what I’ve come to believe and rely on as my own truth:
No contact on demand.
As the Page says, “I have this cell phone for my convenience, not yours.”
I don’t want anyone in my life to be surprised when I don’t answer the phone. I don’t want them expecting that they can have instant access to me 24/7. And unless they’ve got cupcakes in hand, they best not drop on by without warning.
A Room of Your Own
Now this task made me smile. Why? Because I just moved three weeks ago into a new apartment — with my own room. The Page and I moved from a 300′ sq. studio off Broadway to a 700′ sq. two-bedroom triplex that feels palacial. It has a garden and a little yard and a shaded patio in back smothered in green growth. It’s fabulous.
I’ve turned the second bedroom into my own little creative nook and every single item in it fosters my creativity. My journals, my guitars, my cameras, my favorite books. All my art journaling materials, finger paints, glitter in tiny glass jars, pressed flowers, live plants, and drawing supplies. Stacks of beautiful paper and artwork made for me by my friends.
I’ve discovered having a room of one’s own is not a luxury, but a requirement for sanity and productive flourishing.
Also on my top ten list of places for solitude is the ferry or the train. Back in Boston, I used to hop on the commuter rail, especially during NaNoWriMo and ride the line end to end. Sitting at a little table writing by hand, watching the world go by through the windows. Few distractions and endless time to be alone with the page.
In Seattle I can do the same thing on the ferry. Breathtaking views, hours of fresh air, no distractions. All for about $5.
Okay so I did my Morning Pages every morning, as I mentioned in my last post. I also found a new cafe in my new neighborhood that I’m SO excited about. I’ll tell you all about it shortly.
I went on my Artist Walk in my new neighborhood. Right now the cherry blossoms are in full bloom and the air is intoxicating. I’m still learning the lay of the land, and I look forward to more walks, Artist and otherwise, in this neck of the woods.
For my Artist Date, I went to a fabulous garden center. I spent at least an hour trolling the ailes, touching and smelling everything, planning my new garden and my new patio. Plant nurseries fill me with peace and tranquility. They feel very healing.
The garden center I went to was very expensive and kind of snobby so today the Page took me to Flower World and I bought a ton of new plants. Before signing off, I’ll leave you with a photo of my new babies, born of my Artist Date:
See you in Week 7!
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