Boundaries are such an essential part of life. That is what I enjoyed about Lewis Thomas’ Lives of a Cell as he illustrates how boundary setting is so essential even on the biological, i.e. cellular, dimension of life.
I think it was Rollo May who likened the absence of boundaries to a river without banks. For, a river without banks is not a river any longer it is just a muddy bog, not useful for much if anything. Yet, if we set our boundaries too rigidly then we have merely imprisoned ourselves and again will not be very useful. We will be encapsulated in an autistic shell.
Martin Heidegger in Basic Writings made a very interesting observation about boundaries and spirituality. He said, “A boundary is not that at which something stops but, as the Greeks recognized, a boundary is that from which something begins its essential unfolding.” A boundary is a container that is necessary for spiritual unfolding, a vessel in which Divine purpose can be revealed. And if we don’t have boundaries, and if we don’t wrestle with boundary issues, our spirituality is going to pose real problems for ourselves and for others. I’m made to think of the Apostle Paul’s admonishment that “we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.” “Fear and trembling” is just the anxiety that we experience as we wrestle with these boundaries.
My work as a therapist was merely about boundaries. My job was to help clients discover various boundary problems and to address these problems. And I might add that my work also involved a daily battle with boundary-setting myself.
One of my favorite verses from the Bible is from the Proverbs, “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city without walls and broken down.” And we know what happened back then if the walls of a city was broken down back then—the enemy got in.