The late John O’Donohue, a wonderful Irish poet and mystic, wrote a book of blessings titled To Bless the Space Between Us. I discovered O’Donohue via Anam Cara, perhaps his best known work, more than ten years ago, when he was still living. This idea of blessing the ground between us has stayed with me, especially this summer as I’ve had the opportunity to work with boundaries.
It’s a beautiful autumn day in Maine, and I find myself alone, which rarely happens. An old stone wall borders one perimeter of our 26 acres here, and I decide to walk it.
The wall is really just a hump of stones now, covered in moss. It runs through thick growth, so there is a lot of dead wood to maneuver around. The neighbor has posted signs on the trees on his side of the wall every few yards, yellow signs saying “No Trespassing.” The relentless message follows me all the way down to the river.
The ferns are golden now, responding to diminishing light. Brush and bracken are a mixture of dried flower heads, sprawling vines and fallen leaves. It’s been very dry here, so numerous small stream beds are empty, but I can see where water runs when it’s present. I slither and bushwhack all the way down to the river, where a handy fallen tree makes a bench above the water. The river hardly moves, low and clear, and I sit for a time watching leaves fall onto its surface.
The ground between one person and another, one property and another, can’t exist unless there are defined boundaries. I appreciate our neighbor’s desire to keep his land inviolate. Even without the signs I wouldn’t trespass, not being that sort, but something about the repeated warning above the old disintegrating wall disturbs me in the context of the patient trees and turning season. The wall, like a hedgerow, is probably home to many. It’s a beautiful boundary, that wall, much more interesting than a fence, and at this point much more organic, too. You might say it’s a beautiful blessing.
I’ve been in relationships where the ground between us was perceived as a threat, or even a rejection. This particular boundary issue quickly damages connection if I intend to keep that sacred ground between us and the other tries to eliminate it. I don’t want to trespass, but I also don’t want to be trespassed upon. Yet I don’t want to live in an armed fortress. I don’t want the ground between us to be a military zone, seeded with landmines, soaked in blood and tears, noisy, dangerous, ugly and foul. I don’t want to build a fence with glass and razor wire between us. I don’t want the ground between us to be a toxic dump, or filled with shattered shards of broken integrity and betrayal.
Then there are relationships where lip service is paid to the ground between us, but the phenomenon I call boundary creep comes into play. Slowly, inevitably, a tide of invasion inches over the boundary. It might be in the form of noise, or in the form of things like clothing, mail, dirty laundry and personal possessions. It might be in the form of toothpaste in the sink, hair in the drain and grease on the stove. It might be in the form of detritus generated by an addiction, like beer cans, cigarette butts or drug paraphernalia.
I’ve also been in relationships where I’ve tried to make dates with people, with the two-fold intention of being fully present and available at a certain time and place for connection and managing my own time and energy effectively, but this can be very problematic. Some folks are chronically late or intermittent no-shows. Others are highly offended at having to make a date, preferring to have access to me whenever and however they want. Then there are people who only want connection on their terms. I’m not allowed to reach out in any way and can only wait for them to initiate contact and set the boundaries.
When I think about blessing the ground between us, I envision a park, or maybe a garden. A place with trees in it, and birds, and leaves and maybe some moss. I imagine a place we both create and care for, a safe and sacred space in which we experience reciprocal respect and affection. I like the idea of a stone wall or some kind of fence, but I want a gate in it.
At this point in my life, after years and years of confusion and pain around boundaries, I’m finally getting crystal clear. I know what I want, and I know what I don’t want. Observing how people handle boundaries and the ground between us speaks volumes about their priorities, their choices, the state of their integrity and self-esteem, and their level of functioning. Notice I say observation, not listening. Actions are always more telling than words. Someone with broken boundaries is certainly not going to help me maintain mine.
I can’t control what others do with the ground between us, but my choice is to bless it with growth and kindness, respect and safety. I intend my boundaries to be both intact and beautiful. My boundaries have doors and windows and gates so the light of my healthy relationships can bless my life, but those doors and windows and gates can be locked if the need arises.
I am not you and you are not me. Together, we are greater than we are individually. We can choose how to create and decorate our boundaries. We can choose to bless the ground between us.
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