Boundaries

The voice in the essay may be that of my literal guides or may be the Inner Light that shines inside each of us.

Kentucky Stone Fence, drawing by Mason Hayek

You say your boundaries are too porous. If you would strengthen your boundaries appropriately, you will ask yourself why you are erecting barriers between you and others of God’s creatures. It is not really barriers, or boundaries, that you seek. It is a stronger sense of self.

            And how to achieve that stronger sense of self? The way is by knowing your values and needs, as well as those of others. Sometimes it is hard to tell what is fair, but the only way to judge is by looking inside yourself and asking, “Am I trying to give more than I have to give at this particular time?” If the situation is an emergency, you do all you can and more. But most situations are not emergencies, and you have time to think and plan: how will you renew yourself sufficiently so that your soul and body are able to flourish and grow, along with those of the person you are trying to help?

Brandywine State Park, Wilmington, Delaware, drawing by Mason Hayek

            It is not much good to help another and harm or destroy yourself. God wants all of his creatures. You are not more important than the next, and not less important. Give all you can but not more than you can without draining your reserves and denying your gifts to the world, for we all have gifts, every creature, heavenly and on Earth; we are responsible for saving and healing ourselves, as well as others. We don’t rob Peter to pay Paul.

            Remember the Parable of the Talents, and think of those as literal talents, your talents. They are not to be buried under arduous work or sacrifice that robs them of their value and gloss. Build your talents to serve and serve through your talents, not by denying them and burying them in the burden of every day. Your kindness and love are talents, too, and giving them helps them to grow unless you are giving more than your body and mind can afford from their store of energy and time. This is the way the Lord wants you to reason—not that you must give and give and give so that there is little left in you and you are half destroyed from fatigue and exhaustion of your nerves and patience.

            We your guides are with you and will help you to understand if you are not doing your share. Generally that is not a problem with you, but we know that it worries you. You think you are not being fair, not doing your part, not helping enough. When you are exhausted or have not released your creativity through valued outlets, say so and do so, rather than plowing ahead. This is the way the Lord wishes for you to do so that you help others and respect yourself at the same time.

My parents following their inspiration

            Ask in prayer if you are uncertain, or come back to your journal and write, for that will free you and sort out your mind so that your spirit is unencumbered—so that you are able to give without pain and receive from God your talents and their multiplying on your behalf and that of others. You are not a slave. No human being was made to be a slave, literally or figuratively, and do not enslave yourself through your own misunderstanding of who you are and what you must do to give to others balm for their needs, their worries, and their suffering.

            We are with you. We care. We are not telling you to be selfish, and being selfish is not your nature even though all people are selfish from time to time. But we are telling you that treating yourself right according to your gifts and your physical limitations and possibilities is not selfishness. The adage of paying yourself first is appropriate, if we may return to the money metaphor. More accurately, we would say to be sure to pay yourself as you are giving to others—not in the sense of payback or bribe but in the sense of adding to your fund of energy, enthusiasm, ideas, and inspiration. This is our recommendation, and it has stood the test of the ages.

            So try, even if the advice does not seem easy to follow. Actually it is easier than you think, and the guidelines are here. If you are too tired physically and/or spiritually, and if your creative outlets have not been followed sufficiently to stem your frustration and sense of self-denial, you need to “pay” yourself before continuing unless a true emergency situation exists for another. And even then you must return to yourself as quickly as you can—to renew yourself for your sake, God’s sake, and that of others. You will give far more from a base of fulfillment and physical wellbeing than you ever can from an empty vessel of self.

            We speak truth, and we will help you to follow it if you turn to us with your doubts. We leave this subject now but can return to it when the need arises, after you have given these principles your full attention and effort. Blessings to you and to all of God’s creatures. We love you. Love both yourself and others.

Namaste

Keep On Dancing

I am reading the novel Trick, by Domenico Starnone (New York: Europa Editions, 2018, trans. Jhumpa Lahiri).  The original title, in Italian, is Scherzetto (Rome: Giulio Einaudi, 2016).  The novel is told from the point of view of an aging artist who fears he has lost his edge.  My own version of that feeling has been having a starring role in my life.

May 30—Memorial Day each year before it was moved in 1971 to the last Monday in May and became a national holiday—was Lower School Field Day at Wilmington Friends School.  I liked Field Day, on which classes were canceled and the whole elementary school took part in races and other competitions.  I have a vague sense of having participated in burlap-bag and three-legged races, but the clearest recollection I have is of taking part in the long jump.  We had a sand-filled long-jumping pit that I can still see in my mind.  I was good, that is for a small grade-school girl.

My friend Lee was better, but she was taller and a year older—and anyway, I was a close second.  Other children must have taken part in the long jump, but my memory houses only Lee and me, jumping away and feeling good about the results.  I liked being good at things.  Long jumping, dancing, playing Becky Thatcher in our fourth-grade production of Tom Sawyer, and beating the boys in math were an antidote to ostracism by the class bully and her court.

Ballet

All these decades later, I continue my mix of feeling socially inadequate but hoping to win notice for some physical and intellectual skills.

May 30, 2018,  brought the first of this year’s three performances of The Follies, our community’s annual talent show.  For the sixth time, I am tap dancing as part of a small group.  This year three of us are dancing to “I Got Rhythm.”  I always get nervous when I dance or act in front of an audience, and now I have let my nerves unbalance my confidence even more than usual.  The root of the problem is my reputation for dancing competence—I’m afraid of not being able to live up to this reputation.  (The syncopation in “I Got Rhythm” adds to my fears because it makes timing the steps somewhat more difficult.)

Each year, of course, I am a little older and a little more tired.  I think to myself, “I may not be able to do as well as I did last year.  And [here’s the key] people may talk about me and say, ‘Winnie’s slipping; her dancing isn’t as good this time.’”  Do I think my right to a place in the world demands that I never lose a step, literally or figuratively?

That is exactly what I’ve been thinking.  Not surprisingly, I let my nerves sabotage me during the two full-cast rehearsals for the 2018 Follies, experiences that then added to the pressure I felt for the opening show.  The mistakes I made during the full-cast rehearsals did remind me that audiences pay more attention to the overall pizzazz in a performance than to the exactness of the details.  Nevertheless, I was worried.  I knew I could do the dance when no one was watching, but my close friends would be in the audience for the opening show, and the production was being filmed for our community television.

On May 30, 2018, I awoke feeling good, in spite of the ongoing sleep problems I’ve been having—largely from agonizing over the focus and purpose for my writing.  For a show day, I was even reasonably calm.  Showtime came, and the dance went well.  The timing was a little suspect at a point or two, but the three of us were together and the steps were solid.

Did I love the compliments that followed, including a kind woman’s saying, “You could be on Broadway”?  You bet I did!  My confidence roared back into life.

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But how am I going to use the fact that I got through the May 30 show?  Am I going to ratchet up the pressure for the remaining Follies performances?  I hope not: I have evidence now to tell me, “I can do this,” and the performance with my close friends in the audience went quite well.  More dangerous is the effect on me for next year’s Follies tap dance—and for all other future public displays of whether I still have it or not.

Really, am I going to live the rest of my life the way I’ve lived it since second grade: believing that I can hold my head high only through prowess in the skills by which I define my acceptability?

It’s long, long past time for me to live—and not just give lip service to—this principle: The reasons for doing something such as acting in a play, learning a language, writing poetry or prose, dancing, participating in sports, studying literature, or playing music include personal satisfaction and growth, the desire to create, and the wish to share aspects of ourselves and the things we love with others.  The reasons do not include proving our worthiness to take up space in the world.

I do think that enjoying congratulations for something done well or in a manner that is pleasant for others is okay: We naturally value another person’s appreciation of us and prize our own skills.  But if we are performing in order to impress or prove ourselves to others or to keep ourselves from sinking into the despair of not counting, we are probably addicted to praise.  Praise addiction brings with it the suffering of withdrawal when praise doesn’t come.  Praise addiction also brings a suffocating fear of aging and all other reasons for “losing a step.”

Okay, I get it: It’s in my power to stop letting the false gods of approval, expectation, and judgment trample my joy in self-expression, and any good my self-expression may do for others.  It’s a lot more important for folks to see an aging person who is still dancing, creating, and learning—and having fun doing so—than for them to see me getting every one of the steps right.

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Update: During tonight’s Follies (the second of the three shows), I didn’t entirely live up to my newest resolution.  I intend to keep working on it.