Learning to set boundaries from our heart space can bring more beauty to our lives than we might have ever imagined.
A few weeks ago, late in the afternoon, I was in the barn cleaning up and as I opened the screen doors and looked out at the horse field it was like I could suddenly ‘’feel” Orion. My eye turned eastward and I could see him running up from the far field toward the gate right in front of me. He stopped, looking right at me. I looked back into his eyes and then to rest of the herd who were peacefully grazing, unconcerned that he had run off.
I knew something was up. Orion had come up to see me on purpose.
I stood connecting with him and got a strong sense that he wanted us to go in the round pen. I grabbed a rope halter and approached him as I opened up the gate – his body language was clear. Let’s go!
As we entered the round pen I took off the rope halter. We had no agenda. I was just saying Yes to an invitation to explore with him, with literally no idea of what the exploration was about.
I stood in the centre and Orion came right next to me. We were still, shoulder to shoulder, facing opposite directions. I could feel us both breathing. Everything was still except for the subtlest shift in Orion’s posture and muscles. I had a sense he was urging me to move even as we stood in a wonderful connection.
I started to walk in a random “squiggly line” pattern, just walking. He followed. Closely. Very closely. Like no space at all, his body pressed against mine. It wasn’t that I felt he was intimidating me. It was a very intimate moment. But I knew he was asking me a question.
Years ago, I would have declared that setting a boundary is something I’m generally pretty good at. I grew up in the era where a boundary was taught as a ‘personal property line that defines who we are and who we are not.’ I was raised in a family with a strong matrilineal line – women who knew how to stand their ground. And so, what I would have meant was, I’m comfortable declaring a clear No.
And that is not close to what Orion had in mind.
My horse teachers and people mentors in this equine work have taught me a lot about another view of boundaries: “the space the body needs for the mind to be present.” It’s a practice, or experience, that we explore in the FEEL work and one that Linda Kohanov talks a lot about.
It’s a pretty powerful perspective on boundaries that is really at its core about connection with another and being finely tuned to the space required to comfortably make that connection.
At the most physical level, a boundary helps you to claim the personal space you need in order to feel safe, connected, and therefore engaged with a person who is approaching you.
In the work we do with the horses, we have a principle about who sets the boundary: if the horse approaches the person, the person sets the boundary. If the person approaches the horse, the horse sets the boundary.
This can be a tough one – it’s easy to assume that by asking for more space, the “other” is in a way rejecting us. I’ve seen this at play where clients assume that because a horse asks for more space, they don’t like them. Maybe you’ve experienced this with another person when you’ve reached out to give them a big hug and you feel their body stiffening?
To appreciate the power of this way of viewing boundaries, we often have to experience the paradoxical way it works to create and deepen a felt connection with another.
Which brings me back to the round pen and what Orion was trying to show me. You see, Orion has learned that the space he needs to be present with another will be acknowledged, he trusts it will be respected. And this has been a key part of his growth, his ability to step into the teacher role. In fact, this is true for every equine member of The Courage Herd (Whisper the donkey will have her own blog post on this!).
That’s the thing, the more our ‘space’ is respected, the more present our mind is, the deeper and more authentically we can connect with others. Of course if we aren’t aware of our space and how it extends out much larger than our physical bodies, it’s hard to consciously ask others to acknowledge it. This is equally true for the ‘space’ of our values, principles, and the things we stand for.
As Orion nudged me on to set a boundary with him, I will admit I was having fun with our connection and felt a subtle internal resistance to creating more space between us (as a side note, the first day Orion was with me it took me over 3 hours to catch and halter him from a field so you can imagine why being so connected with him feels great!). I could feel this very small fear that if I let go, our connection would somehow diminish. It wasn’t real of course, but I was amazed to see this resistance within me. I walked away, he continued to follow. So I walked away purposefully and quickly – it was actually hard to create some space between us. With great purpose, I turned and set a boundary (actually drew an arched line in the sand in front of me). Orion stopped short of the line, facing me. We each paused and breathed into the space.
Then he turned and walked to the other side of the round pen and stopped. It took me a moment to realize this was an invitation. As I moved toward him, I felt a spot where he was setting a boundary. I paused and again our breath merged and filled the space. Then I moved and he came toward me – again I set a boundary and he acknowledged it.
It was as though we were creating dozens of small pockets of space, like bubbles filling a bath tub. And each bubble was made up of both our breaths, our shared respect and heart connection.
The magic was that as we did this, I felt more and more beauty arising. Like everything within and around became more alive, more in tune with Orion and I. I could feel more and more wholeness, as though we became more of who we are and also more connected to each other and Life. And it was joyful!
At some point Orion let me know that we were complete. I brought him back to return to grazing with the horses in the field and I sat for a while on the Reflection Rock marvelling at what had transpired.
Many times these are the types of experiences I am privileged to hold space for as guests learn with the herd. This moment was a wonderful gift from Orion. Not only did he show me a beautiful and joyful felt-experience of how boundaries can create more, because of our experience, a deeper perspective on boundary setting has emerged for me. Where boundaries can be a practice to create more beauty with another.
Here are a few thoughts and quick links that I hope will help you explore a bit more about your experience of boundaries and how they might help you find more potential in your life.
- It is important to set boundaries that clarify what serves us and what doesn’t. And to learn to be clear on this, articulate it with care, hopefully before we’ve allowed our boundaries to be crossed so many times that we need to muster up a very aggressive NO to set them.
- If you’re ready to explore boundaries and presence and the space our body needs for our mind to be fully present.
And as we are able to stay longer and longer in a place of present awareness, we can then learn to play with boundaries as a way to create more beauty, and deeper connection with another in profoundly intimate ways.
Of course, as the horses teach us so well, none of this happens with our brains! It happens through our heart intelligence, our gut … by listening to the information our body’s provide. If you’re playing with any of these ideas, we’d love to hear about it and learn more together!