“We often find where another’s boundaries lie by overstepping them”, one of my teachers would say. Discerning boundaries are hard enough to figure out for oneself, much less those that exist in relationship with another. Most of us live well into our life before we are consciously aware of our limits and expectations. Life is full of situations that require both. How well we communicate these limits and expectations will dictate much of our happiness, especially in relation to others.
One of the most powerful words in our self-care vocabulary might surprise you. It is crucial to maintaining clear intentions and designing a balanced life. It is not commitment, perseverance, community, compassion, nor reflection. It is not wisdom, strength or courage. In fact, it only contains two measly letters!
Consider this quote by Thomas Merton: “The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to many projects, to want to help in everything is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes work for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
Notice the way Merton uses the word violence. It is not the connotation we are used to hearing. I would translate his usage into the word depletion. I suspect that what he is really getting at here is knowing when to say when and realizing our limitations, even when we want to save the world. He is really speaking about not just self-care but care of how we move through the world. More is not always better.
Jazz virtuoso, Louie Armstrong, often would use an entire solo section to play just one note. Where other musicians would showcase their speed and technical bravado, Louie would opt for scarcity. Occasionally, producers would ask him if he might like to add a bit more for variety. I imagine he would turn to the producer in his cool way and utter the powerful word with only two letters, "NO".