A few weeks ago I was in Marfa, Texas, teaching at an incredible event for creatives called Yeah Field Trip. My talk was called “How to make art and business with a tender heart in a brutal world.” I taught them a crash course in setting energetic boundaries so that you can move through the world feeling safe and grounded even if you’re very sensitive and empathic. They were relieved to hear that they’re not the only ones who sometimes feel like they have extra spidey senses no one else has, and that when they think they’re picking up extra information, that’s probably because they actually are in fact doing just that. In fact, I told them, they’re not alone at all– they’re part of a fantastic community of kindred spirits! (That’s you!)
We talked about the way that boundaries get a bad name. They can seem harsh and uncaring, but in fact, the opposite is true.
Healthy boundaries are what keep us safe enough that we CAN be our most loving, tender selves. And without them, we’ll just get chewed up, feeling like we’re being put through a cheese grater all the time, OR gritting our teeth and trying to be patient and kind and loving heaven help us– until inevitably we push ourselves too far and we explode, shocking everyone.
There are 3 places where you can empower yourself with healthy boundaries:
Your personal policies,
and your spirit.
Let’s take a peek at each one.
Your personal policies are rarely sexy, but they’re incredibly powerful. These are things like your office hours, when people can expect you to pick up the phone, how you work with your clients and what expectations you set, whether you always text back immediately. They can be as simple as a vacation autoresponder on your email saying “I’ll get back to you in a week” or as complicated as a legal contract that you draw up with a potential collaborator. They can be as whimsical as a secret hour you block off on your calendar just for yourself each week, or as serious as the alarm system you set on your home each night. You might have personal policies around what kind of food you eat, what sort of media you do and don’t consume, and whether you check your inbox over the weekend. You might have policies that let you stay in relationship with difficult people in your life, like agreeing to meet someone at a restaurant but never inviting them to your home, or deciding that someone is welcome to come visit but not to spend the night. Notice, dearheart, how these things actually make you MORE loving, not less.
Your body is always telling you things, but most of us have trained ourselves not to listen. When you tune in, you might find that it has a surprising wealth of information for you. It might consistently make you sick before a certain kind of project, for example, or give you a headache every time a certain person comes over. It might flutter at you to warn you that someone is lying. It might melt to remind you how much you love someone. It might be desperately signaling longing, or warning, or simply telling you that you’ve been sitting too long and it’s time to stand up and drink a glass of water. The more you pay attention to your body’s cues on a regular basis, the more of a language you’ll develop with each other, which happily means that it usually can use more subtle signals to get your attention. Your body knows things, and if you listen, it will tell them to you.
Your spirit is an aspect of you that’s hard to label. You might call it your soul, or your higher self, or your intuition, or the watcher, or your energy. You can call it your strawberry for all I care: I’m referring to the part of you that isn’t just your emotions, and is more than your mind– the part of you that is ageless. Most of us aren’t taught what to do with this part of ourselves, unless we’re taught to fear it or idolize it within a religious construct. I believe that most of us could use more knowledge and practice when it comes to managing our own energies. This is true especially for those of us who feel very porous to the world; learning to set energetic boundaries can be life-changing.
So I want to share an energetic technique with you that came up in a call this week with one of my beloved clients.
She had to have a hard conversation with someone. Like a really, really hard one. One where she knew ahead of time that the other person was going to be angry, hurt, sad, and afraid, probably loudly and wetly so. She had tissues at the ready.
We were talking through all the ways she could support both herself and this other person through this tough talk, which would happen at work. (Though you can also use it at home, with your kids, hell even in the supermarket.) We talked about practical things (policies, if you will!) like making sure they had enough time, and a private space with a door, and a clear plan for what she was going to say. We talked about how she could honor her own body, with deep breaths and an open half hour afterward in which to recover, and with some serious self-care later that evening.
“But most importantly, don’t forget to make your energetic cocoons!” I said.
“Haven’t I told you about the cocoons?”
I had not. So let me tell you about them, because they’re so freaking helpful.
First, some background.
When you interact with anyone, your mind is picking up all kinds of information and cues subconsciously; it’s taking in waaaaay more information than your logical, verbal mind can process consciously. You’re noting how they smell, their posture, how fast they’re breathing; apparently we can even tell from a distance of ten feet how fast someone’s heart is beating because our electromagnetic field can sense their electromagnetic field. On top of that, if you’re reading this I’d bet my new shoes that you’re more empathic than the average bear. You are more tuned in to other’s emotions, you can read subtleties in atmosphere and tone, and you’re quite likely picking up information intuitively that science doesn’t have words for yet. You have extra antennae that you might not even be aware of. (I go into depth into this topic in Practical Magic for Secret Mystics.) So it’s useful to be able to create some energetic boundaries around yourself, like an energetic hoop skirt that moves through the world with you, so that you aren’t overwhelmed by all the things flying through the ether and getting picked up on your antennae.
There are lots of ways to set these up, but they all come back to engaging your imagination with intention and passion.
So for an intense conversation, especially if you’re leading it (you’re the boss, or the parent, or you called the meeting), you can actually create some energetic structure that will support BOTH of you.
Before you enter into the conversation, use your imagination to prepare a space that is supportive as possible for both of you. You might imagine a lot of roominess, you might imagine plenty of light and air to let things move freely, you might add a river or a waterfall, you might give each of you big sturdy armchairs to hold you up and keep you steady. You can do this no matter what the physical space actually looks like; simply redecorate it in your mind’s eye. (If you don’t think you know how to do this, just pretend, the way you would if you were playing make believe with a little kid. Or, you can simply set an intention mentally using words like “I intend that this space will be safe and clear and roomy,” or whatever.)
Then, imagine each of you wrapped in your own individual cocoon. It’s soft, it’s gentle, it’s incredibly strong, and it holds you up and supports you. The key here is that you each have your own. Sometimes when we think about setting energetic boundaries we imagine a bubble just around ourselves, but that’s essentially giving the other person’s energy and feelings permission to take up all the rest of the space in the room. This approach is more balanced and grounded. So they get their own cocoon that supports them and holds their emotions, and you have your own too.
The cocoons are big, there’s plenty of room inside for messy emotions. They can breathe; there’s room for things to shift and move and be released. The cocoon isn’t there to squelch anybody’s intense feelings, it’s there to delineate between the two of you so that THEY can have their own experience and feelings, and you can have YOUR own.
We’re all wired to mirror each other’s emotions; there are literally neurons in our brains called “mirror neurons.” That’s why when you’re around an angry person you may feel more combative, more frantic around a frantic person, sorrow when someone else is sad, and so on. The upside of this is of course simply our capacity to feel empathy, and it’s a wonderful gift. But the shadow side of it can be that it’s easy to collapse into other peoples’ emotional experiences, to enter into their experience instead of having our own. That’s why the cocoon image is so powerful; it creates a container for you and a container for them and leaves space in the middle that’s just neutral.
That’s it, dearheart! You’re just working with your imagination, but it’s powerful magic. It’s not complicated, though it’s something that absolutely gets easier the more you practice. All you have to do is picture it in your mind. There’s no spell, no potion; you can meditate on it for a couple of minutes or you can just pop it up in your mind’s eye for a quick second and think to yourself, THAT.
When you’re in the thick of the conversation, you may find it hard to hold on to that feeling, so the more vividly you can picture it ahead of time, the better. If you do find their emotions seeping into you (you might feel them in your body as cold, or heaviness, or shakiness), keep telling yourself, “They get to have THEIR feelings, and I only have to feel MINE.”
That sentence, by the way, pretty sums up twenty years of therapy, coaching, personal development, and delving into the mystic pools of the world. You’re welcome!
May your weekend be filled with delicious conversations, energetic cocoons only if you need them which I hope you won’t, deep rest, moments of pure joy, and the biggest bunch of tulips and daffodils and hyacinths you can carry!