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“Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek.” ~ Dalai Lama XIV
“Protect your energy.”
“Watch out for energy vampires.”
“We need more boundaries in a world full of people with bad intentions.”
On my personal spiritual quest, I came across many paths and many answers (or at least what I’d thought would be the right answers). My sensitive soul sparkled and searched for divine connection, and with that came all the tribulations of an enlightening yet painful self-discovery journey.
When we become more connected, more in touch with our spirituality, at times we find it’s easier to lose ourselves. We become extremely sensitized by the world’s heavy burden. We hurt more. The news distresses us more than it ever did. The negative people drive us madder than before. We feel we are always at some sort of breaking point.
Then it’s common to hear talks of “protecting our energy” in spiritual groups. I have read many materials on that subject. My favorite one is still Judith Orloff’s The Empath’s Survival Guide. I like it that she can point out, as a psychiatrist and an intuitive healer, behaviors that would classify us as empaths and how we could thrive by setting some healthy boundaries. I really think everyone should read that book at some point, just to be able to understand what safe boundaries really are. Dr. Orloff is not judgmental and speaks with great clarity and compassion about the needs of empaths.
I’ve also written an article for Elephant Journal about the empath’s “need” of being “fixers,” the way sensitive beings want to see everyone happy and are always afraid of conflicts. In my article, “Empath 101: Stop Trying to Fix People who Don’t Want to Be, Didn’t Ask to Be, Saved,” I tell my fellow empaths that we need to let people be who they want to be, and stop this madness of trying to fix everyone when it’s not our job. I also talk about safe boundaries that need to be created from a compassionate and conscious state of being.
And that’s the point I wanted to tap into today: compassion. Compassion while setting boundaries.
Trust me, I’ve met many people in the spiritual community who speak of setting boundaries but don’t add compassion as a must-need ingredient of this process. When I was a beginner in my spiritual journey, I may have followed that trail of actions a few times as well. I was amazed at the world of crystals, protective stones, prayers/mantras to be said around “toxic” people, and also protective “shields.” If you ask me for tips on how to shield yourself, I probably have solid material saved somewhere.
But I didn’t have much on compassionate boundaries. And this is what all of us need.
I really believe boundaries are necessary. I have not changed my mind on that issue. I totally believe in energy-draining, psychic vampires and energy loss. There were times when by just talking or being around someone with heavy energy, I felt sick and drained. I used to be in bed one day after visiting someone in a hospital, for example. So yes, I believe some people can be “sponges.”
But I also realized that sponges like me need to have a deep sense of compassion before setting any kind of boundaries, and I will tell you why.
The problem I have with some spiritual literature (not Dr. Orloff’s!) about setting boundaries is that, first of all, they bring a primordial feeling of separation. You: sensitive, empath, sponge, naïve, good-hearted. Them: negative, energy vampires, drainers.
While I recognize that some people, including me, the not-so-perfect “empath,” can be extremely toxic sometimes, we share some common ground: our humanness. At some point we have all been broken, we have all been toxic, and we have all carried some sort of trauma and transferred that to people. So why do we find ourselves in a position of shielding against everyone else’s “negativity” and not realizing that we sometimes can be a pool of toxicity too?
I beg you, before you put some tourmaline rocks in your pockets for protection, to try to see the person who you consider toxic with eyes of love.
In The Book of Mastery by Paul Selig, a must-read about being in touch with who we really are, his guides mention a mantra that I’ve never forgotten: “I see the one before me with the eyes of the Christ.” By “Christ” they do not mean it in the Christian, religious way, but the purity, the divine Christ-self that all of us have. You may choose to change the words to “I see the one before me with eyes of love (or divine love),” if you wish—but at the end of the day, it’s all the same principle.
When we drop our guards just a little bit and envision the person in front of us, who causes us distress, with eyes of love and compassion, we soon realize that while we may still need to set some boundaries, they become less necessary or demanding.
A few months ago, I was supposed to meet someone who had caused me to feel fear, distress, and pain. I remember meeting the person a couple of times before and coming back home totally drained. I even became sick once. So my heart pounded with anticipation when I knew I had to meet this person, although I wouldn’t be alone. The first thing I thought was, I’m not going. I don’t have to see this person. It’s my right to say “no.” Next, I changed my mind a bit: Okay, maybe I’ll go, but I need to protect my energy first.
Then it hit me. Protect me from what, exactly?—and I knew I was being way too reactive. Whatever happened between this person and I had been in the past, nothing so serious, so why was I still acting from a place of fear? I realized I was also adding fuel to the drama by acting like that. I knew I’d been toxic at some point in my life, so how could I judge this person?
So I decided to go. And most importantly, I decided to see that person “with eyes of love.” I took a deep breath and remembered who I really was. I remembered who this person really was too. We were one. The separation between us was an illusion, and all the drama and pain created between us came from a place of unconsciousness and fear.
Bottom line: I met the person, and we had a good and non-conflicting time together. We even laughed at some pictures she showed me of her family. At that moment, the veil of separation between me and this person dissolved.
Are there still boundaries between us? Sure. I don’t need to hang out all the time. I will not take offensive remarks during mealtime. I can still carry my crystals with me. But even if I don’t have this shield of protection and boundaries, I will be safe knowing that whomever I meet, I will see them with eyes of love.
So I beg you to find your ground first, and also your heart, before setting your safe boundaries. I am in no position of telling you that you have no right to set boundaries. I know some people can hurt us tremendously, and trauma can perpetuate forever.
But I do ask you to look at everyone with eyes of love and compassion. Maybe think to yourself if there could be reasons why that person is “toxic” in the first place. Did he/she have a safe and loving childhood? Were there any traumas of any source? Do you feel that the person knows he/she is the main cause of their own mess?
In the deepest of our souls, in our truest essence, there is no evil.
There is ego, though. And we all have egos; nobody is safe from them. Think of a time when you caused pain to someone. Forgive yourself for that, as your level of consciousness at that time wasn’t the same as of today. You wouldn’t repeat those past mistakes, would you? But imagine that, since you are not perfect, you also have no right to look at anyone with judgmental eyes and label them “this” or “that,” left and right. You can certainly identify patterns of abuse and pain and want to dissociate from them, but do so from a place of awareness and high consciousness, not from your egotistic and condemnatory ego.
You have the right to protect your energy. I will continue protecting mine. I’ll still say “no” many times and set boundaries at work and at home. But now I’ll choose to see the person I want “protection” from first, with eyes of compassion. Once I do that, then the boundaries come from a place of love and not of fear.
And you need to get rid of fear before setting boundaries, or they will not work.
I have failed miserably before. I used methods of protection that did not work only because I was looking at the person with judgment and fearful eyes. Now I can be around toxic people and places and they won’t disturb my energy as much as they did before. So please, don’t make the same mistake I made.
An amazing tool to break the illusion of separation between you and a “toxic” person is the Tonglen Meditation. During that meditation, you inhale the pain of somebody else and exhale love back at them (you can also do that for yourself). I promise that, since this meditation has a healing purpose, you will not “absorb” anybody’s energy.
When you realize that the same person you consider toxic suffers, you drop your ego’s guard. You become sensitized with the core of their suffering. And in that place, you find your heart.
So every time you find the need to set boundaries, I ask you to first create a shield of protection between you and your ego. Before meeting or seeing someone that causes you pain, repeat these mantras to yourself:
“May I see you with eyes of love and compassion.”
“May I understand your suffering, as well as mine.”
“May I understand we are one and we both have the right to live harmoniously in this world.”
“May your behavior and my behavior never hurt one another.”
“May you be happy and healthy. May you find your peace.”
Then check in with how you feel. You might find an aura of peace surrounding you and your heart center. From that place of consciousness and love, you are finally ready to set safe and loving boundaries.
The main question is: Do you still need them?