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Defining One’s Self

When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and your discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be. -Patanjali

In the world of yoga where we aim to break down boundaries between self and other to realise the oneness of being, there is not much dialogue about the boundaries that define one’s self and the importance of boundary setting in our day to day life. Without boundaries, all the suffering of the world is easily felt on the shoulders of those practicing compassion. Just as our happiness is infused into the lives of others, our stresses, worries and burdens can also be felt by those around us. As practitioners of yoga, how do we offer our lives up to serving all beings without taking the world’s problems to bed with us at night?

The passion for a project, a purpose or a subject matter plays a part in defining who we are as individuals, but at the same time it can blur the boundaries between self and other. When we put our heart and soul into a project, it is all-consuming and an essential part of who we are. Despite this, many who are occupied with their passion suffer greatly with unhappiness. Artists, writers, musicians, politicians and activists are notorious for this.

Prior to teaching yoga full-time, I worked at a large, international organisation concerned for the welfare of the environment. With it’s roots based on Buddhist and Quaker beliefs of nonviolence and inter-being (the idea we are all connected), some of the employees were passionate about their work and at the same time fun loving and fulfilled in their lives; but many carried an intensity that if not outright violent, was at best negative and heavy handed. Within a very short time I found myself integrating into the work culture–working into the early hours of the morning, dreaming about work, concerned with the welfare of my team and of the success of the organisation. At a certain point, my own happiness began to falter. I observed this happening to others around me and wondered how one could change the world to a more peaceful place if not at peace themselves? I came to realise that I could be a bigger change agent by living in the world mindfully and happily instead of rushing around chaotically, juggling whatever was thrown my way in the name of saving the planet; exhausted and unfulfilled as a result.

Setting boundaries helps to establish a domain for sustaining oneself. One’s energy, one’s vitality and one’s priorities are important components for connecting to the world around us and contributing towards making a positive impact. Creating a space of refuge enables one to see things objectively, giving one distance from the mundane to refocus on a bigger picture. It supports one’s ability to go inward to the dwelling of true happiness, so one may contribute this to the outside world. As William Arthur Ward said, “Happiness is an inside job”, and as Epictetus said so many moons ago, “There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.” (Greek philosopher associated with the Stoics, AD 55-c.135)

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