Living in the Comfort Zone; The Gift of Boundaries in Relationships
By Rokelle Lerner
Few of us in our western culture know where our comfort zone is. Indeed, what it is probably provokes some confusion. We are raised to live the American Way, the way of the warrior, the pioneer, the manifest entrepreneur. This has served us well for centuries! To go where no one has gone before, to paraphrase Star Trek, helped our foreparents to stretch beyond their limits, to find new territory, new ways of solving old problems and conquering new ones. Now it seems that what we haven't learned is how to be inside our bodies. How ironic that in this advanced society we've created we don't know how to live with ourselves and each other. This phenomenon creates a tragic disparity as we continue stretching outward, conquering and creating. The disparity that exists is the incredible potential that we have created by our progress, and our inability to participate in that potential.
With all our technology, where do we find a sense of ease? Is it in our homes? Most people say no. Is it at work, with friends, with our family, lovers or in nature? Most of us truly don't have a place that provides us with a sense of sanctuary. We feel we must always be vigilant. In fact, this predicament was foretold by authors of Utopian literature. For example, in his book 1984 George Orwell suggests that there would be no place of refuge because "Big Brother" was everywhere watching, lurking, waiting. And what was the solution suggested for the populace in Huxley's Brave New World? They could find comfort in "soma," a drug dispensed to the entire population that took all the edges off emotions, let them forget problems and provided a comforting sense of well-being. Sound familiar? Today few of us know at least one person who is not on Prozac or some other psychotropic.
It would be irresponsible to omit that many people have literally been saved by these kinds of anti-depressants. However, I propose that many folks have been prescribed this drug to quell an ongoing anxiety that reveals an unwillingness to be in one's skin, a fear of a world that is filled with abuse, violence and sexually transmitted diseases, an easier cure for a malady that affects the whole of society. After all, it's much easier to take a pill than to go through the labor of trusting our senses and making decisions based on our integrity. If pills or machines could fix our intimate relationships or make us better parents, most of us would be lined up at the drug counters.
The problem is that in those quiet moments, in those times when we can't sleep, we still feel the emptiness, the aloneness, the void and sometimes the terror. For in the last analysis, we all must go through the effort of finding ourselves and waking our senses if we are to have any sense of security and feel at home with Mother Earth. There aren't enough weapons, burglar alarms, mace cans or technological ingenuity that can do it for us. That's why there's a renewed interest in the spirituality of indigenous cultures. These less technological people felt at home where they were, they lived with the rhythm of Earth's seasons, they knew and depended on their bodies, and they felt the presence of the sacred in all life forms. With the growth of our technology we lost that connection to the sacred. Now we wonder what happened to us.
Many cultures have rituals for children entering adulthood, moving from a separate entity into a responsible member of the community. Children in many cultures-for example, Native American, Maoris, Basque and so on - were exposed to rigorous study of the self and the culture through vision quests, shamanic journeys and intensive study. Children were allowed and virtually pushed to find a sense of themselves and their purpose, before joining the collective community. In our society we are rarely, if ever, given the opportunity of such ritual. Today, the rites of passage from adolescence to adulthood are getting a driver's license, getting drunk or getting pregnant. How do we teach adolescents to find their comfort zone when we are so confused about our own?
As we move into this twenty-first century, the challenge we face is to achieve a balance between technology and our need to return to a sense of comfort. Not the kind of comfort that money buys or pharmaceuticals create, but the kind of ease and comfort we feel when we're attuned to our thoughts, our feelings and our bodily responses. The kind of security and well-being we experience when we learn to heed the signals we get from our bodies and our environment. Only then can we exist on this planet with understanding, wisdom an discernment. If this were the case now, we wouldn't have to teach children to "just say no," or to teach women that they don't have to tolerate violence in their relationships. We are being called on to move from reaction to creation. As anthropologist Angeles Arrien says, "It is easy to discuss what the problem is and complain, it is much more difficult to use our internal wisdom to create solutions." This is partially why those in the recovery movement are becoming less interested in describing the problems of their dysfunctional families, and are instead searching for solutions that can bring forward their spirituality, wisdom, safety and ongoing sense of comfort on this planet.
When is the last time you felt a sense of well-being and ease? Many of us look back to some childhood memory when we were free from responsibility, when we could run or jump or skip and let the wind blow through our hair. Some of us remember being held or touched or tucked into bed by loving adults who assured us that the world would still be there in the morning. Some of us never achieved this kind of comfort until adulthood, if ever! If you can remember a time when you felt a sense of comfort, write it down and try to recall what the circumstances were. What was the lighting, the smell, the taste, the sound, the touch? How did your body feel? Where did you feel relaxation? These are the sensations within your comfort zone. It's a space that no one can take away from you and no one can enter unless you agree.
Now, think of a time when you walked right into hurt or danger. Did you have a sense that danger was approaching? Was there something inside of you that knew you shouldn't be walking down that street or starting that relationship or taking that job or hanging around for the verbal abuse? As you recall this situation, remember how your body felt. Did you have a tight gut, were your palms sweaty, was your heart palpitating, was your mind racing or did you feel numb? These are all signals that you were about to violate your own boundaries and leave your comfort zone. If that's what you did, don't be too hard on yourself. Most of us were raised to ignore danger or violence, "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" Especially women in our culture who are taught to please others, and men who are taught to ignore their pain. Daily we push ourselves beyond our limits, until we lose our way home. We overtax our endocrine system and then wonder why diseases of the immune system are rampant. Creating boundaries and a comfort zone that we know and can depend on isn't a trivial exercise, it's a matter of survival.
I suggest that we've moved our boundary lines so far away that they are almost irretrievable. Now we must go about the job of creating a sacred space for ourselves. That begins by realizing that we're separate from all other beings. Some who are spiritually sophisticated might balk and say, "That isn't true; we are all connected." I agree, but that protest misses an important step: we can't know connectedness with others without first knowing a sense of our own separateness. Any attempt at spiritualizing or intellectualizing this concept is folly without the important discovery of self. So many have tried to bypass this crucial step and have come to dire straits, from evangelists who are now imprisoned to New Age gurus who are now looking for methods to combat their depression.