Photo by Tijana Drndarski on Unsplash

The Safe Forest

This morning, I am meditating on establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries with those closest to you.

Metaphorically speaking, keeping others on designated trails through your life that you have prepared for them is good for both of you.

Clearly marking such trails is absolutely essential! Remember, no one can read your mind. No one else knows your insecurities or triggers or the other hazards of your inner life unless you clearly communicate them using unambiguous language.

You have the sole and exclusive responsibility for blazing and maintaining the safe trails through your life on which you want others to stay. If you fail to responsibly clear, maintain, and communicate the boundaries of these paths, you cannot reasonably expect others in your life to follow the trail, because they won’t be able to see it!

When others stay on the trail, the carefully tended landscape of your private life will not be trampled, and you will not be damaged by their encroachments into parts of your heart and mind that are not open to them.

Likewise, they will not get lost in what might be a dark forest, full of conditions that could be dangerous to outsiders unfamiliar with the terrain, not to mention the indigenous flora and fauna. The wilder your heart and mind, the more dangerous to others it is to allow them open access to your inner life.

Those who seek close, intimate connections with you may find it especially hard to stay on the trail. This is not because they do not respect you! Rather, like a child, they love you with virtually no limits, and they trust you in a way that blinds them to the dangers of a heart or mind that has been allowed to grow wild. They see only a beautiful forest, not the hazards it may contain.

When those closest to you stray from the trail, trespassing into parts of your life the sharing of which with them you are uncomfortable, gently remind them that staying on the trail is for your mutual benefit. Be patient, understanding, kind, and forgiving.

When those closest to you disregard your boundaries, treat them as you would a small child. Do not be harsh; instead, lovingly and patiently correct them, reminding them that the trail you have provided, with its boundaries and limitations, allows you both to walk together in peace and safety.

If you have read this far, I want to reward you with a final, beautiful vision — an ideal you may want to consider adopting as a goal for the cultivation of your inner life. Let’s call it the Safe Forest or the Well-Tended Garden.

I believe most people want to have, at least, one relationship with another person that is so intimate, respectful, trusting, and loving that there is no need for more than a few boundaries. There is no need to keep them on a trail through your inner life. They are allowed to roam your garden or forest without concern that they will cause (or suffer) harm.

Two things are necessary for such a relationship to exist:

(1) Your inner life, your heart and mind, must be safe. You must tend your garden. You must clear your forest of dangerous conditions, poisonous flora, and vicious fauna. You must make as safe as possible the environment of your heart and mind. With respect to those hazards that you are unable to remove, find help to make them known and create boundaries and signage around the hazards.

(2) The person you trust with unlimited access must be someone you reasonably believe will help you tend your garden. They must be a warden, or forest ranger, for your heart and mind. They must spend time learning about the plants and animals that live there. They must love, respect, and commit to protect your inner life just as you do.

In a marriage, your and your spouse’s gardens or forests ought to begin to overlap as you grow together, until you cannot differentiate between them. You will simply have one double-sized garden or forest that you both can lovingly maintain together.

Most people are so overwhelmed with their own gardens or forests, they cannot tend to another’s. This is why, if you want deep, meaningful connections with other people, becoming introspective, intentional, mindful, and conscientious is essential.

It’s equally essential, of course, to be curious, considerate, respectful, and compassionate when roaming in others’ gardens or forests; you must demonstrate you can be trusted to go off their trails without causing (or suffering) harm.

You must do the hard work of tending your garden, and attract others who will come to love, respect, and protect it. Otherwise, you will spend your life simply doing trail maintenance and trying to keep others from straying into a dark and dangerous forest.

“I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man without sense; and lo, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down.”
Proverbs 24:30–31

© 2021 Noel Bagwell. All Right Reserved.

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