donoharm‘Everything is a Mirror’ can be a powerful and transformative practice as we learn to navigate the synchronistic relationship between the inner and outer life, between self and other.  But the moment we lose sight of the paradoxical nature of life, this bit of New Age fundamentalism can make us too psychically porous and, in certain situations, even put us in harm’s way. It can be especially damaging in abusive or chaotic situations, and can lead to victim-blaming and justification of reckless behaviour.

There are times when someone else’s bad behaviour is theirs and theirs alone. And, instead of reflecting on how you might improve yourself or ‘rise above your emotions,’ you must respect your reaction and Become the Mirror. Which is to say, show the other your strong, clear boundary.

This idea that we should have unlimited patience and flexibility implied in the ‘mirror’ precept trains us to tolerate more than we should, always ‘working on ourselves,’ quelling our disagreements, being ‘more evolved,’ and attaining inner peace. But what if inner peace depends upon your speaking your NO? What if being evolved means wielding the sword of discernment, which knows its own standpoint and isn’t afraid to say, “I’m not in that.”

Photograph by Ben Zank

Photograph by Ben Zank

In the ancient Kabbalastic tradition, the development of the soul is represented by a symbol called the Tree of Life. Its a kind of map to divinity which respects the polarities, and the middle way between them. Upon the tree are 10 sefirot, or spiritual principles, by which the world is created. Though it is a rich and complex system, I’d like to speak about one pair of counterparts; Chesed and Gevurah.

While Chesed is ‘boundless loving kindness,’ Gevurah is ‘no more.’ It is the restraint of our natural impulse to bestow goodness. It’s the line drawn in the sand.  While Chesed draws the other close, Gevurah is boundaries. It is the withdrawal which holds the other accountable.

Together, Chesed and Gevurah act to create a dynamic balance in the soul’s navigation of relationships & the world. Paradoxically, (and here’s the juicy part) it is Gevurah’s withdrawal which creates the potentiality for Chesed to occur! In other words, the discipline you expect of others is actually an expression of love. Different from judgement, Gevurah is the tenacity to our own & others’ greatest potential.

Though asserting your boundaries rarely feels ‘good’ in the moment, it is ultimately a loving gesture to recognize someone’s capability and say, “I expect better from you.” To say NO is a potent medicine which places responsibility where it truly belongs, and invites the other to live up to honouring those limits.

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