A friend once said to me “life happens at our boundaries”. What does that mean? At one level, we are boundaryless. We are one. There is no separation. You may even have had experiences of feeling this. At another level, we live on a rock spinning in space and we each have a physical form. So yes, of course there would seem to be boundaries and limits.

Boundaries create our identity – as people and countries – what we want, what we don’t want, and what we find safe and acceptable.  Margaret Wheatley wrote, “the first act of life is to create a boundary, a membrane that is the cell’s identity. It defines an inside and an outside, what it is, what it is not”. And arguably for the remainder of our lives, we go about constantly defining and protecting them as a way of distinguishing ourselves from, and being in relationship with, others. We construct walls from our beliefs, attitudes and experiences, drawn from years of family, social, cultural and national influences. Some we create consciously and purposefully; others we simply absorb. Some are created out of a desire for approval, control, security or a sense of separation or belonging. Probably most have no real foundation. They may give us a false sense of security and create unnecessary divisions or hurdles. Or they may be valued and justified but still be ultimately restrictive. Do they need to be broken through or softened in order for us to truly flourish?

Our everyday choices communicate both to ourselves and others where exactly our boundaries are. Creating and defending them can bring war, violence and tragedy. And confronting them can bring learning, growth and new understanding. For they really are the points where we test, explore, exchange, connect, challenge, compromise, love and develop.

The earth that is our home

At the same time, as Joanna Macy says in this Bioneers talk, “our species and complex life systems are all threatened with extinction because we don’t recognise limits”. There is a limit to what we can consume, extract, take, pollute, exploit before we destroy the very fabric which makes life possible.

The documentary ‘Breaking Boundaries’ communicates the very real urgency of recognising these limits. It references the planetary boundaries work by scientist Johan Rockström and others, who identify 9 which provide a ‘safe operating system’ for humanity. As the documentary shows, we have already exceeded 4 of them. What will it take for us to break through the boundaries of our collective imagination? Boundaries which have, so far, kept us from rethinking our mad craze for infinite growth in a finite world?

As Yuval Noah Harari reflected back to us in Sapiens, our overarching political and social systems, and our current lifestyles, are rooted in the boundary-making of agricultural plots. When we went from foragers living spontaneously in the present to farmers fearfully stockpiling for the future. As he writes “Attachment to ‘my house’ and separation from neighbours became the psychological hallmark of a much more self-centred creature”. One able to create nation states with a mindset of defensiveness, scarcity and competition. And a habit of exploiting, extracting and oppressing both our fellow beings and the earth’s sacred elements.

Yet today, more and more people are identifying as ‘world citizens’. And there is a growing awareness that humanity shares a common fate on this beautiful ‘pale blue dot’ we call home.

So the likes of the 30×30 goal seeks to protect 30 percent of land and marine spaces by 2030, which seems such an obvious thing to do. But of course this challenges the huge vested interests of the fishing, forestry and agricultural sectors. And conservation initiatives have a history of violating the lives and rights of indigenous people.  If not co-created with local communities it could also be yet another form of land-grabbing and displacement and harm. As Joan Carling on Seedcast says, “fortress conversation is another form of genocide for indigenous peoples”.

Where do we start?

We surely need first to identify and recognise our own boundaries. And the ingrained, unexamined notions of what separates us from others and what new realities might be possible if we were to relax our hold on them. Then we might be able to start co-creating with the people and ideas that lie on the other side of them.

At a personal level, we may even start with a meditation or yoga practice. Where we learn to breath through our own rigidity. We can consciously engage in mindful communication. Standing so calmly in our own autonomy that we are able to really hear and explore different views with others. Or it may come through seeking positive systemic changes. Connecting with those who also know in their hearts that a far more peaceful, sustainable, respectful and abundant world is possible.

What are your boundaries? Do they really serve you and the greater good?




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