Be A River

A Simple Definition of Boundaries and How to Work With Them

Jen Hill
5 min readFeb 4, 2022
Photo by Paulina Šleiniūtė on Unsplash

I think we can all agree that the COVID pandemic took the world we knew in its implacable hands, shook it really hard, and then set it down again. Like a big old snow globe. Two years later and every new variant means that the ‘snow’ doesn’t stop sifting about, obscuring our vision of the future and saying bugger-all to our many plans.

Working from home has many benefits and drawbacks. For myself, I love being able to wear comfy leggings as I teach my English lessons online (and not having to waste my time commuting, probably the biggest plus of all). But working from home has made life very porous. Where boundaries once existed between work and not-work (I do not dare call it play), those boundaries either no longer exist, or they are as flimsy as tissue paper. This situation is worsened if you must live a hybrid life, half in the office, half at home, isolating every time a family member tests positive or has a positive contact at work or school.

How can we regain our boundaries, and thereby our own sanity while we wait for the ‘snow’ to settle?

For those of us who struggle with creating and maintaining these boundaries, it helps to have a simple yet strong definition of what a boundary is.

Having a boundary is denying people access to your energy. (1)

For most people, energy is finite. It is spent and replenished in hard to predict cycles (especially when sleep is also disrupted or overall health is poor). Whether or not you believe in qi or prana, you probably recognise that energy is spent in two different ways: energy that flows freely through the pursuit of deeply meaningful work (in which case the energy expenditure does not necessarily feel like effort), and energy that is forced through willpower to complete various undesired tasks (in which case the energy expenditure definitely feels like effort).

Put in other terms, free flowing energy is agile and flexible. It comes when it comes and goes when it goes. It creates a sense of timelessness. This is also called a flow state or being in the zone. Sadly, this type of energy use is quite rare for most of us. We generally must apply willpower, therefore creating tension, which makes this energy tighter and more rigid. Constricts it, in a sense. That friction alone eats away at what energy is available, depleting it even further.

Not all of us have the opportunity to work in occupations that fulfil us in deeply meaningful ways. It may be that a lot of willpower is needed to expend the energy required to finish our tasks.

It doesn’t matter if we think this task is good for our career, for our studies, or for our families; energy flows through the body and the body can’t lie. In this case, strong boundaries are even more required, to preserve what little energy is left for the things that do provide this fulfilment.

Richard Rudd said it best in his book Gene Keys, “Denying people access to your energy is a noble act. Saying no to the right person or thing means that you are choosing to stay rooted in your own being.” (1)

Saying no to someone or something else is the equivalent of saying yes to yourself.

This creates a much needed balance between serving the needs of the world around you and serving the needs of your heart.

In moments of deep relaxation and trust, we touch the dream that is in our heart. We all have one, because we all have a unique genetic destiny. We have been seeded with talents and abilities that can serve the world around us.

This dream also needs energy to thrive. But if you are constantly saying yes to people at work, or your kids, or your partner, there is precious little energy left for your own dream. Improperly nourished, dreams can shrivel and die. Your attention, your energy is the only water that can help it flourish.

The banks of a river make a river powerful.

Without banks, without boundaries, a river wouldn’t even exist.

Photo by Daniil Silantev on Unsplash

The next time you are asked to attend a meeting or a gathering, or spearhead a new project, or do one of a million other things that would require your energy, you can imagine the water flowing through your personal river and ask yourself: Does this serve me? Is it truly necessary? What might I gain if I say no to this?

Before anyone starts feeling guilty, thinking of the people who will be upset, and the image of people-pleasing that will be tarnished, remember this: directing this energy towards your own dream, using the gifts that have been given to you, will reap far greater benefits in the long run.

By choosing yourself, you are choosing us all.

(And in the event that you do manage to secure some time for yourself by saying no and conserving your energy which is then spent on binging Netflix and playing games on your phone, please be gentle with yourself. We’re still in the midst of a global pandemic, and a little self-soothing won’t serve you wrong. Entropy (or the lack of energy available for use in a system) comes when it comes and goes when it goes. You can trust that this period won’t last forever, either. (Please check out my other article on this very subject: What to do when you’re stuck in a funk (hint, don’t do anything))

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Jen Hill

Just a girl in Prague, writing about love, teaching, and spirituality. I enjoy shamanism, writing novels, and drinking craft beer.