Boundaries are essential to life.
I recently saw a documentary that speculated about the origins of life. Crucial to the beginning of life was the formation of some sort of molecule (a lipid, I think), or chain of molecules, that could create a boundary, an interior space, because life cannot happen if its contents are just spilled out into the environment.
“Oneness” is one of the great principles underlying everything, but it is also part of a paradox pair, and the other side of that paradox is “eachness.” One of the first things that should strike us about the phenomenal world, as William James pointed out, is that nature loves eachness. We see highly individualized and differentiated trees, not a homogenous mass of treeness. Life loves eachness, and for there to be eachness, for there to be individuality and what Jung calls individuation, there must be boundaries.
But we live in era where people love to confess their deepest secrets on national television and Twitter away their every inner content for anyone one who will pay attention. Many people lose their chance at individuation, at individual evolution, because they never have strong enough boundaries to allow themselves to become distinguished from the collective.
One of the extreme examples of poor boundaries is sexual promiscuity, a dangerously naive practice that will often be recognized in nightmares as an extreme danger to the individual. In the waking life the dreamer may feel that “casual sex” is a healthy thing, that one should “let go of inhibitions” and may even feel they are being daring and avant-garde by sleeping around. But there is no dumber oxymoron than “casual sex.” It is not casual on the microbiological plane, and it is not casual on the bioenergetic and spiritual planes either.
Jungian analyst Edward Edinger wrote,
“..allowing unknown persons into their homes and into their bodies and into their psyches — with no sense of individual boundary. This is an exceedingly dangerous thing to do, on the physical level alone, inviting robbery and even murder. Psychologically, it is just as dangerous. Yet, these individuals feel so profoundly empty within themselves, that there arises a compulsion to be filled with some kind of intimate contact. Compulsions, however, do not work; they are unconscious behaviors and merely repeat themselves. Sexual promiscuity is the sort of behavior that reveals a grave defect in the “boundaries” of individual identity. These boundaries are lacking, or they are porous, and the psychological doors are wide open.”
Promiscuity is part of a general sickness in which we do not recognize the value of our individuality and desire causes us to become submerged in collective values and identity. Our life force spills out into the environment and becomes indistinguishable from the collective energy.
In Mysterium Coniunctionis, Jung wrote:
“You too are infected with this collective sickness. Therefore bethink you for once…and consider: What is behind all this desirousness? …The more you cling to that which all the world desires, the more you are Everyman, who has not yet discovered himself and stumbles through the world like a blind man leading the blind with somnambulistic certainty into the ditch. Everyman is a multitude. Cleanse your interest of that collective sulfur which clings to all like a leprosy…This means burning in your own fire and not being like a comet or flashing beacon showing others the right way but not knowing it yourself.”
Strong boundaries are what you need so that you can glow and become luminous with your own fire rather than be consumed by the general conflagration. Consider this a propitious time to build and repair the good fences in your life.
For more on how the dreaming mind views promiscuity and its origins in the cycling of patriarchal history see Born Under a Blood Red Moon — Metamorphosis of the Feminine in the Dreams of Young Women
If you have time to read more, also consider the text of a very related card, “Defending your Sovereign Domain:”
A close friend of mine spoke to me about what he perceived as an inadequacy in himself. “When random people approach me I often find myself cringing inside and wanting to escape.”
I told him that what he was experiencing made perfect sense to me, and did not sound like an inadequacy. I believe that what he was experiencing was because of something absolutely essential. He was having an immunological response to an intrusion into his interior space, and that response was directly related to a mainline evolutionary process.
I believe in teleological evolution, that there is an essential drive in evolution toward novelty, interior space and self-awareness. The evolution of life on this planet went though a quantum shift when a process called “cephalization ” got started. Cephalization means that nerve tissue starts to get asymmetrically concentrated in one end of an organism. This process, over myriad generations, eventually produces a head with sensory organs. This is the beginning of interiority — an organism has some sort of central nervous system or brain that allows it to build a neurological simulacrum of the outer world. This process, on planet earth, reaches it zenith with the human species, the species that, as far as we can tell, possesses the greatest interiority.
The interiority of our species has been undergoing a growth spurt in the last few thousand years. Some say that up to the time of Homer, about 2800 years ago, there was no such thing as a private emotion. A dog, for example, does not have private emotions. If it feels an emotion it acts it out with its body immediately. Homer marvels that Odysseus is able to disguise his feelings and this was seen as one of his almost super human abilities. In the Fifth Century Saint Augustine marvels that his friend Ambrose is able to read without saying the words aloud or even mouthing them. As Augustine put it: “His eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. Anyone could approach him freely and guests were not commonly announced, so that often, when we came to visit him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud.”
From my point of view, individualized interior space is evolution’s pearl of great price. Individualized interior space is what makes us human, and is a variable that makes some human beings much more interesting than others. Uninteresting people have diminished and low quality interior space. They seem to be formed from the outside by collective conditioning. Within we find a hodgepodge of cereal box tops, fragments of video, gossipy voices inciting inferior emotions and so forth. But when we find someone who has a high quality of interior space it is like being invited into a temple. The inner space of a genius can be like the interior of a great Gothic cathedral with vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows. It is more common, however, to find someone whose inner space is like the interior of a florescent-lit, run-down fast food joint that hasn’t been cleaned in a few days.
So if you are consciously working on developing your individualized interior space (and it is unlikely that you would be reading this if you weren’t), then you are doing sacred, evolutionary work. Your individualized interior space is your sovereign domain, and that sovereign domain must be defended at all costs. From what do we need to defend it? Your sovereign domain must be defended from outside conditioning, sensory pollution, and the intrusion of distracting influences. For example, let’s say you are sitting on a park bench and writing in your journal. You are doing invaluable work in your sovereign domain. A stranger sits down next to you and decides to offer the gift of what’s known as “small talk.” Ill- informed, highly conditioned opinions come spilling out, a cascade of inferior thought forms making a bum’s rush into your sovereign domain where they prance about drunkenly like they own the place. Some people feel that courtesy demands that they continue to listen and nod their head. Because of social convention, or misguided sympathy, they assume an obligation to surrender their sovereign domain to whoever demands it. I don’t make that assumption and instead believe that appropriate boundaries are what allow me to have a sovereign domain. As Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” In the present example I would say, “You’ll have to excuse me, I’m working on something that just can’t be interrupted.” The small-talker can move on and easily find others who will passively, or willingly, surrender their sovereign domains.
I also believe in respecting the sovereign domain of others. One of the reasons I left public school teaching is that I don’t want to participate in compulsory education. Someone who is unwillingly being instructed is experiencing a violation of his sovereign domain. I don’t wish to enter someone’s sovereign domain unless I am being invited there. For example, let’s say I am riding in a car with three other people. If I choose to speak, three people will be my captive audience. I feel a moral obligation to ask myself first: Is what I am about to say of sufficient information or entertainment value to these three specific others that it warrants my intrusion into their inner space? I’ve ridden in cars and vans while valuable insights and imaginal creations were happening in my sovereign domain only to have a self-appointed entertainer decide to perform a loud monologue consisting of jokes at which only they laugh. My nervous system does not allow me to tune out such an in-your-face intrusion. My sovereign domain is being violated, and in some cases I may be forced to allow that. For example, let’s say the entertainer is the owner/driver of the vehicle and is doing me a big favor by giving me a ride. The car is his domain, and courtesy demands that he be allowed free speech in his domain. Therefore, I do the best I can to avoid captive situations where I must surrender my sovereign domain to all and sundry.
But there are many situations, public transport for example, where it is very difficult to defend your sovereign domain. There is a certain type of person I call a squawker who feels that his loud, inane voice is God’s gift to the social matrix. This is the sort of person who has a loud cellphone conversation on a public bus, or who at the coffee shop erupts into explosive, caffeinated guffaws of idiotic laughter at various unfunny remarks. I recommend that you carry earplugs and/or noise-canceling headphones whenever you are going to be traveling through collective spaces.
Defending your sovereign domain does not mean that you are like tortoise retreating into your shell, however. It means that you recognize that nothing will take up as much space in your sovereign domain as another human being and therefore you need to be selective. You want to be able to invite significant others into your sovereign domain, but it is hard to do so when you are exhausted by unwelcome intrusions.
Often, however, what degrades our sovereign domain is not outside intrusion, but inner chaos. Left to themselves, most human beings are subject to what Jung called “psychic entropy.” Their sovereign domain becomes filled with looping negative thoughts, dark emotions and anxieties. For this reason, almost all people, even people who say they prefer solitude, report being happier in the company of others. Most psychopathologies, compulsions, eating disorder behaviors, suicidal thoughts, etc. are more likely to happen when a person is alone. The presence of other people helps to fill the sovereign domain that would otherwise be ruled by psychic entropy.
Defending your sovereign domain, therefore, does not just mean having appropriate boundaries with others, it also means being able to deal with inner forces that can compromise its integrity from within. We need to bring mindful attention to our inner realm. Often what we will find is that our sovereign domain is filled with what the I Ching calls “the inferiors.” These are inferior sub-personalities typically driven by wants and impulses that need to be managed by a central, witness personality that defends the sovereign domain from the chaos the inferiors can cause if they are allowed to rule. If we tune into our sovereign domain we are likely to find that various voices are speaking in there. Some are nagging, some are wheedling, some are worried, some just want to have fun and so forth. When you hear a voice ask it to come forward onto the inner stage, to step into the light of your awareness so you can see with whom who you are dealing.
A great metaphorical illustration of this process can be found in the live action movie version of George Sendak’s children’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are. Max is a young boy with an imaginative but also chaotic psyche that causes him to act out dark, destructive impulses that he later regrets. Horrified by something he has acted out, Max sets off by himself in a boat and journeys to an island where there are “wild things” — large monsters who seem to be human-animal hybrids. From this reading of the story (one of many possible interpretations), Max has traveled to his sovereign domain, an isolated region where his wild subpersonalities reign and threaten to consume his central personality. As Freud said, “Where id was, let ego be.” Max’s central witness personality has not developed enough strength to control these inferiors and he must journey to this isolated, unruly realm and bring some kind of order. Just as he is about to be devoured by the wild things. Max commands them: “Be still.” They stop and Max tells them that he is a king, and that they must obey him. The wild things are relieved and let him know that they desperately want a king to lead them. One of the wild things pleads, “Will you keep out all the sadness?” Another wild thing acknowledges Max as the creator of this island realm: “You were the king and you made everything right?” Max gains their enthusiastic cooperation by allowing them to party and have fun. He announces, “Let the rumpus begin!”
Max is able to live safely with the wild things and even gets them to do his bidding so long as he is able to maintain control and win their enthusiasm by keeping them busy on various creative projects and fun endeavors. But the wild things, like anyone’s cohort of inferior sub-personalities, are a difficult bunch, needy and neurotic, demanding and unable to set their own boundaries. When boundaries are set for them, they have to test them and see what they can get away with. Max has trouble with this because the boundaries he sets aren’t consistent. His main wild thing ally, Carol, complains: “I can’t trust you, everything keeps changing.” Carol is giving Max crucial feedback — to be king of your sovereign domain you need consistent boundaries and must bring stability to the realm. Carol is also afraid, as all the wild things are, of an underground noise he hears that he calls “Chatter.” He expects Max the King, to protect them from this perceived threat. It sounds like the threat is the inner chatter of psychic entropy.
One of the more difficult wild things is Judith who introduces herself to Max with the statement, “You don’t need to know me, I’m kind of a downer.” She also tells Max: “We want what we want. We want all the things that we want. Oh, and we want no more want.” Judith is the sort of sub-personality that easily feels neglected and can stir up rebellion. She asks Max: “How does it work around here? Are we all the same or are some of us better than others? You like to play favorites, huh king?” Instead of consoling Judith, Max childishly taunts her back and she explodes into rebellion: “You know what? You can’t do that back to me. If we’re upset your job is not to get upset back at us. Our job is to get upset.”
Judith is also giving Max crucial feedback. The inferiors cannot be managed with harshness, bullying or in any way descending to their level. According to I Ching scholar Carol Anthony, one needs to console the inferiors as a good dentist or doctor speaks to a child — “Now this will hurt, but only for a moment and then I will give you a treat.” etc. To win the leadership of our inferiors we must be seen as fair, just and able to provide them with some fun and pleasure at times. When Max forgets these principles his reign becomes endangered, the wild things begin to doubt that he is really the king and once again threaten to devour him.
To defend our sovereign domain we need to have good outer boundaries and to establish ourselves as the just and compassionate king of our inner realm.
If you are not already familiar with the concept of sub-personalities you may want to read the following text taken from the card “Aspects of the Self” :
We tend to think of ourselves as a single coherent personality, and expect the other to be a single coherent personality as well. But a single human being can support many personalities. The dramatic example is Multiple Personality Disorder, which is extremely rare. The familiar example, which is anything but rare, is how different we or the other can think, feel or act based on different moods and outer circumstances. A human being is almost always an aggregate of subpersonalities, and each of these personalities calls themselves “I” when they take over. One of the principle goals of individuation is to build up a central witness personality that is aware of the subpersonalities, that communicates and empathizes with all of them but doesn’t allow any of them to rule unnoticed. A powerful way to build up the witness and reduce fragmentation is to listen attentively to the various voices that speak in your head. Silent meditation is one way to sharpen awareness of the inner voices, but even more effective is mindfulness throughout your day on the revolving cast of inner voices/subpersonalities. Throughout the day there is an almost continual soundtrack, a voiceover monologue (to use a movie analogy), and the voiceover is usually in your native language. If you’re honest with yourself you’ll notice that the voiceover monologue is not controlled by a single personality. Listen to both the content of what the inner voices say and also the tone in which they speak. I might, for example, hear a needy, childish voice in my head say, “I want that!” Another voice that sounds like an anxious and irritated parent says,”You know you’re not supposed to have that.” Another voice sounds like a gruff pirate and says, “Aaargh, what the hell, just grab for it!” Still another voice has a wheedling tone and says,”I really shouldn’t, but just this once, and starting tomorrow I won’t ever again,” and so forth.
Similarly, different drives within us can personify into inner characters that become the voices of those drives.
One of the essential purposes of an oracle is to act as a mirror of the psyche and confront the inquirer with various aspects of themselves. It takes a great deal of moral courage to be willing to face the multiplicity of selves operating within us.
Be wary about listening to (or becoming) inner voices that are not calm and compassionate. The same holds true interpersonally. You may have to listen to voices that are carping, anxious, wheedling, self-pitying, angry and so forth, but listen to them with calm, compassionate understanding. This empathy may gain you influence over the subpersonality (or the outer person) and it will certainly limit how much those uncentered voices can influence you.
Thomas Jefferson said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” The real freedom is free will, and free will requires eternal vigilance with our inner process.