Protecting My Space by Setting Expectations
The word space has been floating in my awareness for a few weeks. With its frequent appearance, it’s time to pay attention to these subtle nudges from the Universe to honor my boundaries and expectations.
These nudges have come out of my own mouth, from my accountability partner who needed to make space in her calendar and our meeting was one she could sacrifice to get some “breathing room,” and from a mentor’s message during a group meditation where she asked us to consider the concept of making space to receive the answers to our questions. All of these and more have led to my musings. Contemplating space was cause for me to reflect upon my living arrangements, the space in my calendar, between projects, in my budget, and in my overall day.
First, my living space: It’s been three years since I’ve lived in my “own” space. I made the decision to enter into a co-living situation with my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughters (one had yet to be born), when I was preparing to leave San Diego. Downsizing in steps seemed less dramatic than selling and/or giving away my furniture in the week or so before I moved. Co-living was mutually beneficial to my son’s family and for me. We supported one another financially, emotionally, and by sharing household chores at a time of great transition — them in welcoming another child into their lives and me preparing to leave the family nest so I’d have the space to figure out who I really was and how I wanted to live my life — contemplations sparked by my mother’s death just months before.
When I landed in Colorado, I once again entered a co-living arrangement with the woman who first was a writing student, then my assistant turned friend, and sometimes feels like “mom.” It was a safe place to land as I figured out whether my stay in Colorado was for a month, a summer, or longer. It’s turned into longer as I approach my second year here.
However, the desire to have my own space nips at my heels quite frequently. My need for solitude grows with each passing semester, where I hold space for the intellectual and sometimes emotional needs of a hundred plus students. There are times when I don’t have the energy or desire to have a conversation when I enter the door in the evening — at least until I’ve had a chance to change my clothes, wash my face, and reload my bag with the next day’s textbooks.
Cherishing My Mornings
The mornings, however, are particularly sacred to me. While I love mornings, I’d rather not speak to another human being for a couple of hours after I rise. Much of that time, I’m in my private space, engaged in Wim Hof breathing, meditating, yoga, and rebounding. Even when I enter the common space of the kitchen to prepare the food I carry for my day’s refreshment, I’m not ready to speak much either. During this time, I’m mentally preparing for my classes and reviewing my plans for the lecture and the activities. Or I’m contemplating my life and any choices I’m needing to make — and it seems of late, there is no lack of decisions to make. My schedule is tight. I rise at 5:15 and need to be out the door no later than 7:15. A conversation, even a short one, disrupts my concentration and delays my departure — and adds to the stress of my daily commute.
At the beginning of this recent semester, knowing what I needed to do to take care of me prior to stepping out the door into the embrace of campus activities, I laid out my requests in a long email to my housemate. I like to put things in writing so that we’re all clear on intentions and expectations. In addition to not saying more than “good morning” if we happened to run into each other in the kitchen, I asked that texts be limited to emergencies. If there was anything that needed to be shared, that could happen when I was cooking dinner — a time when a glass of red wine, a little music, and creative blending of ingredients helps me wind down. I told her it wasn’t personal. It’s what I needed to keep overwhelm at bay.
Slowly, those boundaries were crossed — and I take responsibility. I changed the rules, and when that happens, boundaries are often tested. First, it was a few short conversations, and I found myself feeling stressed by leaving even five minutes later than planned. Then, there were a few “good morning” texts if we didn’t see one another in the kitchen space. I ignored these transgressions, at first thinking “it’s not a problem.” But in reality, it was. I was sending mixed messages, reneging on my earlier requests.
Honoring My Needs
Not only wasn’t I being honored, I wasn’t honoring my own need for boundaries. I was upset with myself for not nipping the problem in the bud when they first occurred. My reaction to them was growing. Uninvited interruptions encroached on that space, and I needed to be with myself and process my day’s events. A long-overdue conversation was in order sparked by a heated debate over parched plants and when they’d last been watered. This was merely a sign that I had bitten my tongue for far too long.
As I stormed off to yoga class, near tears, my anger bubbled to the surface. Yoga was the place I went for space for me–-and it was not so pleasant experience because I hadn’t honored my own needs by not holding others to my requests. As I drove back to the shared space, I knew a conversation was in order — one the would either heal the crumbling relationship with my roommate or send me packing earlier than I planned.
We sat in the living room, with the warm air filtering through the door on an unusually spring-like winter day. “I need you to understand that I don’t want texts or morning conversations.” My heart beat wildly and tears came to the edge of my voice. “I have responsibilities and plans to honor to reach my goals for the year — goals that are very important to me.” I pointed to the chart that I had shared with her — a vision that would allow me to take my grandsons, now 10 and 9, to the Galapagos in the next year or two, see my novel published, and begin taking people on fly fishing excursions for transformational experiences. The tears began in earnest as the thought of not having the $15,000 or more to take the boys on a long-ago promised trip tore at my heart. Space was needed in my budget to accomplish this.
To reach those goals, I had to embrace a higher level of discipline than I ever had. The words, “If not now, when?” followed me throughout my days.
“I’m choosing not to have my own space, not to have a man in my life, and not to have a dog, so I can reach my goals.” My voice cracked.
Keeping my distractions at a minimum was essential so I could confidently know where to make my nest (ideally a tiny home), decide whether/when to enter into a relationship, and have a dog! I really missed having dog — a companion to hike with, snuggle with, and be there to comfort me in my loneliness. In a recent conversation with my daughter, I confessed that I missed having a dog in my life more than I missed having a man. Her response, “Duh!”
Choosing My Sacrifices
I chose my sacrifices, and I also needed those around me to honor my requests.
With that conversation completed, I also knew there was space being taken up in my life by one large client project that lingered longer than expected, mainly due to scheduling conflicts for important meetings to advance our progress. There was only one thing to do: buckle down and clear space in the coming weeks to see drive the process and set clear agendas for our weekly meetings. The psychic space freed would allow me to receive the direction of how to proceed with creating an online course to meet the demand of people wanting to work with me when they didn’t have the cash flow for one-on-one instruction. I also had my own new creative project to take to the level beyond the outline.
I scoured my calendar and moved meetings and appointments so I could have blocks of uninterrupted time to embrace the completion of this project. With that, I felt I had the breathing room to dive in and get the job done.
One of my spiritual teachers once told me that with discipline there comes freedom. Some might look at my calendar, my daily disciplines, and the level of commitment I have to teaching and my clients as ridiculous. And it would be if I didn’t allow myself time to rest and relax — which I do. I hike, I go dancing, I watch movies. I listen to audiobooks in the car as I’m driving to campus. I also hop on planes to visit my family for long weekends in San Diego. I have space for the things that I enjoy doing, including having conversations with friends when I am able to be fully present with my attention.
The only way to protect that space is by making requests of others to respect my boundaries and my needs — whether they like it or not.
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