I do this thing when I’m stressed:
I wish for a hard wall.
It’s hard to define, but I want to try. I’ve been preoccupied with this idea all day, so clearly it’s important.
It’s not like the wall Havi describes that you want to get through. And it’s not exactly like the kind of wall you need when you say, I want to bash my head against a wall right now.
Let me start by describing its opposite.
What makes a soft wall so soft?
It’s forgiving of my mistakes, because ultimately it’s not really a wall. It’s like getting off with a warning instead of a speeding ticket — don’t do that again, or else…you’ll get warned, again, I guess. Maybe.
What does it mean to confront a soft wall?
I’m free to respect it or not, depending on my capabilities that day.
(Well, sort of free. If I don’t respect it, I usually feel guilty.)
I feel “good” when I respect a soft wall, like I’m doing what I’m supposed to, even though no one’s really watching and there are no real consequences.
There is some anxiety about what happens if I breach a soft wall: because the consequences aren’t clear, but neither are the limits — how do I know when I’ve breached the soft wall? It’s hard to tell.
What makes a hard wall?
It’s unforgiving. No second chances.
Hard consequences, unavoidable consequences. No way to argue your way out of it. Like a deathly allergy!
There’s no question. You ate the strawberry, so it’s already too late.
There is fear attached to a hard wall because I’m anxious not to infringe on its space. I don’t want to do the wrong thing because I’m scared of the consequences. I don’t want to get in trouble.
But also: I’m free to do whatever I want (mostly) because the wall is obvious, with easy-to-understand consequences, so it’s fairly easy to avoid.
What is the truth behind wanting a hard wall?
Pattern: I don’t want to have to make any choices. You have to choose to respect a soft wall.
This is especially true when I’m stressed out. No energy for all those damn choices.
But the peril and consequences associated with the hard wall: still anxiety-producing.
So neither one is exactly easy, is it?
Pattern: When I’m stressed (like I am this week) I think longingly of how a hard wall (like an allergy!) might prevent me from eating gummi bears when I have no real reason to be eating gummi bears; or a hard wall (like a calling!) might make it obvious what my next right path is meant to be, when I just have no clue.
But the soft walls have lessons in them. (This makes me roll my eyes a bit. Ugh why does the hard stuff always make me learn stuff?) The more I work within their fluidity, the more I learn to sit with this feeling of not-knowing, of not-fixing, of exploring.
Ding! (Epiphany!) This is just like the Fluidity + Stability = Balance thing I’ve been writing about and thinking about and experimenting with for the last couple months. Duh.
What does this connection tell me?
I’m still working on this one…
To start with, I know from earlier explorations that the Gentle Path is really important in that equation. The gentle path is all about balance: eliminating all choice and converting to All Hard Walls All The Time isn’t the solution to my confusion — even though there is part of me who is scared and doesn’t believe she’s smart or capable enough to handle the Soft Walls.
The gentle path also doesn’t demand sudden, overwhelming changes. It would be really overwhelming to eliminate all choice from my life, of course.
Of course, it’s okay to want the hard walls. Of course life could be simpler. And of course it’s not really like that. Or not right now.
Recognizing this is good. It softens around the edges of the scary Savonarola Me who thinks the world of hard walls, with all the related self-flagellation and deprivation, is the only way to survive.
If removing choice is not the answer, what is?
I think I need to add self-governance that respects the soft walls. Because they do have consequences, they’re just a lot more subtle.
I don’t want to have to respect the soft walls because I think someone else thinks I should; I want to respect the soft walls because I understand more about how I want my life to be. Then I can create a life in which the soft walls hold me gently and I’m not anxious about what they might mean, because I’ll already know. The external wall won’t be important because I’ll already know what is important to me, and what guides my work.
What is this about?
I think it’s about being okay with transition. Wilderness and uncertainty.
It’s also about respecting the idea that the act of asking myself those really big Who Am I and What Is My Purpose questions might be a kind of hard wall (thank you Sarra!), and that perhaps they’re not even necessary right now.
It’s also about taking care of the monsters who think we deserve punishment. About acknowledging the pain hidden there and what it can tell me.
It’s about letting my understanding of the soft walls (or rather, the right soft walls, not the anxious and confusing kind) take time to ripen; about understanding that a sudden unbalanced influx of hard walls is not the cure to this state of mind.
What are your walls like? How do you navigate your own private sets of boundaries and consequences, and how does that match up with externally-imposed boundaries and walls and consequences? Or not — what happens when your private walls are out of sync with the world? I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts. And: sending love to anyone else who is at sea with their walls and their wildernesses like I am, today. May the sea be kind!