Shifting Boundaries

The other day I was at the gym doing yoga, and I kept feeling a light refreshing mist. It reminded me of how it feels when there’s a heavy rain in Hawaii, and I’m in a room with screens for walls, and the wind blows in just a little of the rain. The weird thing was, it was sunny outside. The other time it rains inside in Hawaii is when water condenses on tin roofs and drips down…it was mid-afternoon, an odd time for that, yet it was the only other explanation I could think of.

I kept on doing yoga, and I was about midway through my practice when I finally caught on where the water was coming from. The guy working out next to me was hula-hooping between sets of lifting weights, and the hoop was picking up his sweat and flinging it out from him with centrifugal force, spraying me along with the rest of the room.

Immediately I felt a little nauseated. What had seemed pleasantly refreshing was now disgusting to me. I almost blurted something out to him right away; the words stayed in my head, though. In hindsight, I think my nervous system got somewhat overwhelmed, and I froze up.

I kept on doing yoga, and so many thoughts went through my head. I understood that from inside the hoop, he had no easy way of knowing he was spraying sweat all over the room. I wondered how many times I had sprayed sweat on people while hooping. I was grateful that from now on, I would know enough to be careful when hooping while sweaty not to spray people.

I did a thought experiment where I stopped doing yoga long enough to tell him what was going on. I felt his chagrin and embarrassment, as well as his gratitude, kind of like when a friend tells me I have a booger showing in my nose. I imagined he could do his hooping outdoors; it would mess up the flow of his workout a little, but not too much. I felt my embarrassment at outing myself; if I alerted him to what was happening, he and I and my friend in the room would all know that his sweat was on me…there was something about letting the other two know I had his sweat on me that felt exquisitely embarrassing.

So I chose not to say anything. It was easier for me to accept the sweat than to accept the feelings that were coming up just thinking about opening my mouth and saying something. After all, it was just the knowledge that it was sweat that grossed me out; back when I thought it was water from the sky, I had enjoyed the sensation. I tuned into the part of myself that liked the experience, ignored the part that was grossed out, and mostly focused on doing the best yoga I could do.

The serenity prayer asks to have courage to change the things we can change, accept the things we can’t change, and to have the wisdom to know the difference. In this case, I had a choice to change my external surroundings or my internal reality, and I chose to change myself. I’ve noticed over the years that that’s my go-to maneuver — if I can change my internal reality to be happy with my external reality, I usually do that first. If my internal reality remains resistant to change, if I continue to be unhappy despite best efforts, then I change the external circumstances.

The upside to this approach is that I have a lot of practice expanding my boundaries and loving reality just the way it is. The downside is that sometimes I discover too late that I have a boundary that isn’t susceptible to expansion, and the pain I cause myself while trying to expand it takes time to heal. The worst part of that is when there’s another person involved — if that person has overstepped a boundary, and I try to change my boundary and fail, then I usually have some challenging feelings towards that person I need to work through. Even though I know intellectually that it’s my fault for not speaking my boundary, they’re still the ones who get the negative emotions attached to them.

In the case of the guy sweating on me, I told a few close friends about it. We laughed so hard. I think because I felt so vulnerable that I had allowed this thing to happen to me, I needed to share it with close friends first. Once they witnessed me and accepted me for who I am, then I felt less vulnerable. I went back to the gym the other day, and the same guy was there. He told me to wait a second while he cleaned his sweat off the mat, and I almost told him about how his hula hoop sprayed sweat on me the other day. I’m pretty sure I’ll be ready to tell him next time I see him…the incident is a little removed, so there will be less emotional charge for both of us.

I know I still have some work to do to get the serenity prayer right. Sometimes I accept things it would be better to change. I’m still gaining the wisdom to know which of my boundaries can shift and which are non-negotiable. I like it that I have the power to change my feelings of disgust to feelings of acceptance when somebody is spraying sweat on me, and I also see that it would be good to have the power to speak my truth without getting frozen, to give others the chance to understand my will and bend their actions to it.

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