I have been blessed with some fantastic teachers. During the past year, especially, as a time of intense and dramatic change, I have been grateful for the guidance with which I’ve been gifted. I do believe that when the student is ready, the teacher appears, and I have to say that my newest teacher has provided such necessary advice and perspective at just exactly the right time that I find myself flooded with a sense of gratitude that’s a little difficult to describe.
It’s nice when a teacher is someone you can shake hands with or give a hug, but it’s not always the case. I find myself thrilled for the times in which we live, when information can be shared and accessed so easily, when the reach of any single person has been greatly expanded. In fact, so much is this the case that at times when I find the perfect bit of information, I feel that only divine intervention could have brought me to it.
Such is the case with Robert Ohotto, an intuitive spiritual teacher who lives in Boulder, Colorado – and whom I’ve never met.
Hmmm… He’s kind of… a hottie… *shakes head* But I digress…
A couple of weeks ago, I felt called to examine exactly how far I was willing to go in the name of human connection, how much intimacy I was prepared to allow, and whether I was courageous enough to approach my shadow self in doing so. I can’t say what prompted this intense level of introspection, nor what triggered the fear and dread at the thought of embracing the apparent vulnerability that the whole exercise entailed. I had a distinct sense that once I moved through the challenge of whatever I was approaching, I would somehow be initiated into an ease with certain relationships that I had not known before. To say that this process was uncomfortable is a little bit of an understatement, made even more so by the lack of any specific event that may have triggered it. I have never felt like hiding in quite that way before, and I found myself wanting to shut everyone out, even my nearest and dearest. The only exception was my wonderfully supportive spouse.
In confusion, I sought information about soul relationships. I wanted to understand why I was feeling so deeply affected and what I could do about it. I wanted to understand why I was fleeing the scene, so to speak, when there was nothing I could see that would inspire me to want to withdraw. Although most of the information out there seems to focus on finding and keeping a life partner, I managed to find an excellent interview with Robert Ohotto on Steve Maraboli’s radio show. The interview lasted an hour, but it took me three hours to listen to it because I kept having to stop and write things down in my journal.
Needless to say, when I found that Robert Ohotto had written a book, I downloaded it to my iPad and dug right in.
This book has addressed so many of the questions I’ve had and not been able to fully verbalize. It’s expanded my understanding in ways that would turn out to be important in the days that followed. Within a week of buying the book, my personal circumstances had been thrown up in the air. As I was waiting for the dust to settle, observing the effects of the resulting strain on my body, and somehow (remarkably) maintaining a space for myself somewhere near my center, Robert’s words were of great comfort to me and supported the perspective I most certainly wanted to maintain as I walked through these challenges. There are times when a book or a conversation makes such an enduring impact on you that you know you will not forget it, possibly for your entire life. I think this has been one of those times.
As may be surmised from my post yesterday, some of the flak that has resulted from the disruptions of the week have left me with a sense of not really understanding what’s appropriate in relating to other people in healthy ways. I have had a lot of confusion in knowing what a healthy boundary is, how to take care of myself, how to evaluate when to trust people and when to concern myself with self-protection, how to open to deep intimacy and the vulnerability that brings without “casting my pearls before swine,” so to speak. And what can I expect from other people? What should I demand of other people? Anything? Nothing? Let’s just say that I’ve had a lot of questions, and while I feel I’m making progress toward some answers, I have really had a hard time connecting the dots.
After reading Mr. Ohotto’s book on Fate and Destiny, which really helped me focus on things from a soul perspective, I found I wanted to go back to the original material that led me to his work – the concepts surrounding relationships with ourselves and others. I went to his website and found another tremendous gift in the form of his Soul Connections mp3 downloadable workshops.
Here are my thoughts on the insights that are clicking the puzzle pieces into place for me:
“Honoring the self through boundaries allows us to cultivate the safety we need in relationships so that we can feel healthy vulnerability with others and with our own self.” The piece that many people are missing, and the part that has confused me for much of my life, is what we expect others to do with our boundaries. Is it an ultimatum or an expression of self-respect? Both? I had no idea. I know it’s necessary to stand up for myself, but how to go about that in a peaceful way that doesn’t manipulate the choice of others? Often, it’s easy to just say that we don’t care what others think of our boundaries, but saying that – at least for me – is not truthful. I do care. I want to be heard and validated. Yet, you can’t force another to hear or validate anything. It has made me wonder what I’m missing, and it can make it tempting to give up on the whole “healthy vulnerability” idea. What’s the point of being vulnerable if it only gets you kicked in the teeth? There is risk in relationships, and as events of this week have shown me, you don’t always get what you expect. With the inherent risk and the idea that you can never control the outcome or know what will happen when a disagreement comes up, how can you put yourself out there?
I’ve been gradually working on this issue with the help of my Team (as Ohotto calls it – I like that!). One of my guides in particular has given me some paradigm-shifting information about love and connection within the past few weeks. Robert Ohotto’s workshop has filled out the concepts and connected the dots in a way I can be nothing but grateful for, and as is often the case, it ends up being so elegantly simple when it comes down to it.
Insisting that others change or that the environment change is actually a violation of others’ boundaries. I think this is the part I’ve sensed and not been able to reconcile with the idea of standing up for my own boundaries. I know I need to stand up for myself, but I don’t know what I expect to happen when I do. I can hope that the other will respond with openness, but sometimes that’s just impossible – either in the moment or at all. People have their own paths, and I am reluctant to tie my own outcome to what they may choose or be capable of in the moment that I verbalize my own truth. It may not line up with theirs, and where does that put us?
What Ohotto’s material makes clear is that boundaries are about self-care, about what we need to feel safe. Others cannot determine that for us and they also cannot validate that for us. The inner self, what he calls “inner authority,” determines the validity of our boundaries. To deny our boundaries is therefore to deny our very selves. Where things get sticky is when we use judgment instead of discernment in reference to our boundaries. “I’m hurt because you’re bad.” There are a lot of ways we say this to ourselves and other people. In the case of the hurt I’ve felt because of an interaction with a trusted friend this week, he believed I was saying exactly this to him: “I hurt because you suck.” It can be difficult to hear someone say, “That hurt me.” Is it our shadow selves that add, “Because you are evil”? And is this tendency one reason why it can be so difficult to negotiate the hurts we feel with those we are closest to? Is it worth it to risk that what we say will be interpreted as judgment or condemnation? Or is it easier to swallow the hurt and keep the peace? What about those times when you know the other person didn’t mean offense, yet you’re hurt anyway? Do we have no right to our feelings and our needs in those times?
There is a great tendency, when people are hurt, to make someone wrong, to assign the Scapegoat Archetype, as Ohotto references it. What has been painful for me is that my friend believes I’m trying to make him wrong when really I’m just wanting to be heard. And the reason I want to be heard, the reason it’s so important to me, is because I can’t feel safe and I can’t invest myself deeply in any relationship unless I feel I can speak my truth, even if that truth seems irrational or misguided or off-the-mark. If the relationship did not matter to me, would I feel it was important to negotiate the hurt? Probably not. What has become clear to me is that the boundary shifts with the relationship. The stakes are higher in some relationships, and my need to feel safe is more pronounced in those relationships. What voicing the hurt is all about is saying, “When this happens, I do not feel safe with you.” The unstated part, at least in my case, is, “It is important to me that we feel safe with one another.”
Ohotto says, “Boundaries give you the room to express what your feelings are without apologies, without judgment – the space to draw into your life people that can match the quality of vulnerability that you’re cultivating with yourself.” This brings me back to my earlier mention of how others may respond to my boundaries. I can’t force anyone to respect my boundaries. I can’t force them to hear me, and I certainly don’t want to manipulate the situation – because what exactly would be the point? What can I expect – what should I expect – from other people? What if they are unwilling or unable to respond in the way I need in order to feel safe in the relationship? What then?
Ohotto’s insights focus on the fact that our empowerment comes from our willingness to be vulnerable in the face of the risk that our openness may not be rewarded. Our power comes not from manipulating the outcome but in honoring the self by refusing to place ourselves in relationships and environments where we do not feel safe. We can develop a certain level of resistance or tolerance to a great many situations – and it requires discernment to know where our limits are. I may be able to tolerate a toxic environment by putting on my “spiritual sunblock,” but when I’ve been in that environment for longer than the sunblock is able to protect me, it’s time for me to leave. I find that with those I trust at a deep level, with those I’m more open and unguarded with, my SPF is not very great (or perhaps more accurately, the “sun” is just so much brighter). It’s easier to be hurt, but it’s also easier to forgive. Yet, it’s also more necessary to make sure my boundaries are not violated. If they are and there is no resolution, then naturally, I have to remove myself – or suffer the consequences of not honoring myself. It’s easier to get burned on the beach than while driving in my car. When I am open and vulnerable – when I’ve chosen to be so, it’s important for me to understand that I’m on the beach. The beach is glorious, and a hell of a lot more fun than sitting in traffic… but it requires more of me in terms of understanding my own boundaries. And knowing this makes it easier for me to understand that others have similar needs when it comes to my role in their lives.
The whole idea behind cognitive behavioral therapy (which by the way, is really useful in relationships and in learning to understand how our beliefs influence our feelings) is to recognize how a perception leads to an emotional outcome that can feel very real to one person and seem totally off-the-mark to another. It’s about recognizing that it’s not events that affect us but our perception of them. So, going back to a hurt that I legitimately feel but which is not understood by the person who “inflicted” it, how do we reconcile boundaries with perception?
Another quote from Ohotto: “Vulnerability is also about being honest with yourself, not bullshitting yourself, being really clear about what your limits are, and frank about what your capabilities are and are not… We sometimes think the goal is to not have any needs. No! The goal is to embrace every need we have, even the shadow ones! And then heal them cuz we can’t heal them unless we embrace them. Embracing them doesn’t mean we act out of our shadow needs. It just means that they are okay. What they’re saying to you is that there’s a part of you that needs more love, not more judgment, not more criticism. Embracing the shadow needs is important in embracing all of who you are.”
The bit about healing our needs is quite important, I think. This has been part of the puzzle for me and what frankly makes it difficult to get out of right-vs-wrong thinking. Was I wrong to perceive things the way I did? Is my friend wrong to have his take on things? I know, at a basic level, that it’s not about right and wrong, and in the case of someone I love very much, I don’t care to make him wrong. I don’t care to make myself wrong. The idea that needs can be healed is really speaking to me right now. It means we don’t have to judge those needs as right and wrong. They just are. Just like emotions, they are not right or wrong. It is important to me that my needs be acknowledged because the relationship is important to me. I know that the relationship will not be what it can be if my needs are not acknowledged within it. But I also know that I cannot dictate the other person’s choices. What I can determine is whether I will give myself the acknowledgment I need. That is self-honoring, and that is healing. If my perception is off-track, shaming myself or making myself wrong leads only to more damage (and of course, the same applies to making someone else “wrong”). If I embrace my needs, I am giving that part of myself that needs more love the very love it needs.
I hope that my most cherished relationships can grow with my expressions of boundaries and their underlying needs. I hope I can openly embrace the underlying needs of the ones I love. But ultimately, I know that my primary responsibility is in honoring the self and secondarily in negotiating compromises with others over perceptions and misunderstandings. Those things will work themselves out, in the context of relating, as long as we are able to negotiate our individual boundaries with each other. Ohotto says: “This is what boundaries give you: the capacity and space to show up and be seen for all you are in the moment.” In the moment. Not in a perfect world or a perfect state. “We can’t be everything. We can’t be always perfect and always powerful. Our emerging definition of power actually includes vulnerability. Vulnerability and boundaries give you the chance to identify what your authentic needs are and risk getting them met in relationships with others.”
For the first time I understand how it is okay, how it is self-honoring to open to the risk of vulnerability with others. I’ve always done it, yet every time I’m hurt (as will happen in all human relationships from time to time), I find myself wondering what I did wrong, whether I’m missing some self-protective chip that somehow wasn’t installed at the factory. I wonder if I’m a glutton for punishment. I wonder if there’s some vital concept I just don’t understand. I wonder if relationships are supposed to hurt. I wonder if I’m supposed to protect myself better. So, thank you, Robert Ohotto, from your corner of the world in Boulder, Colorado, for clearing up so much of this for me. I feel good about reaching out and knowing that it’s not misguided to do so. I understand that humans need each other and that being hurt doesn’t mean I’m wrong about that. And I understand that when another chooses something that grieves me, chooses not to honor my boundaries or embrace my needs – it’s okay. I am able to honor myself, and I will pick myself up and try again, knowing that this is part of the design of things.