I just finished a conversation with a friend about overwhelm, and as if by pure manifestation, I opened my inbox and found an article entitled “Via Negativa: Adding to Your Life by Subtracting*.” While a common sentiment during this pandemic lockdown is boredom, my guess is that for most, the source is more a function of lack of variety than it is lack of activity. Our new world order has swiftly succeeded in blurring the already murky line between the personal and professional - above and beyond the norms and expectations established by the ubiquitous adoption of smart phones many years ago. The reality for a majority of adults today entails an attempt at superhero-level multi-tasking: avoiding an unbounded virus, working at all hours (because if you still have a job you’re privileged and therefore expected to be on-call 24/7), housekeeping, cooking, child-rearing/educating/entertaining, and if you’re lucky, some form of exercise beyond the commute between the computer and the bathroom.
Via negativa is a Latin phrase used in Christian theology to explain a way of describing God by focusing on what he is not, rather than what he is; understanding Deity’s positive qualities is a task deemed impossible for the finite minds of humans. While the aforementioned article did not entirely resonate with me, I did appreciate the timeliness and tone of the concept. It says, “Via negativa can also be used to describe a similarly “negative” way of improving one’s life; instead of concentrating on what you do, the focus turns to what you don’t do. This path has two main thrusts: stripping bad habits and situations out of your life, and avoiding bad habits/situations in the first place.”
My take-away from this concept is about creating boundaries, which provide a framework for saying no. What aren’t you willing to undertake or what do you need to give up in order to make space for what is truly important? It is always imperative to have boundaries in our lives, but now more than ever, it feels pertinent. While we do not control anyone else’s decisions or behavior, we do have control over what we are personally willing to accept. While circumstances seem extraordinarily beyond our control (even though they always are, global pandemic aside), we are forever at choice. One of the most eye-opening distinctions I learned over the last year was the notion of personal boundaries versus manuals that we “write” with our expectations of how others should behave**. Boundaries are a way that we take care of and protect ourselves, rather than something that we create for other people; they are how we can prevent others from violating important spaces in our lives and how to do it from the place of love.
My friend summed it up perfectly: boundaries are our container. It is up to each us individually to make a request, give the other person(s) the option to do what they would like to do, and then we follow through on the consequences, which is the only way the boundary will be taken seriously. Thus, in the spirit of via negativa, ask yourself what are the boundaries missing in your life that will help you strip away the noise so that you can focus on what you genuinely care about. I have immense respect for everyone out there just trying to survive and hold it together for themselves and their families – and I can certainly relate to the struggle to maintain my own sanity. In that vein, however, it is worth taking a moment to consider: what do we need to say no to so that we can show up wholly and more present in the spaces that are truly meaningful?
**From a podcast called “The Life Coach School Podcast by Brooke Castillo”