Drawing Personal Lines

On a recent walk I came across an intricate, wrought iron gate. Curiosity piqued, I couldn’t help but wonder why there’s a gate with no fence.

Whatever the property owner is hoping to secure seems lost on the fact that anyone can simply walk around it. To my way of thinking, a gate without a fence isn’t an effective boundary.


When it comes to people, there are many types of boundaries: personal, professional, relational, social, ethical, etc. Boundaries are internal and external personal lines that we draw. They delineate where our — physical, mental, emotional, spiritual — space ends, and where another’s may begin. They help us:

  • Stand up for ourselves
  • Keep us from doing things we shouldn’t
  • Protect and take care of ourselves

However, there are times when the absence of boundaries is commendable. Here are a few examples: Art without Borders, Doctors Without Borders, and Teachers Without Borders.

Do you have any boundaries that need shoring up?

© Laurie Buchanan

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68 thoughts on “Drawing Personal Lines

  1. When I saw your title and the fenceless gate, I immediately thought of a blog friend who has moved recently (just like you!) and is mourning the loss of her neighbor whom she visits either across the honeysuckle-covered fence or else walking through the gate. She has done a series on fences and this is just one you might enjoy: https://georgettesullins.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/good-fences-7/

    Your photo is thought-provoking. I surmise that the homeowner likes it because it is ornamental and matches the shakes on their home. My mom would say, “It’s just for show!”

    How do I observe boundaries? Well, I have a daily list to guide me, but if a chance encounter is more important, something gets moved to the next day–no problem. However, I try to guard my time of meditation in the morning and my writing time, resisting the urge to get side-tracked.

    Golly, Laurie, you always ask such great questions!

    • Marian – Thank you for the link to Georgette’s blog, I’ll follow it shortly. I think you’re mom would be accurate in the case of this ornamental gate being “for show.”

      Like you, I have “protected time” throughout the day for things that are important to me: meditation, writing, yoga. I respect those time slots — and show up on time — as I would any other appointment.

      THANK YOU, as always, for contributing to the conversation 🙂

  2. So many people would just pass by that gate without noticing. I love your posts here and on FB because you are so mindful. As for my own boundaries, I need to be very precise about honoring them right now. I’m traveling much more than usual and need to keep all the people I want to nourish in my heart — and in my head so that I don’t miss any appointments or disappoint pre-arranged expectations. I have to plan and then I have to trust. Build boundaries and then let them go.

    • Shirley – I’ve been following your “from the road” posts — and yesterday even enjoyed a brief virtual train ride via a video clip you posted on Facebook!

      I appreciate your thought-filled comment about keeping people you want to nourish in your heart. And then the wisdom of building boundaries and letting them go.

  3. I agree Laurie … your ability to be present and observe are a true gift. Your simple but valuable questions always provoke thinking. I also enjoy your use of language such as in yesterday’s FB post the line “at the butt crack of dawn” … how real and laughable as well.
    I digress. How do I observe boundaries? One of the most powerful ways I’ve learned to create sacred boundaries was through circle council practices [The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair by Christina Baldwin and An Linnea as well as their teaching on same]. While circles are most frequently called together for groups, I can set the same circle (as Laurie I believe you do while writing and with clients as well) when in a phone coaching session … place something that represents the shared intention in front of me and/or light a candle and focus mindfully on the conversation.
    The boundary I need to give attention to is for writing time. I often will allow other activities to crowd in. I think it is because my writing practice is still very nacent. Again, thank you for the question!

    • Audrey – I’m so glad you enjoyed yesterday’s Facebook post. It was quite the morning waker-upper!

      You’re absolutely right in that we share the same practice of using something (in my case a tea light), that represents the intention at hand (writing, client session, etc).

  4. Boundaries are also points of contact. They are the membranes across which two entities meet, be they physical or internal. The garden wall or county border would be examples of the physical. In Ireland in ancient times, these meeting points were centres for commerce or sites of battles and power struggles. A meeting of minds or hearts would be an example of the internal, which might then be expressed in a more tangible way, perhaps in a collaboration of sorts, or more personally in a marriage vow.

  5. Thought about this for the last hour or so. One boundary gate that I am trying to honor in the past year or so involves social media and responding to folks on FB and blogs. After eight years of responding to every single comment over 20,000 times, I plumb wore out. It wasn’t fun any more to feel obligated to have public conversations. It made me not want to blog or even be on FB. Slowly have realized that I’ve never been as comfortable sharing in groups as one-on-one. Am now using social media more to connect privately on email and to reciprocate on my blogs by reading and responding on other blogs. But that gate needs to be there if I want to continue sharing on-line. This may change, but it feels right and nourishing now. Thanks for this thoughtful post.

    • Kathy – I enjoyed reading about the social media boundary that you’ve established and maintained. Especially when you explained, “I plumb wore out,” and “wasn’t fun any more.”

      Now, after establishing (and maintaining) the boundary, you no longer have those down-pulling feeling. Rather, you function from a place of upliftment! 🙂

      • Yes, I feel this way about 90% of the time. But 10% of the time I feel guilty that others still long to engage in conversations. So am sitting with that feeling of guilt to see what it’s trying to teach.

      • Kathy – My two cents:

        Reciprocity is not from the heart, it’s more of an obligatory, knee-jerk reaction. You are a heart-based person (hence, the rub). Always follow your heart…

  6. Seeing the gate without a fence, I’m reminded of something similar. I saw a security gate between two buildings at an IBM corporate complex. The gate stood alone on the sidewalk, surrounded by a wide open lawn. Even though it would have been easy to walk around, each day there would be long lines of employees waiting for their turn to pass through the gate.
    We can also be the victims of our boundaries.

    • ViewPacific – That is a FANTASTIC example of non-existent external boundaries that we adhere to. But you point to something else that’s equally important — some personal boundaries can become self-imposed prisons. Thank you for your important contribution to this conversation.

  7. I love this wonderful reminder about mindfulness, boundaries, fences, and gates. We all need them. And I agree with Shirley that we need to let them go as well. I build boundaries to protect my writing time and to carve out time to just be with what is happening around me. By writing a memoir I’m tearing down the boundaries I built to protect my vulnerability, my guilt, and my shame.

    • Joan – Your observations are Spot On! Especially as it pertains to tearing down the boundaries that no longer serve us well.

      I enjoy your blog posts about where you’re at in the process of writing your memoir. Most recently you were working on what I feel is the hardest piece — the synopsis. My best to you as you move forward with your book.

  8. I agree with much of what is said here. My mother always said, “Good fences make good neighbors” and while I agree with this in the sense that boundaries contain our intentions and yet- there are times when I feel they mask us from the real world- from working out conflicts and conditions of co-existing. I have a neighbor whose dying fir trees perilously hang over my compost bin. Yet I find myself unable to pursue this with them. I have asked them about their plans for the trees, but the answer has not satisfied me. So, I will be exploring this during the summer months when many of our winter boundaries come down.

    I also love how the leafing out of the trees provides another kind of boundary- standing beneath the canopy of my oak tree, I feel so sheltered and cared for with its grand bell of shade.


    • Suzi – Ah yes, the flip side of the coin. We can use boundaries to hide from that which we don’t want to “deal with,” because it’s too difficult, too inconvenient, too…

      I love the way you closed: beneath the canopy of your oak tree, sheltered and cared for with its grand bell of shade.

  9. Huh? Puzzled too. But maybe… I wonder if they simply want to point out where the walkway

    Do you have any boundaries that need shoring up?

    Your question brings to mind the decision I made about my blog. Before 2014 dawned, I shared my writing and my knitting patterns on my blog. I received some comments indicating confusion–was I a knitwear designer or a writer? Both? So I decided to remove all my patterns–focus–create boundaries. And thanks to this self-imposed boundary (no more knitting) clarity has been achieved. Now the world knows that I’m building a career in writing. Some times boundaries can be very effective–especially if your intent is clear.

    Now back to wondering about the photo. Maybe they’re making home improvement in installments–gate now, fence later? or maybe…

    • Leanne – I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your observation that effective boundaries require CLARITY OF INTENT.

      I’ll go with your guess that perhaps the gate-with-no-fence people are completing their work-in-progress on the installment plan: a bit here, a bit there…

  10. The gate may be just the owners’ idea of decoration for their property. I’ve seen archways that seem to have no purpose other than decor in lawns, even stuck in the middle of gardens without leading to a separate garden or a pathway.

    Boundaries, boundaries – somebody should educate my boarder on those.

    Great post, Laurie.


    Sharon A.

  11. Hi Leanne:

    Hope your writing career is going well. And for others, Leanne is great at helping other writers when they have a first. In 2012, when my first short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point came out, Leanne contacted me and offered me a guest spot on her blog. Thanks again Leanne. Maybe I’ll see you at Bloody Words in Toronto this weekend?


    Sharon A.

  12. One of the best moves I ever made was to stop going to the Mall to shop – I do still shop but mostly on line. There are so many people crowded into the Mall and since I read emotions of others and then begin analyzing them when I am in crowds I can not keep the fence up and protective with so many. One can hardly believe how many angry people are shopping to relieve their stress – How many children are feeling badly. I have never liked concert venues that did not have seating and some social boundaries and I love lots of music…but feeling all the drugs in the crowd and random emotions without assigned seating – overwhelming to maintain control. One of my friends moved to an island near Portugal and works solely on her computer, then she travels to teach workshops 4 times a year and has found her working soaring and her boundaries intact. At book group with 12 – no problem keeping boundaries separate – even weddings with 200+ guests okay until the off the rules activities start and then I have to head home.

    Boundaries are extremely important – knowing the limits, well that is vital for making those best parts of one shine

    • Patricia – I found myself in a mall this morning looking for a very specific set of old-fashioned screen door hinges made by Stanley. And while the “concord” part of the mall was open, the stores themselves hadn’t opened quite yet. This provided me with the opportunity to people watch. Most of the people I saw were “mall walkers” who do “laps” for exercise. I was fascinated at the speed at which many of them blurred right past. I’m grateful I was ahead of the cranky-pants folks who got out of bed on the wrong side 🙂 And wonder of wonders, I found the right hardware 🙂

      • That sounds like a great adventure and the right hardware to boot! That was a great trip indeed The luck of the Laurie 🙂

  13. Wow! How bizarre to have a gate and no fence. Maybe they ran out of funding? ha ha… Boundaries are so important; I fear some people don’t have them at all – with their speech, the things they share on social platforms, their behaviors … Yet you’re right: being too guarded creates its own set of issues. There’s a happy medium in there: maybe a gate and a fence with wide slats… 😉

    • Melissa – As to the people who have no boundaries about what they share on social platforms…I saw a fantastic “poster” on Facebook that read:

      Facebook is not a clothesline. Be a dear and air your laundry elsewhere.” 🙂

  14. For some reason I always like unique gates and this one is in that category especially the posts on each side. I suspect the gate with no fence is a personal statement by the homeowner. I would guess that home owner is an artist when I look at the house #s on the post, the windows, and whatever those plaques are on the front of the house.
    I could see me having a house with a gate like that and no fence 🙂

  15. Hi Laurie,

    Boundaries are really interesting things.
    They are really important, as they allow levels of organisation and structure.

    Some are clearly defined, some are more in the nature of gradients over space and time.

    All boundaries have different degrees of permeability to different things. A boundary that stops an insect may seem like nothing to a bull (a spider’s web for example).

    Different areas on our cell membranes are selectively permeable to different molecules.

    Boundaries exist at all levels of organisation.

    At the lower levels, substances like vitamin C enable our immune systems to shore up the boundaries of what the immune system considers self and what it considers “other”, and to effectively destroy invaders and cells of self that have stopped acting cooperatively and have turned cancerous (dividing and growing selfishly at cost to the whole).

    At the other end of the spectrum of levels of organisation, for those thinking entities that are willing to act cooperatively for the benefit of all life, we need have the an unbounded system, and accept all sentient entities as valuable members. And we need ways of detecting if any within the sphere have stopped acting cooperatively and are acting in ways that threaten the whole, and to act appropriately, either to change their behaviour or eject them from the group.

    • Ted – I enjoyed reading (and share) your perspective. You opened my thinking even wider with:

      “Boundaries exist at all levels of organization.”

      You’re absolutely right. I hadn’t broken it down that far and thought about it at the cellular level — but by jove, you’re absolutely right! 🙂

  16. Your post reminded me of how nice it is to be at a place in life where I am comfortable setting boundaries. I used to worry whether I’d offend someone if I said “no” to something I didn’t want to do. Now I readily say “no, thank you” in my personal and professional life. I’m very protective of my time.

    • Becwillmylife – Saying “no” is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves. I love that you are “very protective of your time.” I applaud you for that extremely healthy stance! 🙂

  17. Laurie, I got a kick out of the photo. Frankly, I think some one put it there simply because they liked it. Of course, their friends may know by pre-arrangement that when the gate is open, company is welcome. When it’s closed, “Please stop by another time.”. We all have our boundaries, what we will or will not accept, from family and friends, strangers, and ourselves. As a Single person, many people assume I “have all the Time in the World!” to come help with this, that and the other….That’s when I smile and tell them, “As single person I actually have it ALL to do.”. I have few hard and fast rules about limitations, that way when I feel the need, I can just bend a rule instead of breaking it. I have certainly enjoyed the comments posted here today,

    • Sandi – I love the idea of the gate being a signal:
      Open: come on it
      Closed: take a raincheck

      And A-L-L is Spot On when it comes to a single person’s task list!

      I like that you’re flexible when it comes to limitations. In my own experience I discovered (the hard way) that sometimes “rigid” means it breaks instead of bends.

      Thank you for joining the conversation 🙂

  18. Hi there Laurie …I love that amazing gate. I bet there aren’t many people, taking a chance at going through their border, with or without a fence . I would love to be a fly on the wall just to see how many people open the gate to get to the house ( if possible ) or go round . We did something similar once on a walk in the country . We saw a gate without a fence and I struggled to open it and husband walked round …it was a laugh .

    The boundaries that I set up, is when I do my half an hour write in the morning , no one speaks to me or even looks at me …not even the dog . I have put this in place since the beginning of the year and I have wrote so many short stories it’s great fun and works .

    • Cherry – I loved reading the funny story about the walk in the country with your husband and the gate! Ohhhhhh, carving out protected time for writing is precious.

      When my writing desk was in a room with a door on it (before we moved), I had a little sign that said:

      “There better be blood, flood, or fire!”

      No one disturbed me when they saw that sign 🙂

  19. Perhaps the beautiful gate is regarded as more of a piece of art by the property owner?

    I used to have big problems with spiritual boundaries and went through a lot getting them established and shored up. But it was worth the pain involved and they work quite well now.

    • Barbara – I think you’re right about the gate being a piece of art.

      Like you, I love it when after great effort (and sometimes pain), whatever I was applying myself to works out. Ta-dah! 🙂

  20. Good morning, Laurie. Another thought provoking questions. Brava! Many years ago I created boundaries for myself with a simple question… “Is this a healthy decision for me?” I share this question with attendees in my What Color Is Your Brain? programs. It is fascinating to listen and watch individual’s responses to this question. It also is exciting to learn that individual are eager to use the questions to take good care of themselves spiritually, mentally and physically! {:-)

  21. The gate appears to be purely cosmetic and ornamental, and doesn’t signify a boundary, yet your humanist metaphors certainly do ring resoundingly and extend the parameters that aren’t set in this quaint picture. I guess the boundaries in our own every day life involve financial priorities and how passionately we should apply ourselves in the ventures that make up a good part of our lives. Another great post Laurie!

  22. I have to get back to work, so I don’t have time for a lengthy response, but I’m so intrigued by the gate–and I love how you linked it to all types of borders. I will have to ponder.

  23. Beautiful photo, post and though-provoking question.

    I would say that the gate represents what you might check out before you allow someone to pass thru to the heart of you. But the area without a fence is where there are no holds barred and those people (or thoughts) are welcome. 😉

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