Remember how when you were a kid and you had a “bubble” of personal space around you that the other kids were supposed to stay out of?
I remember fighting with my sister in the backseat of the car, scraping lines down the fabric with our fingernails, dividing the car solidly into “my side” and “her side”.
(Much, I am sure, to my parents’ dismay.)
I haven’t thought about my “bubble” in more than a decade at this point, but I’ve been reading Karla McLaren’s fascinating book The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You and suddenly I find my “bubble” is all I’ve been thinking about.
McLaren’s book is about bringing your emotions into flow and about the helpful messages your emotions are trying to bring to the surface (for example, anger is the emotion that helps you set healthy boundaries).
She suggests that part of setting healthy boundaries is about maintaining energetic and emotional protection and definition between ourselves and the world around us.
She writes, “Luckily, this boundary already exists. In the metaphysical community, it’s called the aura, and while it has had a lot of wacky metaphysical connotations attached to it, your aura is simply your personal space. In the neurological community, this personal space is now understood to be your proprioceptive territory, and it is created by specific neural and muscular networks throughout your brain and body. Your proprioceptive system maps your body and your position in relation to everything around you; it helps you stand, balance, move, and understand your body’s relationship with its environment.”
McLaren goes on to suggest than in most people the proprioceptive space your brain lays claim to is roughly the area that exists within the reach of your arms — i.e. your “bubble”.
But here’s what blew my mind.
As I was trying out McLaren’s boundary-setting, proprioceptive-space-claiming exercise I suddenly found myself feeling much larger in the world than I usually do. My breathing deepened. My stomach unclenched. I felt my internal self unwinding to expand out into the world around me.
I realized in that moment that at some point growing up I stopped getting bigger and instead started to become very small.
I don’t know when it started — maybe when I was in first grade and my space was defined by the small carpet square I sat on or in high school when the boundaries of my bubble could extended no further than the borders of my desk and my limbs were expected to remain neatly confined in close proximity to my body, not spread helter skelter to hither and yon.
Regardless of how or when it happened, at some point my bubble seems to have shrunk so small it no longer takes up even the space occupied by my physical body. At some point my bubble shrank until it was nothing more than a leaden knot that sits in my stomach and makes me feel anxious and sick.
And so here’s the question that just about broke my brain.
Is this how big I’m supposed to be?
I’ve thought a lot in the last year or two about what it means to be “playing small”. In many ways I’m playing small with this blog — I’m not doing the outreach I should be if I wanted to grow my small community of readers into something “big”.
But what if it’s not just about “playing” small? What if I’ve been being small, instead?
And what about the corollary: What if I’m allowed to be as big as I am? What if I’m really as big as my proprioceptive space?
Because what I know is that when I imagine my edges expanding out to fill the inside of a big oval-shaped shell arms-width out from my body, I *feel* bigger. I feel more allowed to take up space in the world, more allowed to be who I am, more allowed to want what I want and need what I need.
I feel like, just maybe, I’m allowed to become as big as I can reach.
And after so many years of shrinking, it’s a very odd thing to be so large.
I’m still not sure yet what, exactly, this means which is why I’d love for you to try it out and let me know your experience.
Here’s what you do (adapted from The Language of Emotions):
- Ground yourself before beginning. Focus your attention on your feet. Feel them growing heavy as if your shoes had turned to concrete and feel your energy settling low in your body and then sinking down into the very center of the earth.
- Stand up and reach your arms out to either side of you. Move them front and back and over your head. Get a feel for the space your body occupies.
- Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a bubble extending out to the edges of your reach and flowing down under the ground to close beneath your feet. Imagine the boundary of this space in a way that is natural to you — you can imagine a color, a sound, a texture. I personally like to imagine mine as a shimmering, like heat.
- With your boundary clear around you ask yourself the question, “Do I claim this much room in the world?”
I’d love to know what you find — how much room do you claim in the world? Is your “bubble” teeny tiny and neglected like mine? Who would you be if you took up as much space as you could reach? How might you behave differently if you claimed all that space as your own? Let me know in the comments below!
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