Rhythms, Boundaries and Containers

Often just a shift in the language we use can begin to take a person into culturally mature territory.  Using concepts like Capacitance and Aliveness, for example, can expand perspective without a person being conscious of the underlying conceptual shift. A variety of more informal “reframing” concepts can achieve the same result.  The language of “rhythms, boundaries, and containers” provides a particular useful such reframing approach.  

From an ICD Teaching Resource”

Three additional more informal concepts are worth mentioning. All of them, in different ways, bring fresh attention to the context side of understanding. I frequently speak of the  “rhythm,” “boundary” and “container” aspects of Culturally Mature truth. A quick look at each term and it meaning introduces important tools and sheds further light on the nature of culturally mature truth.

Today, as the cultural psyche less and less defines life’s contexts, and as our bias toward content increasingly creates imbalance, attention to context concerns become increasingly important to good and healthy choice-making.  Truth as we usually think of it is about what, how much, or how many.  But it is always ultimately as much about when and where. Very often, when we take care of contexts, whatever the systemic scale,  life’s content almost takes care of itself.  Each of these term in different ways addresses such context concerns.

The word rhythm refers to temporal contexts.  Some personal rhythm questions relate to everyday concerns—sensing when to go to sleep and to awaken, or, for you, the best times to eat through the day.  Others are more extended in time but generally repeat—for example, the right rhythmic relationship between time alone and time with others or the best balance between more structured work and less structured activities.  All Patterning in Time variables are also rhythm concerns.  We are happiest and healthiest when we honor what is timely in the various formative processes that make up our lives.

Boundary awarenesses concern our interfaces with other systems—our relational yes’s and no’s.  They have to do equally with our ability to make our boundaries “hard and fast” when necessary and to surrender and dissolve them when appropriate. Life requires boundaries—cells can live and breath because they have cells walls and cell membranes.  A key characteristic of mature awareness is how it makes us more personally responsible for boundary relations and able to make them in increasingly subtle and dynamic ways.  The result is the ability to be both closer and more fully separate in the rhythms of  relationship.  Patterning in Time and Patterning in Space notions each provide detailed perspectives for delineating boundary relationships.  But the concept of boundary serves us well as a more general notion.

The notion of containers refers to the structures that define a system’s relationships and activities.  Containers include physical structures such as where we choose to life (our house, our neighborhood, even our country).   They include also relationship structures (a marriage, what for us comprises community, the relationships of our workplace).  In addition they include beliefs, our ideational containers—how we “hold” experience to a very large degree determines what experience it is possible to have.

The larger portion of rhythm, boundary, and container questions were not personal concerns in times past.  The “cultural psyche” took care of such choices for us—through assumed moral dictates, gender and class roles, and just general assumptions about the workings of daily life.  The more experimental world of culturally mature choice makes being attentive to such context concerns increasingly essential.  Very often, these are the things we can control.  Get them right and what we can’t control has the highest likelihood of working to our creative benefit.

As a therapist, rhythm, boundary, and container questions are always in my mind.  For example, when I work with couples one of the first things I inquire about are the rhythms that define their relationship—how much time they spend together and how much apart, how much time doing different things.  People tend to want first to focus on the content of relationship—who said this, who said that, who did what to whom.  But very often the result of such focus is further entanglement rather than communication.  When couples get rhythms right (and right rhythm can be very different for different couples) conflict often “magically” disappears. (Much of conflict in relationship has it roots in fears of the simple rhythms good relationships require.  Conflict protects us from the vulnerabilities both of getting too close and of real separateness—it is hard to stop thinking about someone you are in conflict with. Getting the rhythms right makes us face our vulnerabilities—which may not be easy.  It stretches Capacitance.  But it also gives relationship a new easiness—the simplicity of just being together in ways that honor who we are).

I’m also keenly interested in whether boundaries are honest and honored.  People often assume that being a loving person and being “open” means not having boundaries.  In fact the most loving thing we can do is be knowledgeable about and respectful of boundary needs (in ourselves and others). We always make boundaries.  The only question is whether we do so consciously and caringly or covertly—and often unpleasantly.  Relationships are much more like to be healthy when boundaries are made in straightforward ways and when boundaries are respected.

And just as much, I’m concerned about the integrity and appropriateness of the relationship containers.  I want to know whether the structures in which relationship takes place acknowledge each person’s unique makeup.  I also want to know whether they honor who these two unique people are together.  Too often the containers we end up with are more a reflection of parental or societal expectations than what would produce the most loving and creative life.  In a culturally mature reality questions of container must be asked consciously.  No two culturally mature relationships end up looking exactly the same.

Attention to rhythms, boundaries and containers supports—indeed is essential to—Whole-Person relationship.  Manage them well and relationship takes on a simplicity (and ordinariness in the best sense) not otherwise possible.

Greater sophistication in our understanding of rhythms, boundaries, and containers becomes similarly important with larger scale systems.  Certainly this is so when dealing with social conflict.  We tend to get caught up in ideologies and allegiances—and with less than helpful consequences.  Better attention to question of context can make a huge difference.  This is particularly the case if our concern is long-term benefit.

I think of how dramatically globalization and the collision of cultures at different stages of social evolution push Capacitance.  Polarization—and with increasingly dangerous weaponry, a high risk of catastrophe—become almost inevitable.  Good intelligence, well-trained armies, and a commitment to honest diplomacy are all important.  But perspective that focuses as much on the contexts of interactions as the content and does so from an integrative vantage allows for more effective policy.

This includes attentiveness to rhythms—certainly those of cultural stage differences, but also how quickly allegiances can shift and the changing realities that accompany even the most limited of change process.  It also includes sensitivity to boundary relationships—which as globalization and the changes of Cultural Maturity make traditional ethnic and national bounds less and less useful, must be understood with ever-greater sophistication.  In addition, it requires that we engage in crafting and supporting new kinds of cultural containers, ones better able to hold the complexity and magnitude of questions this new world presents (new governmental mechanisms, NGO’s that can bring transnational cooperation to addressing social issues, globally integrated information systems to help head off disasters, conferences and think tank process that bring together the best hearts and minds to address difficult issues).

The best of diplomacy pays attention to all these variables.  But having language that explicitly combines context and content concerns helps us do so more consciously and creatively, whether that language is informal  language as here, or that of more detailed culturally mature conception.

All culturally mature concepts in some way relate to context as well as content.  Certainly this is the case for the ideas of Creative Systems Theory.  We can think of Creative Systems Theory as a way of mapping belief.  As much it is a framework and language for understanding the kinds of rhythms, boundaries, and containers different systems at various times need to be safe, healthy, and creative.  Language that helps us get at culturally mature truth will most always address both content and context concerns.