Recognizing When You're at Your Threshold


In my last post I briefly mentioned operating at our thresholds, but today I want to get into this a little deeper, and also add the idea of operating with margins.

I first discovered Life with Margins as a new college student. In my family life back home, if it took 8 minutes to drive somewhere, we left (or aspired to leave) 8 minutes before we had to be there. I hated the feeling of cutting it close, of inevitable delays and arriving late to my part-time job, for example. But when you're at the mercy of other people driving you places and traveling as a unit, you often don't know any other way.

When I got to college, it didn't take me long at all to discover the amazing freedom to leave on my own schedule. I learned there that I could create a margin--I could leave 20 minutes early to get to a building only 10 minutes away. Then, when the gardens were blooming, I could stop and enjoy them. When I ran into friends, I could pause to chat.

Creating a Margin meant leaving room for the unforseen and unexpected. It meant having breathing space in between and around the edges.

Learning about margins simultaneously taught me about thresholds. I started to feel in my body when I'm operating out at the far edges of my capacities, whether it's my capacity to manage stress, to summon courage, to withstand vulnerability or more.

I think this is what people refer to when they talk about "feeling stressed": either the feeling of being at one's threshold or operating without margins. Or both.

The world beyond our door is not all soft edges and cozy corners, but I endeavor to keep life inside our walls as gentle and easy as possible--to compensate, perhaps. Our family rhythm is one with a lot of margins, in an ordinary times. We keep weekends unstructured and unplanned as much as possible. I work really intentionally to create a rhythm for my kids that leaves time for cartoon-watching and fort-building and open space to create, to rest and to be.

Since my husband's accident, many of our usual margins have disappeared. We're back to one parent getting kids out the door in the morning and wrangling them into bed at night. But more than that, this time has us out at our thresholds for so many reasons (and each of us have our own).

There are a few signs we're noticing that tell us we're out at our threshold. These may be different for you, but for us it sounds like:

  • "Just a few hours ago I was doing so great, now suddenly I'm cranky and mad."
  • "I am one push-up test in PE away from completely losing it."
  • "I feel like I'm about to have a meltdown, but for no good reason." 

Our rational minds keep scanning in search of The One Good Reason why our bodies feel sick without actually being sick or our emotions are like yo-yo's bouncing high and low.

What's maddening is that there IS no One Good Reason. It's not the essay or the push-up test or the hair accessory we can't find. The truth is, it's all of it--all that we are holding together at once, all that our hearts and bodies are trying to process.

We're at our threshold, and the only remedy I know is to create new margins. (More on this next week.)

Today, I'm curious to examine this idea collectively and see how being at the threshold manifests itself for different people. I'd love to hear from you:  

How do you recognize when you're at your threshold? How does it feel in your body? What kind of thought patterns creep up? And what kinds of things do you hear yourself saying? 

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