Setting boundaries and learning to hiss

As I mentioned previously, I’m not great at setting boundaries. I have a difficult time saying no and asserting my needs. I’m often worried about how doing so may affect others, their perceptions of me, and our relationship more generally. I particularly struggle setting boundaries with the people closest to me, and in some instances I allow their needs and desires to supersede mine so much so that it feels like I’m being walked over or stepped on. This feeling sucks and yet I have continued to allow it.

Since being diagnosed with cancer I have begun to make some incremental changes to set boundaries and assert my needs. For example, I now feel more comfortable saying no to some work assignments and social engagements, and I’m setting clearer boundaries about the time I can and/or cannot commit to things. Recently I also established a boundary with my former partner to no longer communicate. While I know we still care about each other, I find it difficult to stay in contact, and I’ve made a choice to focus on my healing. So in short, boundary setting is a work in progress for me, yet as I practice setting boundaries I continue to find deeper clarity.

Interestingly though, while I’m learning to set boundaries in my relationships with others, I’ve done little to set internal boundaries: boundaries within myself. This became particularly clear over the weekend when I was talking with one of my yoga teachers about cancer and my aversion to using the words “fight”, “beat”, and “kill” to describe ridding myself of it. In response, she – a cancer survivor herself – shared with me the story of Shami and the snake. I wasn’t able to find the exact story, yet the following told by Sri Daya Mata from “Finding the Joy Within You: Personal Counsel for God-Centered Living” is pretty close:

In a village, there once lived a cobra whose bite had taken the lives of many of the people. The leader of the community went to a wise man and said, “We can’t go on like this. The snake is killing off all the villagers. Won’t you please do something about it?”

The wise man agreed to help. He went to the cobra and said, “Look here, you must not go on killing these people. It is unnecessary and wrong. Leave them alone.”

The cobra said, “All right, I will follow your advice. I will practice nonviolence.”

A year went by. The wise man was passing through the village again and wondered what had happened about the cobra. He went to look for the snake, but it was not in its regular nest. He finally found the hapless creature, its lacerated body stretched out in the sun, just about to breathe its last.

“What on earth happened to you?” the wise man asked.

The cobra answered, “This, Mister Wise Man, is the result of following your teaching of nonviolence. Look what the villagers have done to me. I lie here quietly, and because they no longer have cause to fear me, they come and stone me!”

The wise man said, “You didn’t understand. I told you not to bite, but I didn’t tell you not to hiss!”

As my wise teacher shared with me, while I may not want to “kill” or “fight” my cancer, it is important to not sit idly and allow cancer to take over. Instead it’s time to set some boundaries and let cancer know that I’ve had enough. It’s time to set internal and external boundaries to facilitate self-care. It’s time to learn to  hiss! :)



  1. Beth

    Setting boundaries is such a difficult thing for me too. I love that story. Hiss away, my beautiful friend!

  2. jill

    feisty…… i LIKE it

  3. Isabel

    Thank you for your beautiful posts! Internal boundaries … You’ve made me think about what that means to me. I am not ‘my’ cancer, ‘my’ thoughts, ‘my’ emotions … While still struggling with external boundaries, I am focusing also on internal boundaries and separating ‘me’/I am from what I am apparently not. At least catching glimpses of it and becoming aware that there is a ‘me’ behind my thoughts and emotions … a me I have yet to really know. The hiss sounds like the ‘wind’ that clears away that which obscures, that can bring the glimpse of ‘me’, of ‘I am’.
    With much love,


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