Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Boundary conditions

There is a tendency to think of boundaries as problematic. Either they are problems in themselves — something to be gotten around or through — or they are responses to problems, proxies for a sense of self-discipline — like putting the chocolate on a shelf I can't reach.

But in quantum mechanics, boundary conditions are more likely to be part of the solution than the problem. The solution to the Schrödinger equation for a particle trapped in a square well emerges from recognizing that at the boundaries, the wave function must be zero. Boundary conditions clarify, they sharpen.

I've been thinking about boundaries in my own life. There is the new door to my study, which no longer requires that I shove a pile of heavy chemistry texts against the door to keep the cat out. It allows easier access (and egress -- I no longer have to interrupt what I was doing in order to blockade the door again) to my guys, but makes it impossible for the cat and much of the household noise to get in.

Good boundaries are to some extent permeable. The monastic enclosure at New Camaldoli keeps out clueless tourists and wandering retreatants, but lets God and a view of the Pacific in. My challenges at the moment are less boundaries in space than boundaries in time. How I can plant a sign for a monastic enclosure in time, rather than in space?


  1. Oh Michelle... I feel completely overwhelmed by boundary issues right now. Reading this has provided a necessary reframing. Thank you... much to ponder here.

  2. i enjoyed this post and found the timing eerily perfect for some circumstances in my own life right now. but i have to admit there was a whole paragraph in the middle that went all fuzzy and staticky in my brain...the only image it conjured was sheldon cooper and a cat in a box. :)

  3. Hahaha Sarah, I had to go back and re-read that paragraph. It didn't go staticky in my brain - it went completely blank!

    Boundaries are always a good subject for contemplation. I do better with them when I keep firmly in mind that my boundaries are for me ... not for others. I just don't have that kind of control over others ... but I do have some autonomy for myself.

    I think there is a Psalm about it -- maybe 119?

    And as for creating boundaries in time, I use the "Bell Tower" ringtone on my phone - and it is like having a monastic chime let me know that "it is time" for whatever.