Do you know the story of the camel in the tent?
I’ve heard several variations, but here’s the gist of it:
A man is traveling across the desert on a camel. At night the man sleeps in a tent, while the camel sleeps outside. But one night, the camel asks if he can sleep in the tent.
“No,” says the man. “You’re a camel. Sleep outside.”
The camel looks at the man with his most pathetic puppy-dog eyes (or “baby-camel” eyes) and asks, “Well, if I can’t sleep in the tent, can I just stick in the tip of my toe?”
“Okay,” the man relents. “But just the tip of your toe.”
The next night, the same scene plays out, but this time the camel asks if he can stick his whole foot in the tent. Again, the man relents. The night after that, the camel asks to put one leg in the tent, and then two, and then…
Well, you can probably see where this is headed: before long, the camel is sleeping completely in the tent, and the man is pushed out and forced to sleep outside in the cold desert night.
What does this mean for you and me?
While there’s no single “right” interpretation, I can tell you some things that this story DOESN’T mean to me:
- It DOESN’T mean that you shouldn’t share. If you’re moved to share your tent–or anything else–by all means, do so with an open heart!
- It DOESN’T mean that everyone is out to take advantage of you and your good nature. I’m not a believer in the addage of “give ’em an inch, and they’ll take a mile.” In fact, I’ve found that when you give (in a healthy, balanced way) you tend to get back just as much or even more! (Maybe we should reword the saying: “Give an inch, and you’ll get a mile!”)
- It DOESN’T mean that you shouldn’t be kind to animals. I’ve been vegetarian since I was 16 years old, so I certainly advocate the humane treatment of camels (and other animals–including humans!)–but I still think the story makes a great metaphor!
In a word, here’s what I DO think this story is about:
More specifically: setting healthy boundaries against everything that threatens to crowd you out of your own life.
(As the saying goes: When you say “yes” to others, make sure you’re not saying “no” to yourself!)
Do you ever feel crowded out of your own life?
Maybe, like the man in the story, you have a “camel in your tent”–something that starts off small and unobtrusive, but grows larger and larger, and takes up more and more of your time until there’s no room for YOU.
Or maybe it’s not just one thing. Maybe (like me) you have a whole bunch of small, medium, and large things–a camel’s “leg” here, a head there, a dozen feet… and they all combine to take up so much of your time and energy, that there’s nothing left for what’s really important to you: your own interests, your own passions, your own LIFE!
That’s where I’ve been for the last few weeks.
Last week, for the first time since I started this blog, I let a week go by without a new post. It’s not because I couldn’t think of anything (I’ve got dozens of ideas just waiting to be typed out) or because I didn’t feel like writing (I LOVE writing–it feels like coming home to me). It’s just that there were too many other things to do–projects, orders, insistent clients, and urgent deadlines.
And so I let them into my “tent”–one by one, until there was no room left for me. No room left for the things that make me me: writing, reading for pleasure, meditating, or just enjoying some totally unproductive chill-out time! There was simply no space in my life for any such “luxuries”–not with all of those camels squeezing in!
The Pros and Cons of Camels
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m very grateful for all of these camels. After all, they’re carrying me across the desert! And I want to take care of them.
But I also know that if I don’t set aside some time that’s just for me, I’m going to resent those camels. Also, I’ll probably start wondering what’s the point in crossing the desert–or making any journey–if I can’t even get a moment of peace in my own tent!
So, here it is: my “tent” time. For me, writing this post is like spending some time in my tent–no camels allowed! No making journals, no editing other people’s books, no responding to emails or reacting to any of the dozen-or-more fires that “need” to be put out right now. Just me, taking some time for myself–to recharge, to express myself, and to BE myself.
And that’s what I encourage each of us to do, no matter how full our lives get. Make time (and space) for YOU! By carving out even a little bit of time that’s just for you, you send a clear message:
When you take time that’s just for you, you tell yourself, others, and the universe, “My life is important.”
This doesn’t mean that your “camel” isn’t also important. It’s just not ALL-important.
Remember, boundaries are not rejections, and they’re not mean. They’re just a way of saying, “Not now, camel. We’ve spent a lot of time together today, and we’ll be together again tomorrow; but this is my time–and my tent!”
Also (not that you ever need to justify boundaries or self-care), you’ll be a much happier traveling companion (and a better worker, parent, friend, etc.) after you emerge from your “tent time”–feeling refreshed, recharged, and human.
In other words: feeling like the true YOU!
Is there a camel in YOUR tent? How can you set healthy boundaries to make sure that there’s enough room for YOU in your own life?
I’d love to hear from you–please leave a comment, or if you enjoyed this post, feel free to share it (with the buttons below, on Facebook, or in other ways). Thanks!
Camel photo copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos