I don’t advocate going through life paranoid or afraid at every turn. Lots of bad stuff happens in this world, much of it things out of our control. Most people go about their own business and are not out to get anyone. Yet I think being on our guard is good advice.
Going through my day being on my guard means being prepared, being flexible, with strong boundaries and good posture, and using the twin tools of discernment, listening and observing.
Being prepared is a good way to be on one’s guard. Whether that’s making sure you have your wallet and keys when you leave the house, an extra diaper for the baby, the appropriate gear for the mountain you are climbing, or having reviewed your presentation before the meeting, being prepared is one way to feel confident in the face of the unexpected.
Being flexible means being ready to face what comes with equanimity, judging in the moment if you need to meet that challenge head on, or perhaps just dodge left to avoid it. We can be on our guard against unexpected drama this way. Other forms of distraction can also be met with flexibility: do we need to relax in this moment, or press on with our tasks?
Strong boundaries also allow us to guard our time, energy, and space – as well as our loved ones and things. Having strong boundaries means we can share freely and not be worried that we’ll be taken advantage of. Strong boundaries means saying yes when we mean yes and no when we mean no; these very important boundary markers keep us on our guard.
I think good posture is a form of being on guard. Not only does it send a strong signal to other people that I am confident and less likely to take bullshit, it is a position of physical strength, keeping me physically balanced and flexible to face whatever physical surprises come my way.
The last two, listening and observing, are key to good discernment, which is again key to being on one’s guard. I do not want to let any spirit in, just as I do not wish to let any person in my house. I am happy to greet you, but are a friend? I watch, I listen, and then decide. Discernment allows me to know whom to trust. Of course, it’s not perfect, but without discernment we run the risk of keeping everyone at arm’s length, or letting everyone and everything in.