Finding my limits

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about how much I have to do, how much I want to do, and whether I can make those two points match up.  New Age-ish philosophy would suggest that there are no limits, that limits to oneself are entirely invented by the mind and thus can be transcended simply be believing that There Are No Limits.

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But what if your limits reflect something good and healthy?  What if your “limits” are really your boundaries?   I have limits, for sure.  I have boundaries, physical, social, and behavioural boundaries that I don’t generally cross or allow others to cross.  These things keep me safe, maintain my integrity.

Boundaries are a body experience.  When you feel yourself sitting on the chair, or feel your feet pushing into the floor, you have an increased awareness of your body in space. As you push those feet down, you can feel your muscles become activated, feel the blood flow more vigorously, feel your inner space.  You know, without even having words for it, where you begin and where the floor ends.   And you also know that the floor can and will support you without invading you or making you conform or hurting you in some way.

However, if that floor was made of Jell-O, or was covered with nails sticking point up, you would have a different experience.  You would still have your boundary….where my body is….where the floor is….but your boundary would tell you that you cannot trust the floor to hold you, or to hold you without impinging on you.

Your BODY tells you that, when you explore the boundary between your body and the floor. Limits are a good thing, I tell you!

I have social limits as well.   I don’t let people touch me without permission.  I don’t say “yes, I’d be happy to do that” if I really am not happy to do that.   I do not invite people to my home whom I don’t want to see.   Those limits are also good for me.

In other places, I want to test my limits, and maybe even shift the boundaries a bit.  Getting older has actually, much as I hate to admit it, meant that my joints are stiffer and less flexible.  When I practice yoga, for example, I try to ease my body gently past some of these physical limits, or boundaries.   When I run, I notice that I can shift the limits….training has that effect.   But those are active choices I get to make.  I am happy to know what my limits are, and grateful that when I want to move past them, I can sometimes do that.  But more grateful that I have them firmly in place for my own safety.  Boundaries help us know where and what we are, and help us in relating to other people.  More on that part…later….
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The illusion of control

How do I end up in these places?  That’s not just a whine about winter, but a bigger question, really.   It seems to me that I could not have predicted my current circumstances from my earlier life.  I think that a lot of strange, unpredictable things had to happen for me to be here, now, doing what I am doing.

I often wonder if there is any truth to my sense that I have made choices, decisions, which resulted in my arriving here in this place, in this work, in this country, within my particular family structure.

Did I actually have anything at all to do with that?

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There are times when I think that maybe choice is illusory and that we operate on another scale.  We are mere mites within a grander structure.   We run around, choosing one path or another, feeling stressed about what to choose, but we cannot see that the choices are limited by the maze into which we were born.   We think we are choosing from all the available options but maybe our very choices are constrained by our pre-existing beliefs, our social structures, or needs for acceptance within our tribes.  Those constraints are largely invisible to us as we make our day-to-day decisions.   Eggs or pancakes?   Divorced or married?  Employed or not?   House or condo?   It is not obvious that there are many other options than just the either-or within our cultural and social limits.

What are the limits?  What keeps us inside the maze rather than climbing up the walls and getting a look at what else is there?

credit Wikipedia
credit Wikipedia

I suspect that partly it is our illusion of control.  We feel a need to hold onto that, even though life has a way of reminding us regularly that we don’t actually control very much.   If we should climb up the walls of the maze just to look out and across the sweep of those tunnels of our options and maybe the related but disconnected mazes of people from other places, cultures, social settings, we would have to acknowledge that truth…control is just an illusion.   That’s a frightening idea.  We want someone to be in control.  Some of us want to be in control of ourselves.  Some of us are willing to relinquish control to a beneficent deity.  Some of us believe that we are controlled by malevolent forces, from government-corporate conspiracy to the devil.   Some people prefer to believe that we are controlled by natural forces, such as evolution, or climate change.   After all, we figure, SOMEONE must have set up those mazes.

What if none of it is true?  What if our limits are our own conceptual construction, just as our control is our own conceptual construction?  What would happen if we dropped all the stories, all the self-talk about us and others, about limits, about control, about events?   I suspect we’d be left with experience, our moment-to-moment experiencing of being a human organism living a human life.

Found APOD, credit http://www.thorri.is/ Fabulous photos at this site
Found APOD, credit http://www.thorri.is/
Fabulous photos at this site

I’m going to ponder this for awhile.  Who am I when I drop the storyline?   When I really drop it, that question also disappears.   The “I” of my story is gone and what is left is just the experiencer, experiencing.   I get there sometimes, moments during sitting and other moments too, but as soon as I notice then I am back in the story, back in my maze.  But I wonder, and this is part of the story too, if I can melt away the “me” of my story, can I melt away the limits of my maze?  What is it like to just BE, without putting that moment into the context of my day, my week, my maze?

 

Starting over. Starting over. Starting over.

The sun comes up every single morning.  What a gift, what a blessing.   When we conceive of the new day as new opportunity, everything opens up.

Sunrise over Cundy's Harbour, Maine, Dianne Carrick 31 Dec 2012
Sunrise over Cundy’s Harbour, Maine, Dianne Carrick 31 Dec 2012

  Today is just beginning.   That means that my experience of today is also, yes, just beginning.  So I have choices.  I can choose to make this a new beginning or a continuation of what was.   Actually, of course, today is always both of those things.    Taking a leap into something new can be frightening.   We shrink from fear, pulling ourselves inward, like an everlasting snail withdrawing his tiny horns from an aversive stimulus.   But once pulled in, once shrunken into myself, pulled away from the world, I am tight, tense, afraid, anxious, then actually interacting with the world becomes difficult. I am constrained from acting as I might want to act.  I am unable to feel my own experiences of the world because I have shrunk away from them.

What if?    

What if?    If only I realized that I am always and everywhere interacting with the world, actually am part of the world, taking in the world through my breath and my eyes, my ears and my skin, and adding parts of myself to the world just by being alive and being present, well, might that awareness not help me to know that fear itself is an illusion, just as separation is an illusion?

Starting over
Solstice dawn.
Solstice dawn.

Well, it’s a thought, anyway.   I was talking with my friend and body-worker Kathrine Walker about this miraculous interface between the human body (MY human body, your human body) and the world.   We were working with a meditation on the breath, visualizing the lungs right down to the alveoli, the location where the amazing happens:   air from the world interfaces with the body and becomes part of the body.   I recalled the other places where this occurs:  in the sensory organs and within the digestive system.   In each system, there is a specific place, specific part of the body which developed for its particular interface with information from the world….the retina gathers light energy and converts it to something your brain can understand.  The hair cells of the basilar membrane of the ear can take sound waves and turn them into neural transmissions.   Inside your nose are receptors that collect molecules of substances that waft in on the air you breathe, and those molecules are turned into information for your brain to interpret (“Hmm, apples….that reminds me of fall and our trips up river to pick apples.”)   The world is coming to us every moment of every day, and the world is becoming us.

When I breathed into that awareness, when I actively sought to notice air becoming me, sound shaping my mental experience, feeling the sensation of really deeply looking at colours, I could just barely begin to touch this reality.   But it meant something.   It meant that I could let go of a lot of my striving.   No matter how hard I try, I can’t keep myself safe from the world.   No matter how much I try to control myself, my future, my life, things are happening every single millisecond that I cannot control.

The good news about that was this:    I don’t need to set goals, to create rigid structures for Self-Improvement, to follow somebody-or-other’s plan for getting a better body, more spiritual soul, sharper intelligence.  I just need to breathe and to be, and in so doing, I am becoming more part of the world and letting the world become part of me.   

Could be a scary thought.  Or it could be extraordinarily freeing.

On this last day of the year, I think I’ll choose to find it freeing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whose problem?

My friend calls me to tell me about her boyfriend’s latest critical comment.   She is angry, and she is calling for support and also to get some validation.  So I get mad, too, and tell her she should be angry, that he has no business talking to her that way, and that I want to tell him a thing or two.

So I get on FaceBook and send him a message that says he better shape up, because my friend deserves better treatment than that, and that all of our friends are going to be mad at him if he doesn’t start treating her better.  And I stay mad, and tell as many people as I can about what a jerk he is, and how their relationship is probably falling apart, and then she calls me up and says that everything is fine and why don’t I just leave him alone?  And I don’t know what happened but I am certain that she is making a mistake in staying with that jerk and so I tell her that.  Then she gets mad at me, so I post on FB that she is making some dumb moves and that he is a jerk, and then I block them both.  And I am mad.

Okay, if you know me, or if you have been reading my blog for awhile, you probably can guess that the above is a totally fabricated scenario…for me.  However, lots of people live like this on a daily basis.  Lots of people  find interpersonal drama to be the stuff of life, and get so caught up in it that they start to lose track of themselves.  When you can’t really feel yourself, one attempted solution is to get angry about something.  Anger is a feeling of movement, of motivation, and if you can figure out some way to call that anger “justified” or “righteous” then you can even turn it into a crusade.

So what’s wrong with that?

What’s wrong is that when we lose ourselves, we end up not living our own lives.  We are not in our lives, but in some surreal, in-between place, where our emotional involvement in other people’s stuff is our focus.

What to do differently?

The place to make a change is at the very beginning.  When my friend calls me, I can ask myself a couple of questions.  First, what does she want from me?  Perhaps she is looking for social support;  most people are, under these circumstances.  Social support means someone to LISTEN.  It doesn’t mean that I have to agree, or have to validate, it just means that I listen to her story but particularly to her feelings, and I validate the feelings.

Second, who has the problem?   In this case, she has the problem.  It isn’t mine, and if you look at the answer to question number one, she isn’t even looking to off-load her problem.  She is likely just looking for someone to say, “Wow, that sounds really hard to deal with.   I can hear that you are angry about that.”

If I grab that problem and get mad on her behalf (mad on her behalf?  Is there such a thing?  Sounds like yet another blog post…), I make her problem MY problem.  In fact, by the end of the story, she had solved her problem and I was left with a whole bunch of collateral problems.

If the problem is NOT mine, I can limit my involvement.

How would I know if the problem did belong to me?   Well, suppose she called to say that she was angry with me for MY critical comments.  Yes, then that is a problem for me.   Suppose she called to say that her boyfriend was making critical comments about ME…..wow, what do you do with that?  Who has that problem?  Is that a problem?   In my world, that is not a problem, but I do wonder why my friend would want to share that information.   Is she trying to create a problem?    In either case, we may have some things to talk about.

So….ask yourself if the problem is even yours.   Byron Katie suggests that there are three kinds of business in the world.  There is MY business, stuff that actually has to do with me directly.  There is YOUR business, which is pretty much everything that isn’t my business, so pretty much everything in the world.   And then there are the things that are not mine, are not yours, and really aren’t anyone’s business….like tsunamis and blizzards and earthquakes.  Those are God’s business.  Unless something is MY business, I have no business trying to manage it or even having big emotional stuff around it.  In fact, I can keep my thoughts, feelings and ideas right out of it.  It is Not My Business.

This week, check in and see if you can be clear about whether a problem belongs to you before you try to solve it, or before you even react to it.  What do you find out?