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Change Maven Musings: Know Your Limits
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We need to know our physical and psychological limits. ~The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh.
I’ve never thought about having psychological limits.
Physical limits, sure. I know (most of the time) when I’m tired, hungry, how my muscles after a long run or ski, or need to be touched or held. But psychological limits? How do we acknowledge their existence, as the innermost places of ourselves that are easy to downplay or pretend away because we don’t physically see them, or don’t trust them, given the immediate or urgent things that demand our constant attention around us?
Sometimes we need to escape our problems for relief. But at some point, we have to return to our problems to face them. To be in the realities that we’ve created, for better or for worse. And often these problems are psychological in nature, based on our lived experience and what we feel about our lived experience. And depending on what happened and when it all happened, what we remember today may or not be as accurate as we think. Do we really remember the surrounding context, all of the people that were on the scene, their exact words, their subtle facial expressions in response to us or what was happening? Do we remember ours? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say no. What we remember is our version of events, which is often us on a self-righteous, indignant island in the middle of the vast, victim ocean of what happened around us (to us?). Even though we were an active participant somewhere in it, and - this is uncomfortable - contributing to the swirl in ways we may not remember. Or if we (let ourselves) remember, are ashamed to admit or talk about out loud, so we conveniently ignore those details in favor of the broader story/context we tell ourselves and anyone else who will listen with an empathetic ear. I may or may not have some experience in this area.
How/where can we cultivate deeper presence, a deeper and more focused concentration within ourselves, so we understand where our psychological boundaries lie? To be able to say, “yes, I feel safe in having this conversation with you about that topic.” or “no, I’m emotionally depleted at the moment and can’t do that thing for you. Can we come back to it later?” or see evidence of someone/something pushing us to do something beyond what we can do, in spite of our protests against the task, the timing, our ability/capacity to actually do it.
Enter psychological limit.
And: for us to take the requisite action to honor it, which is always the hard thing to do. As we start to honor and legitimize our psychological limits, it may be more of a felt sense, coming from our Knowing or intuition, where we may not have a well-thought out or articulated way to express it. Which can be very hard for those of us who need - demand - a logical, rational, well-articulated argument for something before taking action.
Yet set the limit, we must. We are not here to change someone’s mind or convince them of the validity of our limits. We set the limit, we dialogue about it, if possible, we practice compassion, patience, and persistence for those who continue to push our limits because our act of setting psychological limits may be bringing up something uncomfortable for them that they haven’t looked at in a long-ass time. Again, another opportunity for our practice of compassion, patience, and persistence in the name of progress.
I had coffee with a friend recently and she talked about how in the wake of recent major life changes, she has found a level of simplicity in her life today that was surprising and deeply abiding. That allows her to feel peace and joy in her life in a new way, ways that were very different from what her life had been pre-major life changes. I’ve been reflecting on that a bit, asking myself, why do we have such a bias against simplicity? Like it’s less-than, not ambitious enough, not profitable enough, not pushing for something better somehow? What if that simplicity is the vehicle for a fulfilling life, that is something better, but we miss it because we pay attention to all of the noise around us that tells us to keep going, to ignore our physical and psychological limits, to push past the pain or resistance, for…what, exactly? Physical and soul depletion? Distance from our loved ones and those people/things we say we care most about? Mo’ money, mo’ problems (thanks Notorious B.I.G. and crew for the continued wisdom on that one)?
What if the way of simplicity opened the door to the Way for each of us? And how could that simplicity be the source of energy we needed to set aside our habits of distraction and procrastination, our need to control, the power dynamics that exist in so many domains of our lives? To see clearly and create understanding around our discomfort and where it comes from, so we can access it, sit with it, learn from it, and ultimately thank it for the deep learning and peace that are within it so we can live closer to our authentic selves, and all of the gifts, love, and abundance that comes along with them?
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