Each one of us experiences times of hitting our limit, and these limits can be in the form of physical limits, mental limits, or manufactured limiting beliefs. Understanding the difference between limiting beliefs and actual physical or mental limitations is vital to thriving. We have the power within us to shift limiting beliefs; where as substantial physical or psychological impediments require radical acceptance.
Limiting beliefs arise from the stories we tell ourselves. These typically begin in childhood during the impressionable age of four to eight. Something as simple as being told by a teacher that you are slow or sloppy creates tension within the self. For a child, a moment of questioning arises. “Am I sloppy? I must be since an adult – an authority figure whom I have been told is smarter, more knowledgeable (or insert any word consistent with “better than”); therefore, it must be so, and I am sloppy.”
Here in lies the danger. The “I” is not sloppy. Maybe the “I” actions were negligent, but that is a momentary behavior that “I” can change if presented with options or explanations.
Our language imparts the need for more understanding and discernment of the moment’s truth. We must distinguish the doing from the doer. We are not our thoughts, and we are not our actions, but we are responsible for our thoughts and actions. One who is established in discernment understands the ground of being.
We, the experiencer of emotions, thoughts, and actions, need to be aware of the effect of our emotions, ideas and acts on ourselves and others. Through these unmindful actions, we unwittingly impose limiting beliefs on ourselves and others.
Shifting limiting beliefs is rooted in mindful discernment. Having a sense that something is not right, not quite so, is the first step in the process of shedding attachments, in this case, attachment to outworn beliefs and lifestyle patterns. This altering of one’s course is usually a gradual transformation; it requires skillful effort, such as mindful attention and great patience.
For example, as a child, I was told I could not run far due to activity-induced asthma, as I seemed to get winded quickly on occasion. What I heard was, “Kristen cannot run.” Allowing this thought pattern to solidify in my being, I did not think otherwise until I was 27, a year and a half after giving birth to my son; I decided to start jogging to regain my strength and stamina. I thought, what is the worst that can happen? I get out of breath, take a break, and walk. So that’s what I did. On my first jog, I was ridiculously out of breath; my chest was on fire. I stopped and focused on breathing, willing the breath to find its natural rhythm. It did, and I walked the rest of the way, mindful of my breath and body.
I did not pass out, and I did not have any adverse reactions, so I persevered. Releasing my attachment to any outcome, I focused on putting one foot in front of the other until I could not. After a few months, I was able to jog a full mile. I celebrated the achievement as I had, through discernment, discovered “Kristen can run.”
I ran for the next ten years. Running became a passion as it allowed freedom from thoughts and actions. I found a sense of pure being in the sound of my soles slap, slap, slapping the pavement, a peacefulness I had only experienced in yoga or meditation.
Thus overcoming this one limiting belief opened the doors to remove the mental obstacles I had placed in my way throughout my life; the question begged to be asked, “what other self-made challenge could I overcome? The answer was deeply resonant- I could overcome any limiting belief I had constructed: this can be distilled down to attachment to the fruits of any idea, thought, or action. Bear in mind this did not mean I could necessarily run a marathon. Realistically I needed to understand the difference between limiting beliefs and actual physical limitations. My knees would definitely not take running a marathon. Over the 10 years I ran, I accrued much damage to joints, a stress fracture, and a broken bone in my foot. My physical limitation prevented me from running a marathon, not a limiting belief.
For this, gracious acceptance is required. My yoga practice cultivated the understanding I needed for this acceptance.
Please note by yoga practice, I do not mean only the asanas or poses, as is the prevalent understanding of yoga in the US. I am indicating the fullness of the embodiment of yogic principles and philosophy of which the postures are but only a piece of the much more comprehensive practice.
Again, much like shifting limiting beliefs, accepting physical or psychological limitations takes time and patience. Rallying against the natural flow of our life path or playing the victim of our circumstances only creates more suffering. Adjusting one’s view to the present moment allows for space where we may plant the seeds of acceptance. When we align ourselves with the present moment, we can no longer be distracted by the “what if’s” of the past or ensnared in anxiety over the unmanifest future. We begin to nurture the seeds of acceptance with loving kindness and patience.
As an example, the chronic migraines I experience are physical limitations. Additionally, for the last year, I have developed other symptoms which can impair my ability to speak or think clearly, drive, or partake in activities that bring me great joy, such as hiking and yoga (asana). Prevalent muscle weakness, neuropathy, and confusion, such as forgetting where I am or what I am doing, can be dangerous in specific settings. My awareness of my limitations is keen.
Of course, at the onset, these symptoms were terribly frightening and frustrating. Experiencing migraine from a very young age, I was potentially in a more desirable space to adjust to the additional limitations. Still, canceling plans and adapting from an active lifestyle to one spent mainly on the couch caused anger, resentment, fear, and sadness to arise. I had to sit with my emotions and make friends with the pain and anxiety to overcome dwelling on what I could not do. I needed to invite the sadness into my being and experience it fully to taste its essence in order to mourn what I perceived as a loss.
Losses can be viewed as destruction; through mindful destruction, we create new ideas, paths, and a new view of our predicaments. In my case, it was not the joys of my past that were destroyed but my attachment to how things “must” be. It is not “I love hiking; therefore, I will always be a hiker.” I enjoy the sense of aliveness, freedom, and connection with nature that hiking affords my spirit. This experience and this sense of space can manifest through other pursuits. The destruction of one path provides a clearer view of a new path that is untrod and full of pure potentiality. This potential is available to us in every moment. In the space we create through present-moment awareness, infinity awaits.
I now have a deeper appreciation for the cycles of nature as I see my path reflected in its seasons as I experienced a time of blossoming and unfolding as well as times of mourning and destruction. The two sides of the coin, non-duality expressed in each moment, for life implies death and vice versa.
As I align myself with what my body, mind, and spirit are capable of in each moment, I sense the blossoming of the seeds of acceptance, spreading peaceful contentment through my sacred vessel, allowing appreciation of the nuance and texture of the tapestry of the universe and the mystery of its weaving.
Please note that if you suffer from limitations causing you physical or mental anguish, I recommend talking with a trusted professional.
Start with your primary care doctor if you are still trying to figure out where to ask for help. For mental health assistance: https://jwww.samhsa.gov/