When I was young I chafed under any sort of limitation. In fact, I remember as a child one of my favorite songs was “Don’t Fence Me In” which I learned from watching old cowboy movies that ended with the hero riding off into the sunset. How I longed to jump in the saddle and take off too.
My small town environment, over protective parents and Roman Catholic morality exacerbated feelings of imprisonment and constraint. Like many young people I wanted to be free to be me; I wanted lots of choices, endless horizons, limitless possibilities. Sometimes it was even hard to make a choice because that meant ‘not choosing’ something else. I was told, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” I didn’t like that part. I wanted the cake with ice cream on the side.
As I got older I was certainly part of the Me generation and felt entitled to pursue whatever I wanted whether it was sensible or safe. I would push against whatever limits were set and every time I heard ‘no’ I felt that my freedom was at stake and I would rebel.
Eventually, came marriage and children and divorce and finally the need to work whether it suited me or not. There was one period in my 30’s when I was fired from three jobs in a row. It had nothing to do with intelligence or willingness to work – it was all about attitude and resentment of authority. Finally, I had to learn when to keep my mouth shut and when to play by the rules – even if they were someone else’s.
In my 40’s I made my break to self-employment and I again had some of those unlimited possibilities I had entertained in my youth. Surprisingly, by then I was no longer enamored of endless choices and opportunities. Somewhere along the line I had absorbed the lesson of limits.
By recognizing and willingly accepting restrictions and working within boundaries I discovered that I had more power. Just as light is stronger when focused through lens, my energies were more productive when they weren’t spread across a wide spectrum. When I limited my focus I was able to go deeper rather than wider. I liked deeper better because I had more freedom.
The mandalas I draw and the ink wash work I enjoy so much is indicative of this appreciation of limitation. In both cases I have definite boundaries of what is possible. By willingly accepting them I have the freedom to explore more deeply within those areas. By accepting limits I also take a lot of alternatives off the playing board, which means I don’t have to think about them anymore. My mind is left free to concentrate on the essential.
Once I accepted that arthritis limited my mobility, I was free to explore in other ways. Once I accept the limits of aging, I was no longer concerned that I didn’t look 30 or 40 or even 50. Once I chose a simpler lifestyle I was no longer burdened by financial concerns.
In setting limits we are establishing priorities and each time we make choice we eliminate some of our alternatives. Rather than see this as something lost, it can be understood as something gained – in focus, in power, in depth.
Here’s a little trip back to a Saturday afternoon in 1950. Giddy up! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAlMYOvs5Fs