Before she became an amazingly successful author, JK Rowling spent seven years on welfare benefits as a single parent. During that time, she saw herself as a failure and suffered from clinical depression. When she eventually finished her first Harry Potter book, twelve publishers rejected it before it was accepted. Although JK Rowling’s level of success is exceptional, at times we all face the challenge of breaking through limitation and adversity, which is a universal part of being human.
There are some days when we feel on top of the world and others where we feel small, contracted and insignificant. One of the reasons is that we are wired to respond to things that appear negative or threatening. Even single cell amoebas have a protective layer and will withdraw from a threat in their environment, so it’s no surprise that we naturally learn to protect ourselves during our childhood. The trouble is that what may have been momentarily useful as a small child becomes an obstacle when we are doing our best to lead a happy and fulfilling life as an adult
The culture and society we live in also play a major role in shaping our limitations. There are also the various roles we play at work and in our personal lives that come with sets of beliefs and behaviours. All of these can potentially end up defining who we are, the self we wake up as every morning. Although the limiting stories and beliefs we hold about ourselves are very powerful, the truth is that many of them are self-imposed. When these thoughts are compounded with emotions like anxiety, low self-worth, and physical tension and stress, we end up with a limiting state that sets the baseline on how we normally feel. And we can go up and down around this baseline, depending on how things are going for us at any one time.
Through practice, we can learn to observe our own thoughts and emotions; seeing thoughts as just mental content and emotions as subjective feelings that arise. Thoughts and emotions are not facts and are not always the most reliable guide to reality. Of course, thoughts and emotions can be useful and very powerful. So, we need to be careful that they do not define and limit who we are. By developing our awareness, we can access a more expansive space that’s outside the normal, everyday, limiting baseline sense of who we are.
With awareness, we’re more likely to notice the presence of a limiting state. Raising our level of awareness can be like being on holiday, looking across a broad landscape with a wide-open horizon; feeling a sense of freedom and openness, a fresh perspective that you seemed to have forgotten. Taking this approach, we can observe that we sometimes feel inadequate and imperfect with kindness and self-compassion. As the psychologist, Carl Rogers put it, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
Here is an approach to overcoming limitation:
- Turn your attention to the here-and-now by noticing your body and breath. Once you are more aware of what’s going on, you’ll be more able to let go of limiting thoughts and emotions.
- The next step is to acknowledge the thoughts, emotions and physical sensations that are symptoms, and maybe even causes, of how you feel.
- Accept and allow what you find just as it is; taking on the viewpoint of a curious observer; labelling thoughts and emotions like “limiting beliefs”, or, “there’s some anxiety”.
- Then expand your awareness to your senses; sending your hearing right out to the limit of sounds you can hear way off in the distance.
- Rest in that sense of stillness and spaciousness for a few moments, open to new possibilities and insights as you shift from reacting unconsciously, to skilfully responding to whatever arises in your experience.
It’s not that breaking through limitation will fulfil your wildest dreams overnight, but by consistently taking a more aware, compassionate and open approach; creating your own space, free from self-imposed limitations, you’re much more likely to find contentment and be successful in achieving your goals.
Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware.
There are two guided practices for this session. You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
- Play the first settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
- Then play the second practice to explore and experience accepting yourself as you really are and creating the space that is free from self-imposed limitations.
Suggested weekly practice
- Check in with yourself during the day and see what limiting thoughts and emotions are around with openness, kindness, and curiosity.
- If the limiting feeling has been around for many years, sit with your eyes closed and focus on the area where the feeling resonates in your body as you relax the body and release the feeling a bit at a time.
- Notice any negative, limiting and habitual automatic thoughts and beliefs. As you observe them, realize that you are not your thoughts. Try labeling them as limiting and depleting thoughts that no longer serve you.
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