No Limits

Posted: October 4, 2015 in a lonely journey, September 28, what makes us tick
Tags: , , , ,

No limits

It’s been another year. Ten minutes after writing this sentence I found myself looking for a smooth way to continue. When you post once a year, it’s easy to focus on eloquent salutations. But that’s not why I’m here. The reason I keep coming back, now for the fifth year in a row, is to share things I have realized. For me, a key part of life is discovery of what it actually means to live, and these posts, regardless of their frequency, are mileposts on that road. And as it happens, since the last post I’ve come quite a distance. So hello everyone, hope everything is well, and let’s cut straight to the chase. This post is going to be long enough already.

The puzzle I wrote about last year is still there. In fact, it has evolved significantly. More pieces have been identified and placed into their right spots. But on the way something unexpected has happened — the puzzle has grown in complexity. It felt like exploring a solid object and suddenly discovering that it’s made of molecules, which in turn are made of atoms, which in turn are made of particles. While realization like this means more exploration, it also leads to re-evaluation of some pieces. What looked for years like a monolithic unit suddenly becomes a fluffy imaginary concept. Take limits for example.

The title of this post sounds a line straight from that 90s techno song. It has to be a metaphor, right? Our life is full of limits. We experience them every day. They are everywhere. We are limited in many, many ways, whether we like it or not. Or are we?

First of all, what’s a limit? There are multiple definitions, but the most basic one, to quote Oxfod Dictionary, is “a point or level beyond which something does not or may not extend or pass”. When we think or talk about our life, that something is our thoughts and actions. We refer to a limit to outline their possible range, to draw a border between we consider possible and what we believe is outside our reach. I’m too tired to work on this, I think I’ve just reached my limit… I won’t able to run that fast, that would be really beyond my limit… I have to stay realistic, I know my limits… We think and say phrases like this all the time. In fact, more often than not we don’t even bother articulating the existence of a limit — we simply know it’s there. And why shouldn’t we? Aren’t we indeed limited? We can’t outrace a train, can’t move a 10-ton rock and certainly can’t breath underwater. Yes, it’s possible to push our limits, but there’s a limit on how we can push them.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Everything. As always, the devil is hiding in the fine print.

Let’s start with the obvious: this is not about physical limits. Actually, I would argue that even physical limits are only convenient mental models, but there is no way to do this convincingly without turning this post into a five-page essay, delving into psychology, physics and philosophy (and believe me, I’ve tried — this is the fifth time I’m re-writing this text). So for the purposes of this post, let’s put physical limits aside, at least for now, and take a closer look at things that exist inside our mind.

Consider a limit that we all so well familiar with: speed limit. It’s posted wherever we drive and it’s rather specific. Yet, doesn’t pass a simple test against the dictionary definition. True, any speed limit sign speaks of a specific point. But we all know that we can go faster than it and in fact, many of us do. Going beyond it can bring some benefits (getting faster to our destination) and quite a few potential problems, ranging from minor (a ticket) to major (injury or death). So we choose not to go faster than that number, or at least exceed it without speeding like a car on a NASCAR track. But should we choose to, we can go faster, much faster, actually. Moreover, police and ambulance do it routinely. Same can be said about most points we mentally mark as limits: they prompt us to slow down, to stay below a certain level. But they don’t really mark a border beyond which we physically cannot go.

Now let’s leave the physical world for a moment and dive into something more abstract. Imagine an infinite plane, like the one they use in math books and on covers of SciFi magazines. It is unlimited, isn’t it? It stretches from infinity to infinity, after all. True. But only as long as you look at two dimensions. Its thickness is as limited as something can be — it’s plain zero. When it comes to the third dimension, an infinite plane is more limited than a sheet of paper. And yet when we think of it, we think of what makes it infinite, not limited.

Same applies to our lives. Limited as we appear to be in our physical characteristics — including the number of moments we get to live — we are truly, literally limitless when it comes to the ways to apply our capabilities. We can set an infinite number of goals, find an infinite number of way to spend our moments and consider infinite range of options when making a choice. We can be limitless — if we choose to. But most of the time we don’t. We set mental lines not to be crossed, not even to be approached — and call them our limits. Yet whatever we are limiting with these boundaries, they exists only in our mind. Moreover, these internal limits rarely even approach the true extent of our physical or mental capabilities.

We are all born free. Weak, vulnerable, helpless, but free. At that point we are not aware of consequences of our actions — and of ourselves, for that matter — and as such we cannot restrict them. It’s a very strange freedom, freedom of complete ignorance, and it doesn’t mean much because true freedom implies purposeful action. But in that state we don’t limit ourselves — just ask any parent.

As we grow up, we discover things we like and dislike. We learn to desire the former and to avoid the latter. And in order to avoid everything unpleasant, we begin reducing the extent of our actions and even thoughts. We have to. Otherwise we’d be falling off balconies and sticking our hands into fireplaces all the time. And so we create mental lines not to be crossed and internalize some of them to the degree that they become fully subconscious.

Many of these limits are necessary, since they keep us and others safe. They are also good for channeling our efforts to achieve a better outcome (more about this in another post). But many — way too many — limits are created out of different shades of fear and guilt. We want to avoid risk, potential humiliation, physical harm, frustration, rejection. Be it public speaking, learning a new skill, changing a job, asking out someone we like, taking on a challenging task, moving to a new town, standing up to a bully or expressing ourselves honestly, so often we choose to play it safe. And we do it over and over, and over again. What makes these choices fully justified to ourselves? Our own creations. Limits.

Yet unlike laws of physics they exist only in our imagination. Gravity is real. Our limit in defying it is not. That’s why people have walked the Moon and why we can enjoy close up pictures of Pluto. A limit is a boundary beyond which we think we cannot go in a chosen action. But actions are only means to accomplishing goals. And if you look at it this way, most of our so called limits disappear immediately. Or rather, they become irrelevant. You can actually outrace a train — if you get on a plane (though some try using their legs for that). You can move a 10-ton rock — all it takes is a bulldozer (or a clever use of levers). And yes, you can breath underwater — it’s called scuba diving. This all sounds like a no brainer, but how often have you hit a “limit” just because you thought of an action and not of the desired outcome?

And just like the zero-thick infinite surface we can be limitless. We’d still have to deal with laws of physics, biology and social norms. But they should only determine our options, not prevent us from accomplishing our goals. Because the alternative to being limitless is to be limited — in a few or in many ways. This is how most of us spend our lives. Bound by mental uncrossable lines, created by our imagination or learned from others. Giving up when we think we can’t go further, without realizing that there are more ways to achieve the goal. Or worse, not even trying because there is a dark wall looming somewhere down the road. And so we make limits real by not trying to go beyond or around them. Yet, they are not a real unless we make them to. That’s how I used to live. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Not only there is a way to feel limitless — there’s is a way to be limitless.

And the most important part of it is that as great as it sounds, becoming limitless is not the ultimate goal. It is only a step. A step into a state that makes everything else possible. It’s a foundation of life as it can be. As it should be. It is only the beginning.

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Comments
  1. dancergypsy says:

    Wow! It seems like yesterday I was here, pouring over the thought of puzzles, and here we are again, already! I must say, I enjoyed the finesse and clarity with which you wrote this piece. It seems very mature and well considered. I think it demonstrates a your growth. It’s wonderful to witness. I always look forward to these yearly posts.

    I went into the entire puzzle already having seen the outcome of endless puzzles surfacing (as noted last year in my responses). Needless to say, I’m still within a puzzling fixation! I don’t see the end anywhere in sight, though I’m gaining insights on a daily basis. One puzzle inevitably leads me to another puzzle, but I’ve grown more content with this realization, increasing in my passion for them. But, limits are another matter…

    I cannot say I’ve grown comfortable with limits. Instead, I’m only growing more aware of them. I don’t think that is altogether bad. It’s actually a necessary step in identifying a solution– knowing the limits of things or situations. One way to think of it is in understanding where you end in a particular scenario. I realize limits are a very different concept outside myself. As you wrote, limits are different in various situations.

    I think one of the most fascinating aspects of limitation is that: all of these limits or limitless ideas are in our minds! Every single one.

    >>>”…let’s put physical limits aside, at least for now, and take a closer look at things that exist inside our mind.”

    I thoroughly believe everything begins in our mind and translates outward. It becomes physical, social, and biological. The only altercation is discovering whether or not it reaches out and matches reality or the end result we desire, which would or would not be manifested. There is a portion that contradicts our limitless desires that is not always in our control. But, of course, this isn’t my essay…

    It seems to me the result is really gained in perspective. How you choose to see a result defines the limits. It’s much in the same way as seeing success. Limits and limitlessness is a kind of success or lack thereof. This has been my own experience. As I have learned over the past year, it isn’t always that I limit myself; it is that I don’t know how to understand or react to the limits everyone else has around me. It’s now understanding how I can weave around the limits constructed for me (that almost seem against me) and still continue in a manner of freedom.

    The truth is, I know I can get what I want in life. I know I can do many things. However, there are moments in spite of my best intentions, and possible achievement, I am not granted my desires. Surprisingly, it happens quite often. This is due to the fact as I mentioned before; limits surround me. And you are right, they have in many ways taught me to be limited in my mind, for better or worse. There’s not much you can brilliantly argue in the face of gravity and convince it any different! I dare say, I still find reason to argue anyhow…

    You see, I have an addiction to possibility, and I stare at it in every puzzle, though I’m regularly trapped behind the whisper of society and conditioning from childhood, “You cannot do that! What makes you think you could?” I so happen to regularly think I can, actually. And I will say, having that mentality is not so easy, especially standing on numerous disappointments. I’m currently learning to listen far less to those whispers that say we cannot, and only listen to the ones that are walls I cannot break– they are not mine to break. When I find they are there I accept it and say goodbye. Those walls are usually created by someone else, protecting something else. I honestly don’t understand always why something cannot happen. I generally conclude it was not the best route. I’m learning to accept those things written in stone and move beyond them into a different sphere.

    Sometimes a door closes and it’s a simple choice to see all the others in the distance still wide open. By doing that, in a way, you are choosing not to limit yourself to a single door. I will try to open them all, if I must! Fear erodes the chances for possibility because it has a way of narrowing your vision into only seeing one door, instead of many. There are moments, I wish for some kind of social change, a grand consciousness revolution. It would be so refreshing to encounter other minds that were more open (and didn’t let their brains fall out) and could or would include me. As it stands, I’m definitely an outlier, focused on transforming my own limitations and fears. Forever unwilling to conform completely.

    Thank you, Unamaskd, for your service in writing this work, and continuing to keep us informed on your endeavors to truly live life to the fullest. I wish you the absolute best each moment ahead.

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  2. Unmaskd says:

    Thank you. As always, it’s great to know that things I write about resonate.

    >> Fear erodes the chances for possibility because it has a way of narrowing your vision into only seeing one door, instead of many.

    Completely agree. Very well said.

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  3. I read a post by Mark Manson titled the ‘Four Stages of Life’ (you should check it out) and he emphasizes that in order to move into a different stage (Mimicry, Self Discovery, Commitment, and Legacy) there needs to be a trauma that catalyzes a life transition which results in one reevaluating their motivations and current strategies.
    Do you think that in order to transition from a fixed mindset of ‘limits’ to more of a ‘limitless’ growth mindset, a sort of trauma -defined broadly- needs to be the catalyst? Or can it truly just be a gradual transition? (in your experience?)

    Like

    • Unmaskd says:

      I think there should be some kind of a catalyst, but it doesn’t have to be a trauma, or at least not a trauma that immediately precedes the transition. In my own experience, I have been clearly affected by some traumatic experiences that date back quite a few years. But had I not have them, would I be still thinking about things that I write about on this blog? I’m pretty sure I would. In fact, I think our brains are pre-wired to go beyond limits and we live in the a constant state of struggle. I expect to return to more frequent posting to write more about this — the whole idea of going limitless is a part of a bigger picture, which I don’t want to describe only once a year.
      Thanks for the pointer to Mark’s post — it’s an interesting read.

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      • dancergypsy says:

        I agree with you, Unmaskd, I don’t think trauma is necessary for transition (and I realize this question was not directed to me). I don’t really like the thought of that at all– it makes trauma seem desirable when it is something we should try to eliminate in existence. However, on the flip-side, trauma can be defined in a vast array of terms. What traumatizes one person may not have the same result on another. People respond to life according to so many social and psychological factors which are variable. Our response to trauma itself can also be highly related to our genetics (scientifically evident), but more importantly how we choose to respond mindfully. Therefore, I do not advocate trauma as the number one source of transformation. It’s simply a choice at any stage one chooses. Many people face trauma and never get better, and deteriorate completely.

        A simple catalyst can be simply a stimulus, of an unlimited kind, which results in thinking/reasoning. This could come from a blog post or anything. It is the source of thought on a deep introspective level that creates transition or transformation.

        I was curious about the recommended article and decide to read it for myself. It’s interesting, though I’d politely like to share I disagree on a less apparent message I gained after reading. In Mark Manson’s, “Four Stages of Life”, I saw it having some truth, to an extent. I discovered an error within the neatly framed span of time each stage was marked. Manson wrote a specific “formula” for human development that appeared neatly packaged and tied with a ribbon at the end, when life is not this way.

        If the “Four Stages of Life” is the road-map human beings all use to travel or stray from, then I am in Timbuktu! I am clearly not on schedule, and well past my stage, or bouncing hither and thither among all of them. My point is, the magic and beauty of life is living without neatly categorized boxes. And, if “Four Stage of Life” were “correct” I would find this very sad, for one reason: It’s extremely limiting.

        Why not consider the chances of a child mimicking the idea of starting a legacy at any age, possibly 5?
        Why not consider creating something new or learning something new at 85? Committing to walking the neighborhood park every day, instead of living vicariously and passing projects to someone else?

        There is much to be lived by not carefully appointing or outlining life experiences– by not always knowing how things are “supposed” to stage. Create with your own thought at your own pace! Trauma or not.

        And, Unmaskd, if you start writing more than once a year, I might stick around… 😉

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    • dancergypsy says:

      HI Alicia! I was so thrilled to read your comment and see someone stopped by besides me on here. I wonder, would you like to share your thoughts? I’d be curious to read your thought in response to your own question:

      Do you think that in order to transition from a fixed mindset of ‘limits’ to more of a ‘limitless’ growth mindset, a sort of trauma -defined broadly- needs to be the catalyst? Or can it truly just be a gradual transition? (in your experience?)

      Of course, you can take the invitation or not… I just thought, why not ask? 🙂

      Like

  4. dancergypsy says:

    P.S. You can take me as example; It’s probably not fully customary for someone to write such enormously long posts of thought in response as I do, and have just done. But you know what? I’ve no clue what stage I’m at in the blog posting manual, or if it meets a particular standard. I wanted to write and I did, risking who knows what… There’s likely someone out there who thinks I’m an idiot, or something unpleasant, but not always doing things the socially correct way is far more freeing, when you mean no harm. And, there’s so much to learn in the process, simply by taking the risk of being that idiot.

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  5. Hi,

    I’m sorry for the late response! I had no way of knowing if someone replied to me and I don’t tend to comment on blogs often, haha. Thanks for both of your replies!
    In regard to trauma, I agree, I don’t think the only way to transition to a different stage is through trauma, but according to Mark’s stages it tends to be what makes it so that a reevaluation of one’s choices is inevitable. (which is not always the case, as dancergypsy was pointed out) I think he’s trying to define human development in terms of different parameters, something vaguely reminiscent of Erikson’s Stages of Development but without some of those factors. I wouldn’t look at it as a roadmap for everyone’s life, but just as one person generalizing common themes through his perspective of a particular society.
    So yeah, I agree that trauma is not necessary to transition to a different mindset, but it needs to be a ‘strong’ enough catalyst that brings about true change, which will vary for everyone.

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    • dancergyspy says:

      Thank you so much for taking the time to respond with your thoughts! 🙂 I most enjoyed reading your ideas on the matter. It’s so fun to share in on the feedback.

      Like

  6. Anonymous says:

    Looking forward to your annual post today or within the next few days.

    Like

  7. Sunshine says:

    When a person is limitless, life is good. When you take it to the next level, it feels as though nothing is impossible with such a mindset. The reality for me right now is that living each day striving, struggling, juggling the different parts of my life, there is a certain degree of difficulty to it. I’ve made choices and decisions that I’m no longer happy with and each day is a challenge as I’m trying to change my life. It seems I have to spend a few years working to a certain point and waiting for a certain time before I can make the changes I want. Yet, maybe it’s about letting go right here, right now of what I don’t want in my life and everything will fall into place (but when you have kids to take care of, that doesn’t seem like the right choice to be free-spirited with a sink or swim attitude). Some days are especially difficult during the transition of reconstructing my life, but belief and hope keep me going… knowing that what I do today will make my tomorrow better and that in every today I can make a difference and make progress. I agree mindset has a lot to do with it, but building a limitless life takes time and effort. It should not limit the meaningfulness or what I can do now, each day along the way, to live fully no matter where I am in my life. Limitation has entered my life and it sucks. One thing it does give is true appreciation, a discovery of what I value and what is important to me. It is a time of preparing to emerge into what it is I am meant to be and where it is I want to be, and in this limitation, creativity is ignited in the struggle because I don’t want to stay in a limited state, so I have to find ways to break free from what limits me. It has becomes the most challenging time in my life. Imagine if you are thirsty and you have no water, anything to drink or any food that gives the body water for a whole day and finally you get to satisfy your thirst… you appreciate with a thankfulness for that water like never before (a person cannot survive without water for more than a few days). This describes how limitation brings out what limitation can accomplish… but it also fuels a person to strive for what they want even though it’s can feel defeating at times.

    Like you’ve stated in so many ways, its all about the journey, the miles you trek each day. I think meaning comes from finding a way to share with others an experience or way to express yourself in a form of art that creates something that lasts to be shared in an unlimited way. The ultimate limitation though is death (yet depending on your beliefs, perhaps you still exist but in a different form)… but while in the here and now on this earth until you breathe your last breath when life is over, done, time’s up. (Your posts speak of living life fully and the limitation of time). How then do you defeat the final limitation of death? I think when something tangible is created that gives something intangible that an individual can defy death’s limits on this earth. I think we all want to create and leave something meaningful behind that marks our time on this earth. To have mattered in our state of matter. This past year, a close friend of mine passed away… it is during those ending months of a person’s life that every moment becomes it’s most meaningful, and reflection on one’s life becomes a time of acceptance with no room for going back. She lived a life she was happy with and left behind many who have memories to cherish and whose lives have been touched by having known her. Going through an experience with someone at the end of their life makes a big impact on how you decide to live your life the rest of the days you have left. Unmaskd, all along you’ve been saying LIVE each day, push yourself to squeeze everything you want out of life… that is a large part of this blog… the discovery, the figuring out how to truly live, giving and taking from this life beyond what you think you’re capable of. Thank you for sharing your frame of mind on the concept of living. The puzzle pieces of information gathered with each individual post is making the bigger picture more complete. Thank you for sharing your depth of thought. I sure would have loved to read the 5 page version of this post several times, but I’m geeky like that. I still come back to your blog and read through it from time to time and I still get meaning from it each time. I wonder if Puram Bam will peek in to say hello on your blog again sometime or if there is another musing that will be shared. I look forward to hearing about your discoveries and insights gathered along your journey’s mile posts of your life’s road since last year’s post. I close with sharing a video I came across titled “The Speech of a Lifetime” as a reminder for all of us to remember to live the life of uniqueness that each of us has been given: http://youtu.be/GWF576mAnnI

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  8. Anonymous says:

    Puram Bam here. “Hello”. Lol… JK

    Like

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