At first pass the idea of having no limits, of the ability to have, do and be anything you can dream of – well, it sounds like freedom.
Like the feeling you get on that first leg of a road trip when you take to the highway just before dawn, there’s nothing but miles of empty road ahead and your playing those tunes you carefully curated for just the right vibe. And maybe it will all go exactly the way you envisioned it. There’s also the possibility of traffic jams, no vacancy signs, and drinking too much coffee only to see a sign that says no gas stations or rest stops for another 30 miles.
No limits thinking takes on lots of names – everything from the Law of Attraction to that business coach that claims she has exactly the right formula to get you taking in six figures as of yesterday. No matter the costume it wears, the formula stays basically the same: your thoughts & desires + prescribed actions = your dreams come true.
The lure of that kind of freedom, coupled with a few grains of truth, make the no limits trap tempting, but if you fail to manifest your dreams, the proponents of no limits thinking have a load of rationalization and shame ready for you.
They’ll diagnose you with mental blocks, spiritual blocks, emotional blocks. They will tell you that the Universe or God is teaching you a lesson and as soon as you learn it your desires will manifest. The peddlers of no limits thinking don’t care about the real circumstances in your life or your experience of the culture you live in, they will pronounce you unenlightened, flawed and in dire need of fixing. For a hefty price, they will gladly lead you to enlightenment and/or get their wrenches and hammers out so they can repair your psyche. I’ve talked to people who’ve come out of those repair shops with deeper wounds than when they went in and had to spend precious time healing and reclaiming their sense of self.
I was talking with Kelly Diels a couple of weeks ago and she put it perfectly – “The tyranny of no limits.”
The coaches, teachers and others pushing the no limits formula become tyrants as they shame and blame you for your lack of success, but that’s not the worst of it. If you fall under the spell of having all your dreams at your fingertips, you will shame and blame yourself for every perceived failure – financial trouble, relationships ending, illness, accidents, the sexist remarks you get at work – every painful thing in your life becomes your fault. You become your own tyrant that demands you find the problem only within yourself and punishes you when your circumstances stay the same or don’t change enough to satisfy the tyrant’s need for the ideal outcome – the no limits formula has no room for simple progress. Even when you achieve one ideal outcome, striving for more is built into the idea of no limits – there’s no end of the road.
What about those grains of truth?
It’s true that our thoughts, desires and actions influence our life for better or worse. It’s true that we can have mindsets that don’t serve us well. It’s true that possibility opens up when we find our voice, empower ourselves, let go of the things that we keep tripping over again and again. AND all of those truths do not add up to a guarantee that we can have, do or be anything we want. We put ourselves in danger of drowning when we jump into the no limits cauldron of illusion and try to stay afloat on a few grains of truth.
First, there’s the illusion created by the unearned privilege given to some by our culture. In this culture, your identity or circumstances affords you with privilege or it oppresses and marginalizes you – and sometimes a bit of both. Oppression is real for people of color, certain ethnic groups, fat people, LGBTQ+ folks, people with disabilities and illness, women, people who don’t fit into our narrow beauty standards – it’s a long list. The obstacles in their path cannot compare with those of people who are white, in a favored ethnic group, thin, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied, healthy, handsome, pretty or born male. No amount of thinking, desiring and doing by a single person is going to render oppression neutral in their life. Period. The opposite isn’t true either – oppression doesn’t guarantee failure – but it sure can impede success in ways privileged groups of people can’t even imagine. So when you see the shiny testimonials next to the picture of the white, pretty, able-bodied, healthy upper class woman – remember she had a head start.
Second, the illusion of complete control coupled with the belief that any one of us has become so enlightened that we understand the laws and inner workings of the Universe is beyond arrogance and enters the territory of delusion. Reducing things down to cause and effect, believing that there is a one to one correlation between your exertion of personal or spiritual power and the result you get, operating on the notion that your individual power is enough to overcome all other powers present in the world – yes, I count that as delusion.
But there are slippery grains of truth here too – our personal energy (thoughts/desires/emotions) can have an effect on our body and our mind, it can influence the kinds of people we attract or repel, it can affect our circumstances. But our personal energy is not the only thing at work. Aside from the energy put out by the billions of people in the world, there’s the power of pollution, corporate greed, climate change, war, political and economic structures, culture, disease, death, natural disasters, . . .- another long list. No one, privileged or not, has that kind of power.
And our natural world is chaotic, orderly, fucked up, perfect, beautiful, ugly, hard, easy – you can’t wield enough power to control it. Humans have tried to do that forever and the result has been more destruction, more suffering, more injustice.
Here’s what I believe.
We can fish out all those grains of truth, turn our attention to our inner landscapes and do the honest work of sorting out how we’ve been conditioned to think, feel and act. We can uncover and nurture our inherent power and wisdom. What we discover in doing the work opens up possibility, shapes our vision and determines our actions
But that’s not all. I believe there’s three key things we need to risk living the life we envision – resiliency, an open heart, and solidarity with others.
Resiliency makes it possible for us to navigate things like injustice, loss and disappointment without losing our sense of self or falling into despair. It looks like understanding what we need to take care of ourselves, honoring our experience, letting go of the illusion of control and embracing life as it is.
An open heart allows us to know our inherent wholeness. It looks like ease in giving and receiving love in all it’s forms, it looks like allowing our fierce energy to claim its place along our impulse to nurture, like honoring our anger as well as our peacemaking. When we claim all that we are our empathy for ourselves and others becomes more than sentimentality.
Finally, the magic. Solidarity. We don’t have to do any of this alone. We can come together in solidarity to support, comfort and offer compassionate reality checks as needed. I’m not talking about solidarity only with those that share your identity or circumstances – that has its place – but I think it’s time to find our way into solidarity across our differences. Audre Lord wrote, “It’s not our differences that divide us. It’s our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.” She went on to say that when we do recognize, accept and celebrate our differences it creates a collective power that surpasses the power of individuals or groups based only on similarity. With that kind of power we can face our challenges, begin to take down systems of injustice and create just systems with a foundation of understanding and compassion.
There’s still no guarantees, but the odds improve and the company is superb.
It’s like taking that road trip with fascinating people you adore. Everybody’s music gets heard and you stop at places you never would have thought of. When the traffic jam hits you make up silliness to pass the time and if the car breaks down everyone helps push it to the side of the road. When you meet injustice along the way because someone doesn’t like the transgender woman that’s with you (or the one you run into at the rest stop) everyone has her back. People that see the solidarity and love you all embody feel a longing in recognition of the power and possibility you all represent – you end up taking the train so there’s room for new faces.
This is freedom.
I believe in us.
I believe in you.