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The freedom of limitation

Dear Integral Meditators,

If we normally think of limitations as an obstacle to our freedom, how can deliberately creating limitations in our life paradoxically help us find the freedom that we crave? The article below explores this theme!

In the spirit of liberated limitation,


The freedom of limitation

One way of thinking about meditation is as the freedom of limitation. In meditation we spend a period of time deliberately limiting the activity of our mind. The purpose of this is threefold:

  • In order to gain freedom from the limitation of our own compulsions, addictions and psychological habit patterns.
  • In order to specifically work on developing our mental strengths in a focused manner and
  • To gain access to progressively higher, deeper and more powerful states of conscious awareness.

Normally in our daily life we are not really setting mindful, conscious boundaries around or thoughts and what we focus on. Our mind goes here and there, darting from one object to another. When we sit in meditation, we deliberately set ourself a task, the boundaries of which we remain within to the best of our ability for the duration of the practice. Examples include:

  • Focusing on the body in order to release stress and regenerate energy
  • Focusing on the breathing in order to build concentration
  • Taking the position of the witness or observer of our mind rather than the participant
  • Extending sustained feelings of compassion toward ourself and others
  • Watching the spaces between our thoughts in order to slow our thinking and gradually become comfortable with a state of pure conscious being, or non-thought

The number of examples is as varied as the types of meditation that there are, the thing that they have in common is that each involve limiting our activity in order to gain benevolent control over our compulsive mind, build mental strengths that lead to greater wellbeing, and access deeper, more powerful/peaceful (I put those two adjectives together deliberately) states of consciousness.

The freedom of limitation in daily life
Practising the freedom of limitation can also be applied mindfully to daily life to enhance happiness and increase our productivity (If we practice the freedom of limitation in meditation, this will improve our ability to practice in daily life, but it is not essential).
Here is an example: I got back mid-afternoon today to my apartment, I now have a couple of hours to devote to the things I most want to achieve next. There are many options crowding my mind, many things I could be doing. I mindfully sift through the options and isolate three that I want to focus on in the time I have; that I most need/want to do:

  • Hanging the laundry (sometimes after long neglect this has to come to the top!)
  • Write my newsletter article (right now)
  • Shower and meditate

So, for the next two hours, these are the three activities that I limit myself to and focus my attention upon, a bit like a moving meditation. By limiting myself to these three activities, my mind has the freedom to relax, stop worrying about other stuff, and I can apply my full creative attention to the task at hand (Yes, creative laundry hanging!) The result of this mindful limitation is increased productivity, greater peace of mind and the satisfaction of coming to the end of those two hours having done that which I most want/need to do. I find if you break up the significant periods of your day like this, using the freedom of limitation technique, it’s a naturally mindfulness-strengthening process.
There you are then. Two ways to practice the freedom of limitation, in your daily life and in formal meditation practice!

Related article: The yoga of limitation and choice

© Toby Ouvry 2016, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

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