Listening to Your Limits

By Ken Wells - 01/08/2021


“The first duty of love is to listen”- Paul Tillich

Sunny Weingarten was an unforgettable friend of mine. He was beset by polio when he was a child in 1949 paralyzing his capacity to breathe and confining him to an iron lung. His world shrunk to the confines of his bedroom and the limits provided by the iron lung. He shared he felt caged in his bedroom. During the years of life, he learned to make peace with himself by listening to the limitations of his environment. He first decided to make it his goal to somehow get out of his iron lung. Over time he learned to force air into his lungs in such a way that he was able to spend a few minutes out of the lung in a tilted wheelchair that was always leaning back. He told me that he practiced and conditioned himself to increase the time. Eventually he could spend 6-8 hours outside of his iron lung. He bought a van with a mechanical device that could pick him and his wheelchair up and place him inside, locked in place. He hired a driver, attended every Denver Bronco home game and became a leader in a large singles organization that I had created. Later, he invented and manufactured the relatively light and mobile Porta-Lung, which allowed for travel and more independent living. He told me that he was able to invent because he learned to listen to his limitation which inspired him to reimagine what his life could become. 

One of the great struggles in life is cultivating the art of listening to yourself, others and the dynamics in the world around you.  It is particularly difficult to listen to the experiences in life that limit you- physical, failure, addictions etc. You might scoff at limitation believing that the world is your oyster. Blindly, bullying forward, you ignore any forewarning of danger that may come your way. When addicts bash their boundaries, they get hurt.  Ignoring limitation cultivates insensitivity and intolerance toward self and others. 

Recognizing your limitation and living within your boundaries requires life balance and grounding skills in order to pay attention to your inner voice. When an addict fails to listen to the feelings of inner experience, he/she will live with incongruence. They won’t even recognize that emotionally they are living untruthful. You might ask an addict what they are feeling. They may be aware of safe positive feelings, but the more threatening feelings, like shame, resentment and anger have been blocked a long time ago. Some addicts with bluster and disdain deny ever feeling angry at their parents even though there is obvious evidence otherwise. It is hard to listen to what you don’t want to hear. 

Listening requires grounding skills which summon the capacity to slow life down, take a deep breath and experience feeling. For addicts, when they don’t slow down to listen to their feelings, they can wear themselves out by just sitting still. They may not be saying or doing anything on the outside, but their mind is racing with a roar of feelings on the inside. This always impedes listening, prevents centeredness and blocks focus. This dynamic creates a fog around what is real, with your heart always being pulled away from the present moment. The tipping point is when you reach a moment in time that the desire to listen for release and relief is more intense than the desire to pay attention to your limitation. So, you act out. 

When you don’t listen to limits, an addict will embrace the other side of rationale which is addictive demand. You will become obsessed with making the world into your own image. Your behavior will be marked with intolerance, impetuousness and domination. Compassion toward self and others gives way to pettiness. Your thoughts will be influenced by judgment and complaint about others and your position in life. It will foster a closed heart which prevents you from opening your spirit from what is around you. 

Listening to your limitation will cultivate acceptance of your own and others suffering about what is real in your life.

Living your life by accepting your limitation requires that you live a detached life which invites you to let go of control and embrace acceptance of what is.  Everyone has limits, addict and non-addict alike. 

Addicts slam against boundaries and wonder why they cannot be like others. Listening to barriers will lead to acceptance which creates awareness that inside the confinement of boundary, you can go as deep within as you choose to go. This is the sacred space in which one can find your own authentic brilliance that leads to deep meaningfulness in life. George Eliot said, “Every limit is a beginning as well as an ending”.

Centeredness suggests that an addict come home to his/her heart, which is the seat of emotions. Often addicts are afraid of the quiet places for this very reason. They don’t want to hear the feelings that their heart has to say. They don’t want to feel what is there when they come home. Sitting in recognition with unwanted feelings promotes peace, poise and persistence.

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