Are You Upper-Limiting Yourself?

Kay Price

Kay Price

For some time now I’ve noticed a pattern in my life that when I get too ecstatic, or when things are going too well, I find a way to screw things up. It’s like I have an inner homeostatic switch measuring levels of abundance, and if it goes too high, I’ll find creative, unconscious ways to default back to my comfort zone. For example, I’ve noticed that when it comes to intimacy, if we’ve enjoyed a prolonged period of feeling crazy in love, me or my partner will pull something out of the hat to bring us “back down to reality”.

This is a problem in evolutionary spirituality, because it’s obvious that this mysterious evolutionary process, in its commitment to self-transcendence, also wants to transcend imposed and arbitrary limits on happiness, abundance, pleasure, success, you name it. Put it theological terms, G_d wants more for us. Not more stuff. But more being, more becoming, more good feelings, and more love. Have you ever imagined that you have a rather elaborate system on the ready to sabotage the life G_d wants for you?

I wasn’t too surprised to discover that somebody had written a book about it. Gay Hendricks, a psychologist living in California wrote The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level. He makes the point that the trickiest jump is from our Zone of Excellence, where everything feels pretty good, we’re fairly successful, all our needs our met, etc. to our Zone of Genius, where the good stuff just keeps coming, and we’re ecstatically happy, in love with life, and feel like we can conquer the world—so to speak.

It’s not that we’re in denial. Crises are real, but when we are facing a crisis, as this week’s video says, we see it as a learning opportunity. He calls this self-sabotage, or put it more softly, this strategy to keep us in our comfort zone, “upper-limiting”. Say you are from a large family where you got the message that everybody is equal, and nobody is more special than the next person. That’s fine, taken straight up. But what if you interpreted that as a little tyke as “you are forbidden to outshine your siblings”.  You will find ways to hold yourself back of you haven’t made this conscious.  If you do get close to gaining the attention that your genius brings you, you will get highly anxious, you may get sick, or do something really stupid at work to prevent that promotion. A common one is the anxiety we often feel at surpassing one or both of our parents. This is, in part, what the Oedipus complex is about as it relates to our fathers or father figures. You get a shot at being first violinist in the San Francisco philharmonic orchestra, and then you break your wrist. Wait a minute, you’re not saying I chose to break my wrist? Not consciously, but explore your feelings a little bit, especially in light of the fact that your mother was a professional violinist all her life, but never made first violinist.

Hendricks doesn’t deal with cultural upper-limiting, but I’ve experienced a whole denomination, under the guise of “inclusivity, Mandelaequality, and a misunderstanding of hierarchy”, finds subtle and not so subtle ways to limit clergy from being in their zone of genius. It’s called the flattening of leadership down to the lowest common denominator. Okay, I’ll be honest, and say that I feel like I’ve been on the receiving end of that myself. We’d rather inhabit cultures of mediocrity than risk being in our zone of genius. Until, that is, we get depressed or sick. Depression can be a sign that there is no room your deep joy, ecstasy, and wild eccentricity.

So check it out. Do you use sickness, self-criticism, blame, chronic retelling of your story as a victim, arguing with your partner, under-performing, belief that you are fundamentally flawed to upper-limit yourself? The book is full of helpful tips. But fundamentally the question is whether you are willing to shine with the radiance of your particular genius, and let nothing get in your way? The world needs you, desperately, to shed your mediocrity and step in to your full humanity. This includes a radical commitment to vulnerability and humility. (Just remember, the ego is a tricky little bugger, especially for “good” Christians.) We upper limit ourselves and then call it humility. That’s, ahem, bullshit, friends. It’s the ego dressed up in Sunday go-to-meeting clothes. True humility would mean taking your ego to the cross so that your authentic self can “take its place in grace”.

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  1. says

    As I give birth to a new project this is a perfect message. Thank you Bruce. Was ‘rear ended’ at an intersection (have fun with THAT one!) waiting for the vehicle in front of me who was waiting for a pedestrian (whoa…really have fun with that one).

    Moving into the noosphere…bit of a nudge needed I guess! Yours in evolutionary love,
    your sis

    And go ahead…shine brother shine! Have envisioned that for you for a very long time. Do/be what you love…always makes you a fun guy to be around. xo

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Donna, bit of a kick in the rear, huh? I hope there is no lasting effects from the accident. Do you think you can count being rear-ended as upper-limiting? I mean if you rear-ended somebody else, sure… :-)

  2. Fred Brailey says

    Thanks again, Bruce, for your insightful commentary on our self-limiting humanity. I’m grappling with similar issues, focused on the persistence of war. It seems that nations have a “comfort zone” in which they maintain permanent armed forces with nuclear weapons poised to wage war-for-peace (sic).

    The concept of “waging peace” seems incomprehensible, or unimaginable because we cling for dear life to our sacred tradition of “armed peace,” preserved by frequently bombing the recalcitrant natives.

    It is a tragic example of “don’t bother me with the facts; my mind is made up.” Governments cultivate this mindset with pro-war propaganda, 24/7.

  3. says

    Thank you Bruce and Fred. I am re-reading a great little book of “talks” by J. Krishnamurti called “Freedom from the Known.” He speaks again and again about our habit of “knowing” being the root obstacle to knowing our true natures — which can only be done in the here and the now. (Vulnerability and humility ++++, but — as you say Bruce — not a pious one which only hardens the illusion of the separate ego being “in control.”)

    Understanding who we are is the beginning of wisdom, and the beginning of changing the world around us. But to do that, we do need to let go of every way that we think the culture, people, or ourselves need to be different. There is no transformation without the profound release of “not knowing,” which drops us into a deep — always present — One Intelligence/God/Highest Good/ Christ Consciousness/Buddha nature etc. etc.

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Laura, so true. I’ve recently experienced the power of entering into a “we” space with others who committed to letting go of the “known” and privileging the “new” that wanted to emerge. Very different and powerful way of being together.

  4. Bill Turner says

    Bruce I had to copy the following piece of your presentation, it was so meaningful to me and you presented it just as you are, pulled the stage curtains back and there it is. I have tried to do this in my life and ended up writing a book about the many struggles to see where and what had unfolded in my life experience.

    “The world needs you, desperately, to shed your mediocrity and step in to your full humanity. This includes a radical commitment to vulnerability and humility. (Just remember, the ego is a tricky little bugger, especially for “good” Christians.) We upper limit ourselves and then call it humility. That’s, ahem, bullshit, friends. It’s the ego dressed up in Sunday go-to-meeting clothes. True humility would mean taking your ego to the cross so that your authentic self can “take its place in grace”.

    Many thanks for your presence.

  5. Luke Mayba says

    I just reread your article, Bruce, and took note of how you describe what we find when we surpass our limits: abundance, happiness, pleasure, love, full humanity, the next level, genius, joy, ecstasy, etc. How did I miss this terminology in my first reading, when I apprehensively assumed that ordinary joes would interpret your call to “shine with radiance” by using a child’s definition for signs of “success” — the biggest house, the most countries traveled, the most efficient work habits, the most books read… alright, then, maybe a teenager’s definition!

    But what if an adult’s definition of success actually requires us to draw lines and set limits? I’ve had some success, for example, in managing to refuse, in most of my daily life, that mediocre form of transportation that is the automobile … and I feel glory and “wild eccentricity”, attracting stares and smiles, as I parade my two young children around town, towing one on his little bike behind mine and strapping the other on her little seat at my handlebars! Or, on another level, I feel “radiant” enlightenment when I see through such conventional ways of thinking as that of Premier Christy Clark, who stated on CBC’s The House a couple weeks ago, and could hardly have been more blunt (though I couldn’t see on my radio whether or not she actually had a straight face): “The best way to create jobs in Canada is to export our natural resources” and “The best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to exploit BC’s liquid natural gas”. One might observe that an ability to call these lies hardly requires “genius” (Indeed, many politicians’ lies seem to be getting more blatant these days!), yet Ms. Clark was apparently speaking on behalf of all Canadian premiers at their conference in Charlottetown, which suggests these beliefs are quite pervasive in our society. In short, the LIMITS I set on my own thinking and lifestyle are necessary for me to “transcend” the apparent societal requirements of driving cars and subscribing to conventional wisdom.

    Yet I know I could go still further in reaching a truely adult definition of success: if I could learn to listen better, demonstrate more empathy, and recognize the genius in those around me rather than obsess in my own philosophical reflections. And, of course, part of me doubts the conviction of your post, Bruce. (That’s got to be the way with a faith-journey, doesn’t it?) I struggle in many ways to believe in my psychological potential to go all the way in surpassing my own limits because I’ve been having trouble finding work lately. I haven’t yet been able to convince myself that I’d be a really great teacher, great musician, great historian or even great theologian, perhaps due to lack of conviction that a dream job is out there waiting for me in any of these fields, and perhaps also due to my generalist disposition and unwillingness to commit my studies and training to any specific field.

    Part of me accepted long ago that greatness doesn’t need to equate with abundant material wealth, but there probably needs to be compromise somewhere in order to make ends meet. I believe this is possible, just as I believe there needn’t be a contradiction between God’s desire for our living abundance-filled lives and God’s telling us we must lose everything, even our lives, in order to find eternal life. I think you alluded to this conundrum at the conclusion of your post, Bruce, and I’d love to hear more about how one can unravel it!

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Thanks Luke for your heartfelt and articulate comment. And thanks for the second reading. The upper limiting is a function of deep compensation patterns that need to be brought into the light of day – conscious awareness. I admire and applaud your commitment to public transit and your political stance, and critique of consensus reality. Maybe this is your genius, Luke. I know what it’s like to be in that struggle of compromise with our genius and the need to eat and take care of a family. There’s no single way through this, and what is called for is deep compassion for this human journey, for self and other.

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