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, equality, 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”.