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Nature gives us boundaries. Everything from cell walls to solar systems is bound by natural laws of physics and structure. Boundaries indicate the limitations of our form. Physically we are defined by the form of our bodies. Mentally we are defined by our capacity to understand. Emotionally we are defined by our capacity to love. Spiritually we are defined by how much divine energy we can hold and utilize. The human life is an experience of natural limitations. When we transcend these natural boundaries we experience freedom.
I deal with several limitations almost every day. Gravity is the first that comes to mind. Trying to become weightless in my yoga practice is nothing short of hard work. Postures that seem easy take on new meaning when I try to defy gravity. Lifting the energy from the ground up through my limbs and into my heart makes even tadasana (standing pose) challenging. Supporting myself on my hands and flying freely through the air requires intense concentration. Sometimes I am stellar; other times embarrasingly dull. Why do I keep trying? To experience freedom.
It does not matter at what level I practice. If I exceed my current level, I transcend my limitations. After suffering a back injury one year, being able to touch my toes again was an exhilarating moment of freedom. New energy is unleashed when I am able to do something for the first time, or for the first time after a period of abstinence. I am giddy, innocent, amazed, and grateful, all rolled into one. Each time I go beyond my limited experience of self, I feel a sense of freedom in my life.
I see my spiritual endurance as a boundary. I am constantly trying to expand my capacity in spiritual practice. I am not alone in this pursuit. Yogis, adepts and sages through the ages have attempted to defy sleep, eating, laws of karma, time and space, even time of death. But let me just start here with length of practice and capacity to hold divinity. As a beginner, I might only experience an elevated state for a short moment. Using that memory as a touchstone, I try to recreate that feeling. With sustained practice, I might be able to sustain that feeling for a longer period of time. After further effort, I might be able to sustain this energy not only during my practice but during other daily activities. My sense of freedom is the same, but my requirement to achieve it changes. Take for example a saint from southern India named Amma. As a young adult, She held public gatherings once a week, manifesting the divine energy of Kali and Krishna. The programs lasted far into the night, and She held an elevated state of consciousness for all present. Soon this was not enough. She saw She could help more people, and hold this energy for longer periods of time. She started offering daily programs and one all-night program each week. Gradually increasing Her stamina, She compacted Her weekly schedule to include travelling, daily programs and several all-night programs. Ever increasing the amounts of time where She can be in an elevated state and serve people, She has gradually increased Her spiritual service to almost 23 hours per day.
Going beyond your pre-conceived ideas of limitation unleashes undiscovered sources of energy inside you. Do a yoga pose for the first time; you unabashedly show everyone a great big smile. Complete your first all-night chant program, it blows your mind. Receive blessings from a realised master, it opens your heart like never before. Freedom is the rush of energy you get when you do something for the first time. Many saints exhibit a childlike innocence and cultivate the qualities of a beginner’s mind as a means of experiencing freedom from denser worldly entanglements.
Karmas can also be considered a limitation. Being born into a certain family, or being married to a certain life partner, or having certain children or responsibilities could be considered a burden on your way to spiritual enlightenment. You might feel as if they were actually impeding your ability to grow. In expressing this, you have articulated your boundary. The boundary is there: your karmas will not go away. After all, you chose them for a specific reason. But as you learn to release the personal restrictions your karmas impose on you, you experience freedom while living with them. Your transcendence is in being able to experience your energy fully and freely while fulfilling your obligations to yourself and others.
Instead of looking for freedom, yogis actually look for more restriction. Why? Self-imposed boundaries can focus your energy. When used as a temporary tool, they can create more inner fire, more ability to transcend the human existence. Restricting food intake, fasting, going on silence, going into isolation, reducing possessions, begging for food ~ all these restrictions intensify one’s power to hold divine energy. This honing of skill is not exclusive to spiritual life. A college student might limit his field of study to concentrate on a single specialized area. Parents might impose boundaries on their children to help them focus their energy. A person who has no restrictions loses a chance to experience personal freedom. Freedom all the time (i.e. no restrictions) creates a tamasic or sluggish condition called boredom.
Artists experience freedom through surges of creativity. They might create limitations to intensify creative thinking and force new avenues of expression. A photographer might decide to work solely in black and white, an oil painter might switch to charcoal or watercolor, a musician might write songs only in the rhythm of 5 beats.
To remain free, the bar must be pushed higher. If you can create a higher energy for a few minutes, you will be asked to sustain it for longer periods of time. If you can do it for yourself, you will be asked to help others. If your yogic abilities include crow pose, you will be asked to assume flying pigeon. If you are well-provided for, you will be asked to give to those in need. As you continually push the boundaries of your own capacity to love, to serve, to help yourself and others, you will experience freedom again and again. Just as an athlete defies a world record, so the spiritual aspirant expands his or her capacity to sustain elevated states of consciousness. Boundaries exist everywhere. We explore the boundaries to understand our own personal limitations. Transcending our limited experience gives us an exhilarating rush of energy ~ freedom.
Wah! is a musician and spiritual seeker who travels the world singing and expanding sacred intention. You can reach her at www.wahmusic.com