This phrase has been keeping company with me of late, and I’ve offered it to others as well, to consider, ponder, explore, be befuddled by. Because while there is something that intuitively makes sense here, there’s also a “huh?” factor. I've found myself inclined to unwrap it a bit and look into the territory more thoroughly, so thought I’d exploring three main aspects to which it speaks and share what is being brought forth and revealed.
This is the first thing that jumps out for me and justifiably so: it’s the primary place from and through which we experience the world – our individual lives, our problems, our plans, our hopes and dreams. Trying to manage and understand these is what regularly brings people to take up a meditation practice: we want to reduce stress, learn to relax, be present, find peace, deal with our lives more effectively, and more. Meditation is often packaged as something that can deliver these desired results, and this isn’t false advertising – it can certainly make good on all of these. The issue here isn’t the meditation, it’s taking up such a practice in service of the self, or in a self-serving way, which is where the your own of the above phrase comes in.
Your is such a limited, confined territory, yet within it there are limitless projects that can be taken up. Resolve one issue and up pops another, or perhaps when trying to tackle one problem it splits and multiplies instead. Backward and forward and round and round we go: the self-improvement project perpetually providing fuel for itself to continue on and on. And it doesn’t matter if we feel like we’re getting nowhere or if we achieve some level of success in managing all of this; the cycle keeps rolling along, which leads to another aspect of that opening phrase.
There are two qualities to settle that I notice here, and the first is in the sense of settling into something, like a home or one’s particular place. I’m thinking along the lines of when we’re successful at managing our lives – we’ve lowered the stress, are finding peace, feel increasingly present and effective – and we set up camp there. In doing so we’re setting up a territory that needs to be maintained, protected and even defended at times. We want to hold onto and nourish all the good we’ve worked for and developed, so we have to be wary of that which may challenge and threaten it, lest it should be diminished, lost or taken from us. To some degree we build walls around that which we value in order to preserve it, and in doing so we can end up closing ourselves in and cutting off connections and access to other possibilities.
This leads to the other quality of settle, which is in the sense of things being good enough that we’re willing to quit while we’re ahead and cash in our chips. While we know there could be (is) more out there awaiting us, we’re not certain of how or when or if we’ll find it, so we choose to stop and hold on to what we’ve got. Why risk losing it? Or maybe it doesn’t feel risky at all. We’ve checked off all of the boxes on the list and have arrived, perfectly content, so we hang up our traveling shoes and leave our searching and seeking days behind us because, well, what more could we ask for? We’re happy.
You may have noticed a common thread of "limited territory" running through this post. Happiness is another example of such a territory. It’s limited by what we think it means and how to get to it, and what life will be like and how we’ll feel when we do. We’ve inherited some ideas about happiness from our families, other ideas have been given to us by our society and culture, and others we’ve developed on our own as we’ve made our way along through this life. Regardless of where these ideas of happiness have come from, one thing they have in common is this: it certainly isn’t here. So we have to figure out how to get there, and just like the idea of what happiness is, we also inherit ideas about how to reach happiness as well as come up with our own ways to get to it. Such paths are typically made up of a bunch of requirements: who we must be and what we must accomplish, achieve, develop, possess, get rid of, etc. Sometimes we find the steps on this path seem insurmountable, yet we keep at it nevertheless because of the promise of what awaits us. Other times we may fulfill all of the requirements but still don’t encounter happiness, or at least not the happiness we expected. Thinking our list must have been faulty or incomplete, we add more requirements, devise a new plan, create a new path, and set out upon it. On and on and on.
What happens if we reduce, remove or don’t create any requirements at all? What if we let go of the concepts we already have about what happiness is and don’t generate new ones? What if we stop saying it’s not here? (To be clear on that last point, this is not about affirming it is here or this is it, but simply giving up the habit of negation.) Essentially, what if we have no ideas about what happiness is or how to find it or who we have to be to deserve it?
In addition to freeing ourselves of requirements and formulas and ways to follow to find happiness, I think happiness itself would enjoy being freed from all the constraints we put upon it. Thus freed, I imagine happiness bounding about like the cows below. Perhaps we can, too.
Don’t limit yourself to your own happiness.
Don’t limit yourself.
Don’t limit happiness.