Beauty in limitationOne of the concepts that runs through John Michael Greer’s recent Mystery Traditions book is the way in which it is limitation that both defines a thing and gives it its power and beauty. Without limits, he points out, we would be nothing more than sludge. The limits of our biological structures both define us, and give us life.
One of my favourite poetic forms is the haiku, which is the perfect expression of this concept. Three lines, with a tight syllable structure, a thought has to be perfectly crystallized to be expressed in this way. I like flash fiction, where again the tiny form requires total precision of language. The same could be said of blogs. I aim to write under a thousand words each time, so that these make good bite-sized reads, and that structure helps keep me on topic and focused down to one specific concept. There is, after all, a great deal that can be written about, and it is in the creating of shape, form, structure and limitation that formless everything becomes the meaningful something.
So, where else can this way of thinking be applied? Almost everywhere, I think. I’m very conscious of the relationship applications. I spent a number of years in a polyamorous situation, where fidelity was not a feature of my primary relationship. The reasons for this were many, but that primary relationship was not with someone who considered monogamy valuable. In my experience, humans generally aren’t that good at monogamy, it’s not as natural or as easy as our social structures prompt us to assume. To fail on this one is to be very human indeed. But when a relationship has the strength and depth to demand all of your attention, when it has the richness to invite total dedication, then fidelity becomes really powerful. I’m not talking about martyrdom or any kind of suffering here. Having been for some years now in a totally monogamous relationship, I have no desire for anything different and I don’t find it restrictive, but that focusing on one person is only viable when that relationship, in and of itself, is enough. In this way, the beauty of the thing and its limitations actually feed each other.
If the limitation does not result in beauty, or in something discernibly good, then it can readily be identified as a not-good limitation. The limitations that create a poem are very different from the life sapping limitations of abject poverty or crippling disease. Not all limitations are a good thing, although many limitations can be made to work for us, if we are determined to harness them.
There is also that which we choose to give up, or do without, as part of our spiritual dedication. Anyone who chooses limitation in order to be greener and more responsible is also choosing a path of beauty. There can be no choices without letting something go, giving up certain of our options, and it is out of these choices and renunciations that we have the scope to bring beauty into our lives. I really like this idea. Many aspects of modern thinking take us towards, more, bigger, faster in our desires. To seek less, to focus down, is to make what we do more intense and more powerful. Limitation can be a gift in this way; one that we bestow upon ourselves. It also helps define the edges, the boundaries, and once you know where the edge is, you also know where the liminal is, and that’s a whole new adventure.