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" A good traveller has no fixed plans,

and is not intent on arriving "

Lao Tzu

Hallowing Limitation

November 23rd, 2008

In the Spring I wrote a post on strategies for living in a world that faces so many problems. It was very long and now that we’ve come to the season for pruning, I have taken my pruning shears to it. Here’s some of it that is probably more effective to read in isolation rather than embedded in 10,000 words:

Hallowing Limitation

When faced with Parkinson’s Disease, the Quaker writer John Yungblut wrote an essay entitled ‘On Hallowing One’s Diminishments,’ in which he described a different way of thinking he had developed about his progressively diminishing capacities. Rather than grieving over loss he decided to ‘hallow’ it – to make it holy.

Sharon Astyk has taken this idea and applied it to the environmental crisis. She has a blog called Casaubon’s Book, which she describes as ‘my explorations of our future, one that cannot but be shaped by peak oil, climate change and economic instability. I believe passionately that these crises are not the end of our world, but that they must be faced squarely, honestly and with integrity in the true sense of the world – the integration of our whole lives into our ethical principles’.

In an article on her blog (quoted and developed here) she explains Yungblut’s idea and then applies it to the coming diminishments she expects we will all experience as Peak Oil, Climate Change and the economic downturn really start to bite. She calls this ‘Hallowing the Descent’, and explains how Yungblut suggests we adopt a friendly rather than adversarial stance towards our sufferings or privations, which – since they won’t go away – will help us live with them more effectively. Yungblut points out how each diminishment comes with gifts, as Astyk explains: ‘the physical limitations that come with aging also bring with them ‘the reconversion from earning a living to cultural activity’ – that is, there is time to talk to others, to think, to devote to the outside world as we retire and age’. We could add ‘to devote to the inner world too’.

Yungblut then talks about the ultimate diminishment – death – and how accepting its inevitability is the most effective strategy.

I’d like to suggest another phrase which helps me apply this idea to my own life: ‘Hallowing Limitation’. Born in the post-war years, and growing up in a liberal society, I have spent most of my time immersed in a culture that has constantly pushed against limitations and restrictions. Go for gold! The sky’s the limit! This has been the message, not only of consumer marketeers, but sadly of motivational psychology and much of New Age popular spiritual psychology.

But now we need to accept that we may be entering an era in which we will need to limit our ambitions and desires. The mind is a wonderful tool, and with the power of a good idea we can change the way we experience our lives. If rather than feeling punished by them, we are able to hallow the limitations we might start to experience, they can become our allies rather than our enemies. This of course is the way to happiness taught by most spiritual traditions since time immemorial: that of limiting our desires and expectations, so we can open to the blissful awareness that exists beyond the desire body.

If this is too esoteric for you, here’s a down-to-earth image that illustrates the gifts that limitation might harbour – imagine losing access to the television!

Hallowing the Descent, Hallowing Diminishments, Hallowing Limitation – it all boils down to opening ourselves to the gifts that ‘Less’ has to offer: the gifts that silence can bring, that Being rather than Having or Doing can bring.

6 Responses to “Hallowing Limitation”

  1. Philip,

    Thank you so much for posting this. This really resonates with a lot of my thinking at the moment. I’m currently reading The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins. Check out I need to spend a little more time with this but this is something that feels very key and right. One of the things that’s so exciting about druidry and OBOD in particular is the sense of a community and what that means.

    We live in very interesting times indeed. I was inspired by Brendan Myers’ interpretation of Virtue in the face of an Immensity and this time of change should be viewed as an amazing opportunity. Looking forward to more talking and thinking on this.

  2. Otherwise known as Making a Virtue out of Necessity!
    Nice one, Philip, and like my friend Paul C, something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately as well.The worrying thing is the wider mindset that we have to “fix” this “problem” and get things back the way they were, instead of seeing it as a valuable pruning exercise – cut away the unsustainable growth.

  3. It loses nothing in its condensing 🙂 I hope this peice of writing touches alot of people and reaches alot of people – its funny that when I first read this back in the summer – it had a profound effect on me – little did any of us know back then that the whole country (and most of the world) would by the Autumn need these words more than ever – as extravagance beats a hasty retreat – hallowing limitation hasn’t only got spirtual connotations anymore – but material ones too! 🙂

  4. I was only thinking today about New Age pop psychology – and one of the messages constantly reiterated by this – which basically goes “you can – if you think you can. Whatever you want – just visualise it and it will be yours.”. Well – I certainly do believe in setting aims to go for in life and there is an element of having to have a vision of what one wants in one’s life/or in Society at large before one “sets out on the journey”. But I do wonder whether the “visualise it and you will get it” message was very much a “child of our times” way of thinking and perhaps encouraged people to act unrealistically because of unrealistic expectations engendered by this sort of phrase.

    On a different topic – “the gifts that silence brings” – well I am hardly going to disagree with that, as an ex-Quaker. Let’s say that this seems to be a little-known fact – but it does help keep a clearer, calmer mind and generally to maintain perspective on things. The phrase “I cant hear myself think” actually bears a lot of scrutiny – in silence one can hear oneself think and feel what one’s feelings are.

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