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Soulful Sundays: In Limine

in limine: (Latin) on the threshold; at the outset

People often obsess over doing the right thing—living in the right place, picking the right school, dating the right person, working in the right career—but what most of us fail to recognize is that avoiding stupid mistakes has far greater impact. When we make errors, not only are we wasting our time now, but we are also wasting the future time needed to clean up the disaster that usually ensues.

Applying exclusionary logic to life might seem antithetical to how we are accustomed to making decisions (which is usually about making the best choice). Conveniently, though, the word decide literally means to cut away. When we remove all of the bad options we are left with the few (best) that remain. At that point, the only thing needed is the courage to proceed.

We find ourselves day after day drowning in a sea of choices, which inevitably becomes an open invitation to take the path of least resistance. We take the easy way out. We go with the flow. We just copy what everyone else is doing. Succumbing to inertia some of the time is absolutely human and forgivable, but when it becomes the default, then we might as well not be doing anything at all (which is often what happens anyway). Our attention and our intention have both gone on vacation.

Ironically, putting limitations on ourselves is a great way to grow our creativity and our will power. When NASA was tasked with beating the USSR to the moon, they rose to the challenge. When the members of the Manhattan Project were put on a deadline to end WWII, they made an atomic bomb. Necessity is truly the mother of invention. Our own scenarios don’t need to be epic to be effective. Taking responsibility for our health, setting a good example for our children, or putting time and attention into our work—all of these can be heroic in their own right. Limitations can help us to uncover untapped resources and consider heretofore unthinkable possibilities. But there is a catch…

We must put limits on our limitations. When we become too narrowed down to certain beliefs about the world, we fall pray to sickening levels of self-delusion (which only tragedy has the power to undo). Steering clear of this hazard involves both internal and external checks and balances. The roles that we adopt according to our culture, gender, and religion can help empower us, as they free up energy that is usually consumed by fear or doubt. But we should never let these forces replace the need to think through and experience the contradictions.

The Dalai Lama once said, “Know the rules well, so that you can break them effectively.” This calls forth the spirit of adventure. In order to grow, we must all leave what is comfortable at some point and venture out into the world. With any hope, the values, virtues, and love that we learned growing up will help point us in the right direction. And when we find ourselves overwhelmed by complexity, we can recalibrate by simplifying our aim. We must remind ourselves of what we were after at the outset, and let go of the rest. This will be our guide towards home—a source of clarity amongst the din.

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