Many personal and spiritual development gurus will tell you that you there are no limitations except those in your mind. Sometimes, these words sound inspiring, and other times, they simply sound like lies.
Anyone who’s had a mental, physical, or emotional issue setting them back in every aspect of life knows—sayings like “Nothing is impossible” and “The only limits are in your mind” only tend to fuel irritation and self-judgment.
So what is really going on? Should we ignore our limitations or accept them? Should we practice positive thinking when we recognize something that’s holding us back? Or, should we accept our obstacles and work around them?
To help us with this conversation, I’ve instilled the (completely unintentional and unwilling) help of two new friends.
Meet Gatinho (pronounced Gah-chi-nyo) and Farofa, the pets of Laura and Tammy—wellness coaches from Toronto for whom we are house/pet sitting for a few weeks.
I should mention, before I get into the relationship between these little furries and limitations, that house sitting is the most amazing way to travel. We’ve gotten to experience a new neighborhood in Toronto, meet up with old friends, bond with well-loved animals, and meet like-minded people who understand our new intimate, barter-based economy.
So what can we learn from these animals about how to deal with our own limitations?
Let us start with Farofa. She is 14 years old. She is blind in one eye and has cataracts in the other. Her heart is enlarged, which causes her to cough and wheeze periodically. Her legs and paws get sore after walking even short distances.
And yet, each time we pull out the laser pointer, Farofa jumps all over it, always willing to play just as much as a puppy would be. She happily jumps up onto our laps and sprints up entire flights of stairs. When we take her outside, she insists on marking her ever-growing territory and does so by raising one leg. She stands up for herself around big dogs. She’s one tough cookie.
So is Farofa held back by her limitations?
On first sight, we might be tempted to say, “No.” After all, she has not stopped trying to have fun or play the way she wants to. She has not lost her youthful, energetic spark, even when old age has worn down her body.
However, while her attitude is unaffected by these limitations, her actual experience definitely is. She does jump enthusiastically onto our laps, but she often makes it up only halfway, and we have to help her with the rest. She does chase the laser pointer with zest, but the cat often spoils her fun with his quick reflexes and ruthless pouncing. She does run up the stairs with vigour, but sometimes her legs give out, and she slips back down.
Farofa does have limitations, and they do affect her, but she is still happy because she does not allow those limitations to affect her happiness.
She accepts her limitations as facts of life. She does not give them meaning.
She doesn’t label herself as “old” or “broken.” She just lives her life one day at a time, always willing to step beyond her physical limits in order to match her boundless enthusiasm.
And here is Gatinho. He recently came from Costa Rica, where he got used to running around in the wilderness, catching birds and lizards as he pleased. He once caught and ate an iguana bigger than him!
Gatinho is tough. You can see it in his fierce posture and alert jungle eyes. He has caught two birds in the time we’ve been here, and I’m sure he would have killed them if we hadn’t spoiled his fun.
His owners say that he adopted them. He just came one day and started living with them in Costa Rica. When they decided to move to Toronto, naturally they thought that leaving him in his natural habitat was the right thing to do. Yet, when they returned to visit him, he was thin and unhappy. He missed them.
So here he is in Toronto. Laura and Tammy live in a part of Toronto with many cars and a frequent streetcar route. Gatinho jumps at noises that most Toronto city-dwellers drown out, and he is easily overstimulated by too many smells and sounds, causing him to leap away in fear (sometimes to not much safer places!)
Alas, Gatinho needs to explore his new home on a harness. This is, needless to say, a big limitation.
When I first began to take Gatinho out with the harness, I would catch some people looking at us in a certain way—a raised eyebrow, a sideways smile, a deep inhale. I could smell the judgment from a block away. Maybe they thought I was overprotective. Maybe they thought he was prissy.
Thus, whenever anyone would comment on his leash, I would rise to his defense and tell them that he was just a wild cat who was getting used to city living.
One day, I had Gatinho outside of the side door of a restaurant and one of the cooks, outside for her smoke break, made eye contact with me and said, “I just love walking my cat, don’t you?”
I searched her face for signs of mocking, and found none. I smiled and agreed. After this, I began to notice the other people—the ones who were smiling and whispering, “What a great idea!” I realized that everyone just reacted to him from their own experience and mindset. Their reactions had nothing to do with him.
I also realized that Gatinho has been the wise one all along. It was me who gave other people’s reactions a meaning. He never cared about being judged. He never asked me to defend him.
Gatinho is a perfect example of being true to oneself and not caring what others think. He goes proudly out the front door, in front of all the cats, dogs, and humans of the neighborhood, in his limiting restraints, and he has never tried to explain himself.
The common thread in both of these amazing teachers of self-acceptance and happiness is this: accept your limitations, but don’t give meaning to them.
Acknowledge what is standing in your way, whether it is temporary or permanent, but spare yourself the judgment, expectations, and commentary. Just let it be what it is.
I’ve been an avid supporter of self-awareness. I’ve advocated for the importance of asking oneself questions and exploring the truth about the nature of reality. And yet, as these animals have always known—to leave the question unanswered is, sometimes, the wisest answer.
We must strive to live an examined life. But sometimes that examination must involve shrugging your shoulders and just going with the flow. After all, life must be experienced, as much as it must be examined.
At the end of the day, if there is one thing I’ve learned from Farofa and Gatinho, it’s this—the greatest limitations in our complicated human lives are not our circumstances, but our interpretations of them.