Courage, Spiritual Practice, Yoga

What does it mean to “commit”?

It’s worth 12 points. What does it mean to you?

I’ve been told by various people over the years, and most recently yesterday, that I can’t commit.   I don’t know whether they are correct or not, but these folks seem to understand exactly what this means and, therefore, probably assume that I share their understanding.  But I’m not sure I do, and I hope that in the comments section people define, as clearly as possible, what they mean by “commit”.

I wonder, sometimes, if they are referring to visible and public commitments, like to a marriage partner, a specific career, to owning a piece of property.  Or maybe they are referring to specific time-bound activities, like running a marathon, writing a book, or climbing all the Fourteeners here in Colorado.  Or maybe they’re referring to making plans far in advance, or agreeing to do something or be somewhere at a specific future date (like going to a party), and making one’s intention known sooner rather than towards the last minute, as I sometimes do.

Our society recognizes and celebrates commitments that result in a tangible achievement or event.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But perhaps some public commitments are achieved at great personal cost and maybe there are more subtle commitments that go undetected by the cultural radar.  For example, on two occasions I agreed to take on leadership roles for a specific amount of time, and I decided to give these organizations everything I had.  Part way through both tenures, I realized I had made a mistake, that my sense of duty had eclipsed deep misgivings, but rather than committing to speaking my truth, I honored my word and stuck it out.  In hindsight, it would have been better for me, and probably for everyone else, too, to have stepped down, even if it had meant temporary awkwardness and shocked gasps of, “She can’t commit.”

And I know people with spouses and houses who frequently say things that don’t materialize into corresponding action.   If I’m on the receiving end, I don’t feel like I’m dealing with a committed individual, even if they wear a wedding band and have a mortgage.  I’d prefer that they either say nothing, use accurate language or acknowledge that they might not fulfill their intention or word.  This requires a willingness to be honest and open.  Scary for both parties.

Yoga distills commitment to the breath.  Maintain an even inhale and exhale, no matter what the body is doing.  If your breathing gets ragged, adjust your position.  The simplicity is deceptive: it’s tempting to do cool-looking postures before one’s breathing is deep enough.  It’s humbling to rest in child’s pose when everyone else is performing acrobatics.  Yesterday, I watched a woman’s face turn purple as she held her breath in a difficult inversion.  I mentioned that her skin had become a frightening shade.  “Well, at least I did it,” she said, even though she herself teaches yoga.  This happens in life all the time; people commit to something because it’s sexy, cool or will earn approval, money, accolades.  And maybe they’ll even accomplish goals, contorting themselves in the process, even if it’s not what they really want.

As a recovering contortionist, I am trying to slow down enough to breathe and discern what I truly desire, rather than play the role of a “committed” person and letting ideals, standards or others’ expectations drive my behavior.  I don’t always make plans far in advance, not because I’m waiting for a “better offer” but because, depending on what’s happening in the rest of my life,  it’s possible that I’ll need to take a “child’s pose” to reconnect with myself.  I’d rather RSVP “yes” from a place of fullness or contentment so that I can be available for the experience and the people there.  If I’m running on empty, it might be kinder to everyone if I stayed home.

Maybe the invisible commitment underlying the various manifestations of my à la carte life has been to kindness, to myself and others.  Honoring this intention can feel more taxing than climbing a mountain or earning a degree.  Frequently I fail, or I misunderstand what true kindness would be in the moment.  When my intention backfires, I begin again.  It can be excruciatingly hard to be soft.

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About ilona fried

Writer, Feldenkrais champion, Aikidoka and explorer of internal and external landscapes.

Discussion

21 thoughts on “What does it mean to “commit”?

  1. Good questions here, and thought-provoking. I battle with the same things sometimes. I have a friend who “committed” to the corporate life at the expense of nearly everything else, only to get laid off. On the other hand, there are times when committing to something is fulfilling (for me writing and exercise), because I was raised in chaos and never knew consistency… So…. I guess it’s a mixed bag, isn’t it?

    Hmmm. You’ll have me thinking about this for days…. 😉

    Posted by Denise Turner | May 6, 2012, 5:28 pm
  2. I believe commitments are dualistic, give and take. It doesn’t matter whether a commitment involves other beings or an ideal (possibly a list), something is relinquished when the choice is made to “commit.” Sometimes, we commit to things because we think we need to be part of something greater than ourselves. But every commitment means “giving up” something, be it time, effort, money, or love. I’ve made commitment errors in each of those categories. I’ve sabotaged myself by believing I could (or ought to) do a thing for the wrong reason. Making a conscious commitment is a testing process to discover what we’re capable of. So is making an unconscious one, and likely to have more painful consequences. Awareness can be as good as a cure.

    Posted by kenlutes | May 6, 2012, 5:31 pm
  3. Great post! Vexing questions indeed… I guess my own view is that commitment is a necessary evil brought about by economics and the process of aging. It seems necessary if you want to achieve anything that’s recognized economically in the limited time available, but I think it’s also evil in that this shouldn’t have to be the goal of life. By the way you might enjoy the sequel to Eay,Pray,Love, which is called Commited; it’s only about marriage but I thought it was pretty interesting.

    Posted by Will Nelson | May 6, 2012, 7:16 pm
  4. Interesting concept to disect. The meaning is constantly changing. Something we have to weigh out.. I think for me, commit goes hand in hand with connect. Either to myself or to an outside person or factor.

    Posted by Jannett Matusiak | May 6, 2012, 8:17 pm
  5. Thanks for commenting! I’m wondering if relinquishing is necessary or if, as Jannett says, committing is a result of connecting; maybe the nonessential things fall away without a sense of sacrifice or of giving up. Perhaps commitments from the heart/spirit are fundamentally different from commitments that spring from the head, or “coulds” or “shoulds.”

    Posted by ilona fried | May 6, 2012, 9:24 pm
  6. I absolutely LOVE it when people can turn perspective for me (my Scott is very good at this), and you did a marvelous job with it in this blog. I had a former relationship with someone who absolutely would not “commit” to anything, because it wasn’t that day yet. It drove me bats. Partly because I am a planner, but mostly because he just did not like to reveal anything about anything to anyone. He would even go so far as to not let me know where we were going, even when en route. Your blog helped me to see that late RSVPers are not intentionally trying to be obnoxious or evasive, it’s just that the time is not yet right to decide. Your yoga example was perfect. How often are we focused SO hard on balancing and on alignment that we completely forget the breath? Sounds simple; it’s not so simple sometimes.

    Posted by colomtngirl | May 7, 2012, 1:16 pm
    • Wow, I’m honored that I turned your perspective. Planning is an interesting topic — sometimes people plan to quell anxiety about the future or because they want to be sure to make time for something they love doing, or because certain things can only be accomplished specific times of the year. For other people, planning elicits anxiety, and others just like to see what the moment brings. Your ex seems like a special case, however, maintaining the mystery en route…although he might have delighted someone who enjoys surprises….

      Posted by ilona fried | May 7, 2012, 3:17 pm
  7. WOW! I have recently “tipped my toe” into the waters of non-committment. Actually I feel I am “committed” (which for me includes choice) rather than “obligated” (which includes less freedom to choose along with more guilt…) Hmmmm. I might have to rethink this __perhaps connected by choice would be even a better description of what I’m loving.

    Actually this all began when I was considering marriage a second time around __after having been a widow following a 46-year marriage. I decided to do as a telephone commercial suggested __stay in the relationship because I WANTED TO, rather than because I was obligated. __Has worked out wonderfully.

    I love your ideas of living in the moment, going into child’s pose when called for, and __well you get the idea. I have begun doing some of this on my own in a few ways, but/ and I feel your blog and yours’ and others’ comments will move me further into this journey of my longing… THANKS.

    Posted by jbmizrahi | August 13, 2013, 5:26 am
  8. In my world commitment is quite simply that you stand by your word. It makes no difference, whether that is about a dinner date, a job or a mortgage. And that you will pull out all the stops to make it happen.
    I don’t think anybody is committed full stop. We commit to what we care about or what is instilled into us as “being important”.
    I care about work. When I used to be employed, I cared about my job. I remember walking 2 hours through a 70 mph snow storm to get to the closest semi-functional road to catch a bus to work. My usual journey time was 40 minutes, that day it was 4 hours. I arrived on time. Nobody could have said a word, had I called in to say that it was impossible to come in. But I was committed to it. Only in an employment relationship that is not valued in relation to the effort, so I became self-employed, in order to reap appropriate rewards of my commitment. I work from home, but it is still the same thing. Deadline? OK I will go 3 days without sleep.
    I care about my family. I don’t see them an awful lot, I don’t visit regularly, I don’t even call or write regularly. But if – in my head – it matters, I will be there, no matter what.
    When my sister got married, I had the worst nightmare journey. The first flight was delayed by 2 days due to fog. The second flight was cancelled twice due to thunderstorms. When it eventually went, 36 hours later, it had to land in a different airport, as the thunderstorm had knocked out the air traffic control at the destination. I arrived after the last train had left, my legs had by this time swollen up to 3 times their size. I hired a car at extortionate rates, as 6 out of 8 car hires were completely booked out and there was no hotels in a 60 mile radius. You could barely move in the airport with all the stranded and delayed passengers. Then I drove 6 hours. I arrived a couple of hours before the wedding. I was exhausted, I was in agony. But I was there. Nobody would have questioned, if I had called and blamed the fog for not making it.
    Commitment means not making excuses. Just doing everything to make it happen.

    There are a lot of things that I don’t care about. And for those, I don’t feel bad not turning up, not performing, not putting in any effort – not even the effort of making up an excuse.

    Where these are things that – according to the standards of our society – are important, of course, I am being told that “I can’t commit”.
    The truth is: I just don’t care.

    Posted by Diana Tammen | August 13, 2013, 4:51 pm
    • Thank you, Diana, for sharing your powerful stories about your deep caring that inspired you to pull out all the stops. And it’s refreshing to read that sometimes you just don’t care, no matter what others might say.

      Posted by ilona fried | August 13, 2013, 4:57 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Does “commitment” demand “sacrifice”? « à la carte spirit - May 9, 2012

  2. Pingback: What does it mean to commit? Part II « à la carte spirit - September 9, 2012

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