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.