My previous post on what it means to commit, and the comments it generated, has inspired further reflection. One view is that “commitment” requires “sacrifice”, a relinquishing of something else (presumably desirable) in order to honor the commitment. And our minds, conditioned to think in black and white, reinforce the idea of a tradeoff, which might not be true or necessary.
An example: A few years ago I changed my diet by eliminating meat other than fish. The impetus was in childhood. When I was nine or ten, I asked a classmate what she was eating for lunch. “A lamb sandwich,” she said. I felt such revulsion that I came home and declared I would be a vegetarian. “Fine,” my mother said. “But you’ll have to cook your own food.” This was in the 1970s and it turned out, at that age, I had little patience for manually grinding chickpeas for burgers. My experiment lasted about a month. For the sake of convenience and fitting in, I suppressed my disgust and, along with it, parts of myself.
Many times since then, especially when I had banking and corporate jobs, I resisted excluding meat because I feared that it would be awkward to network, socialize, and date, that a non-mainstream diet would relegate me to the sidelines. And I worried that I’d court temptation (and failure) by stating that I would no longer consume meat, as if the declaration itself would cause the aroma of perfectly cooked brisket to continuously waft in my direction. But, I noticed over the years that I was eating less and less red meat anyway, choosing chicken or fish instead. At one point I realized that, at home, I was basically a pescetarian, having meat only at restaurants. Why not just stop altogether? So I did. The shift was organic, the result of slowly reconnecting internally, thanks to meditation and other spiritual practices. I decided to continue with this diet as long as it did not interfere with my health. So far, it hasn’t.
As the wise Jannett Matusiak pointed out on my previous post, commitment stems from connection. If you’re truly connecting with another person or yourself, it’s difficult if not impossible to feel deprived. When you’re full with (not of) yourself, you won’t focus on what’s missing or wish you were having a different experience. In moments of presence, the mind does not fret, regret or discombobulate with alternative realities. Whatever does not support authenticity will drop away. No sacrifice or tradeoff required.
That’s been my experience, at least with food. I don’t wake up pining for pastrami or lusting after lamb (which I ate when I traveled in Turkey). Dining out, either alone or with a companion, has become less complicated, because many restaurants or entrees are eliminated off the bat. With fewer options, I enjoy my meal more as my mind is less likely to doubt my choice. Since I love color, shopping for vegetables is pleasurable, not punishing. For me, cooking is connection with food and creativity, not inconvenience, although for years I believed the dualistic nonsense that preparing delicious meals for my own benefit was a waste of time but, if I enjoyed cooking, I should open a restaurant.
Am I “committed” to my current diet? My underlying motivation is to eat healthy, tasty food without harming birds and mammals, and I’m not sure what that will look like over time. Possibly I’ll extend that compassion to fish and bid sayonara to sushi…someday. And my diet is still not as healthy as it might be. I still wrestle with sugar consumption; I inhale far less of it now than I did in my belly-growling 20s, but my energy level might be more consistent if I stopped eating it. Rather than berate myself for periodic dark chocolate binges, I try to acknowledge moments of restraint. I imagine that as my connection with myself deepens, sweets might slip away. Cute cupcakes won’t spark a craving; I’ll turn my back on sacher tortes.
In our culture, commitment is often phrased as all or nothing, not recognized as a process. But in a dualistic world, committing invites resistance. Hence the failure of most New Year’s resolutions; people making them might be imagining some idealized version of themselves, not connecting to who they really are on January 1. But society still encourages people to proclaim commitments and intentions, the more daring and grandiose, the better. We’re more likely to cheer the aspiring marathoner than the sedentary person who decides to walk 15 minutes each day, even if getting off the couch the first five, ten or 20 times exacts enormous courage.
Celebrating connections, even those that are not lifelong, might be more fruitful. Rather than assess whether you (or someone else) can or cannot commit to “X”, maybe validate or affirm actions in the moment. Acknowledge the person who walks 15 minutes today, without needing to know if they’ll do it again tomorrow or whether it’s a precursor to running. If what is real and true is nurtured, it will grow and displace the inauthentic. When that happens, it won’t matter what form it takes, what others call it or what they think.