I’ve been thinking a lot about commitment lately. Why? Three reasons:
- I’m taking a class to study the Yoga Sutras in depth. As part of this study, we have started to explore the many different meanings of the first word of the first sutra: atha. I originally learned that it means “now”–many years later I’m learning that this word has many more meanings, and that the first sutra is called the “commitment” sutra. As in, NOW, I’m going to commit to this practice (of yoga). I’m going to give it my full effort, and not give up (even when life gets difficult).
- I recently worked with a coaching client where we discussed commitment and effort as a “chicken and egg” problem. For example, if you want to change something about yourself, you have to put in some effort–potentially for awhile–before you see the results. However, results are what often provide us with motivation. So it can be challenging to put in the effort and TRUST that the effects we want will come with time, before we get that positive reinforcement.
- My own journey with yoga has historically been as a “dabbler”. I have done yoga (physical postures and meditation) technically since 1998, but I can’t say I’ve had a consistent practice since doing my 500-hour therapeutic yoga training in 2015. I have known the benefits of yoga, both intellectually and experientially for a long time. So why have I had my own commitment issues? Why is it so hard?
When I look up the definition of the word commitment, I notice there are two:
- the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.
Synonyms: dedication, devotion, allegiance, loyalty, faithfulness, fidelity
- an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.
Synonyms: responsibility, obligation, duty, tie, liability
Wow, what a difference! To me, the first definition is positive and expansive; the second, something that feels forced, negative, contracting. Not something I would want to do! How much of my life have I thought of commitment only as definition #2, which of course I would rebel against? In addition, my thoughts about #1 is that it requires something that’s lacking in myself (and likely many of us these days): trust. Trust that the effort I put into doing something (whether it yoga, a relationship, a job, etc.) or even trust in myself (i.e. my own intuition) will be rewarded.
And that’s a slippery slope too right? In other words, we might be committed to doing something only because we are trusting that we will be rewarded for our efforts, rather than trusting that our efforts might have higher rewards (i.e. those not immediately obvious or visible to us) that require something else, like surrender.
Recently a friend who has been through difficult surgery mentioned to me that healing was slow and frustrating to her, but that those around her can see her great progress. Can we always see our own successes and growth? I’m not so sure. And if we aren’t good judges of our own progress, then maybe we’re missing out on that positive reinforcement not because it’s not happening, but because we’re so close to it that it isn’t instantly apparent to us. We get into this pattern of feeling unmotivated because nothing is happening, when in fact it might just be hidden from our view until it becomes so stinking obvious that we can’t help but see it!
Case in point: my most recent flair of chronic pain over the past 2 weeks. I’m intentionally slowing down, turning to my breathing, meditative and contemplative practices, accepting (and acknowledging) support when it’s offered, and generally being kind to myself. I’m allowing my partner to help me rather than trying to do stuff I shouldn’t. I’m not modeling in my classes as much even though it’s my “habit”. I’m even giving a new Western M.D. some trust and seeing if I might have better luck with different tests and specialists. I’m not sure I’ve ever surrendered so much to something so unpleasant and limiting. So NOW–finally–I see that after a year or so of commitment to my practice, it is working.
What would things have been like had I started earlier? Had I trusted that my efforts would manifest into something I could eventually see with and acknowledge with my own mind, eyes, heart and soul? Don’t waste any more time folks. Take that first definition to heart and begin your practice NOW.