The more or less final chapter of the Grace in Aging is about commitment. If you are like me, you’ll have memories of youth camps with ‘commitment talk’ nights where the speaker told a story that ended in a stark and crucial choice. The choice made that night meant the difference between eternal life and eternal torment – where will you go when you die? If you commit your life to following the Christian faith (Sunday worship, bible study, daily prayer and pure living) then heaven waits for you. If not….well, that’s your choice. And you were warned.
So in that framework, commitment is kind of a one time thing with some ongoing expressions of devotion and membership. I remember conversations and questions being asked about ‘backsliding’ – where a previous commitment appears no longer to be guiding behaviour and belief…is the eternal destination still assured? If so, what’s that about?? If not…why not put off this decision until a more convenient time so that the pure living doesn’t preclude too many fun times? (there’s historical precedence for this thanks to Constantine)
Pause for reflection
What has commitment meant to you as part of your faith journey? How do you feel about commitment generally?
How has your understanding of commitment to a spiritual path influenced the way you see the world, your relationships and your expectations of yourself and others?
I think these are big questions, so sit with them for a bit…there are answers that you carry in your bones and there are answers you have tucked into handy pockets in your head. The head pocket answers might be the same as the ones in your bones, but maybe they aren’t….get curious (with compassion) and check it out.
The resources cont.
Kathleen describes commitment as a commitment to practice not as commitment to a particular world view. Commitment is the dedication of repeated effort even in the face of ongoing distraction/set back/failure. Commit to practice a deliberate and sustained application of your attention with intention; to practice being present; to practice each day and all day– or as much of the day as we can remember to disengage from the numb /sleepwalk/ habitual /mask-wearing reactions and to be fully alive, awake and open to what is.
This commitment is a liberation from many of our own deceptions – the deception that our happiness depends on our circumstances, or on others not keeping us stuck/not allowing us to change/be ourselves.
To make this commitment, we must have already recognised that if we want to be awake to the fullness of life, this is the path. There are no shortcuts. No one can do this part for you or save you from the daily necessity of practicing being present.
Ken Wilbur has observed that there are four stages in the movement of spiritual growth: wake up; grow up; clean up; show up. You can hear him talking about these here, but essentially what he says is this…
First of all, we need to wake up to our selfing.
We need to be able to step back from the story we tell, the image we have of ourselves and of others, the mask we wear, the beliefs we hold and defend and to recognise that these are not wholly true, not deeply real, not the fullness of our essential nature.
Waking up means acknowledging that we are often asleep, often blind, often numb, often checked out and reacting to life out of habit. This is often true even in our most intimate relationships – we react, we replay old conversations, we tread the same path over and over.
Waking up is experiential – moments of transcendent joy, of deep pain, of great love, of utter connectedness and absolute acceptance.
But once we have caught of glimpse of freedom, tasted liberation from the treadmill of patterned behaviours, heard a few bars of the joyful music of presence the next stage is growing up.
Growing up is more about structures, consciousness and constructs. Growing up means stepping back and looking at the world view you have inherited, the cultural context you are part of and the relational matrix you belong within. It’s recognising that you see the world through this particular filter, and seeing where you fit into that world.
Growing up also means taking responsibility for your self, for your emotions and your actions. It means owning your shit and not trying to blame others, hide from the consequences or deny the truth of yourself – light and shadow, broken and beautiful, unique and humblingly ordinary.
Growing up happens in stages and we have to choose it. The waking up experiences that can prompt us to choose growing up can also cement us in our fundamental world view convictions.
Taking responsibility for your shit will mean that you have some cleaning up to do…and you’ll need to learn new skills – new ways of listening, speaking your truth, softening your gaze, opening your heart, being present with love. This is where things like the enneagram and strength finders, MBTI, psychotherapy etc. can come in handy.
Cleaning up requires a steady, honest, courageous presence with the fullness of your experience and your coping strategies. It’s uncomfortable and it tends to create ripples that disrupt all of your significant relationships as you change your patterns, as you are no longer willing or able to continue with the restricting and limited world view, stories you’ve been telling about yourself and belief systems you accepted before. It’s a lot of work integrating all of this, and things can often get worse before they get any better.
Showing up is what we do in those moments where we are awake, alive to the fullness of our being and the fullness of the other, to our interconnectedness and to the spacious, gracious compassionate Presence who holds all things in being.
Showing up is being open to the flow of all of this and letting things unfold. It is moving with the energy of grace and offering your own unique presence into the midst so that your gifts, your voice and your distinct perspective can become part of the healing, restoring outpouring of Love into the Now of this moment.
Showing up is what we are training for when we commit to our contemplative practice.
Kathleen notes that before you get to the place where you do actually commit, you’ll usually work through some evasive tactics first, and then you’ll have a period of accumulating knowledge. This looks like reading book after book, following different paths, exploring new ideas, chasing a new way to fix the old thing and always hoping that this next voice, this next perspective will mean you can avoid making the final and complete commitment to practice as the path – no more, no less.
Eventually, though, you’ll realise that the only bucket you have to draw from the well of wisdom is within you. The only way to drink from that deep well is to commit to sit.
Take stock – a journaling exercise
Here are some questions to prompt your reflections…..
How would you describe where you are in the wake up, grow up, clean up, show up journey? What do you notice about your experiences of connection, transcendence, joy or grief and how you have made sense of these? How deeply attached are you to your stories, your idealised version of yourself or others or your conviction of your unworthiness? Where and how are you engaging in the search for wisdom and contentment through accumulation? What contemplative practices have you explored and which ones have you connected with so that you might commit to one? What is stopping you from committing and what needs to happen next?
Pick a path
There are essentially two paths, the path of embracing senses and the path of shedding senses. They both have deep roots and both lead to the same placeless place so your choice is purely about the one that you can commit to.
Do you feel drawn to the wordless, imageless path of letting go all attempts to form concepts, all defining terms, all language and sound and picture? Does the shedding of all these constructs invite you towards the luminous dark of not knowing, not naming Great ground of all Being Oneness? Centering prayer, breath prayer, mantra prayer, the Jesus prayer are possible practices for you.
Do you feel drawn to icons, to the arms of the Great Lover, to the devotional path of adoration, the slow, deliberate shedding of each layer of selfing, in preparation for the wedding banquet and then gradually relaxing to become naked and vulnerable in the honeymoon suite of union? The inner glance of love, receiving the loving gaze, sacred chant or the heart meditation practices may speak to you.
Commit to the sit
You may already have your practice in place, be committed to it and committed to returning to it when you slip out of practice. The practice on the cushion or mat or stool is just the start, though. The aim is to bring presence, energy and flow into more and more of your day until every moment of your living and being is Presence…to be awake in your heart even in sleep. Committing to the sit is just the start, but we have to start where we are….begin. And begin again. Commitment isn’t about not missing one day, it’s about returning and returning and returning again. So start where you are, but start now.