In conversation recently, someone expressed, “I have problems with commitment, and it’s stressing me out.” We were discussing a significant change of circumstances, an investment in place to which this person had never committed before. They recognized the value that more permanency would offer them and thought committing to place would be joyful, but instead they felt stressed, thinking about how familiar it was to move about almost at will, with minimal attachment.
During the conversation it occurred to me that when we say we have a difficulty committing to something, often the difficulty arises in what we imagine when we think about commitment. If I want to make a commitment like “I am going to commit to a month without using a car,” then immediately I begin to have concerns and experiences with even the idea of commitment. I think of all the conveniences I would be giving up. I imagine all the inconveniences. I imagine the relief from finances. I become fearful about times when I might need the car. I begin spinning this idea of what my life will be and then I decide as though this idea was an accurate picture of how things will be. Maybe I decide I could never live without my car because I wouldn’t have the resources to do all I can do now. Maybe I will rush out and sell my car before I’ve really thought through the problems and consequences, because I got hooked by thinking about freedom from financial obligations.
This mental work is not bad. It is useful. What I realized is that it’s important to remember that what I imagine is not going to prepare me completely for what the experience will be. When I commit to something, especially something I’ve never done, I am committing to uncertainty, risk, and adventure. This is the opposite of what most of us think when we talk about “commitment.” Many people think of commitment as drudgery, being tied down to something, an eternal monotony.
Commitment does require discipline and regularity to be effective. When I commit to a relationship, then I am likely committing to showing up and not disappearing at whim, although that depends upon the relationship and what agreements make sense. Either way, there is a structure that holds the commitment in place. When I commit to a job, I get up five days a week at the same time and go to the same place for eight hours. What happens within that span changes from day to day, moment to moment.
What I think scares us about that kind of commitment is that it brings us into presence with ourselves in a way that is new and uncomfortable. There is a part of us that constantly avoids confrontation and seeks comfort, and that part loses power when we engage in the discipline of showing up to the same thing. We get to see all of our parts, the ones that thrive in commitment and the ones that despise commitment. We see our heart in all its messiness. Perhaps there will never be this sense that life is as it’s supposed to be. Perhaps there will always be a fear that I’ve committed to the “wrong” thing.
Commitment is be an act of daring and self-creation. When we think of commitment as this eternal chain, we can look at it instead as a choice we make every day to show up to what is there. Some commitments become toxic, and we can show up to that and act accordingly. Some commitments become dry because we’ve stopped showing up, and we can show up to that. Some commitments are mysteries that grow as we grow, deepen and evolve as we walk them, like a labyrinth.