This past week I participated in Commitment to Practice with my meditation group. We met last Sunday, guided by our teacher, Mitchell Ratner, to meditate, journal, and share about how we wanted to commit to our mindfulness practices during the upcoming week. We came up with general ideas, and then more concrete suggestions for ourselves, ways that we could be more dedicated to our practice. Then, at the end of the week, our same group met again for meditation, journalling, and sharing to see how the week went, and what we learned.
I am always looking for ways to be more committed to my mindfulness practice, which involves pretty much every aspect of my life–including my sitting meditation and yoga asana practices–so I was excited about trying a week of more commitment to my practice. The commitments that I made for the week included being more mindful of my steps while walking; keeping awareness in my body as much as possible; and making a list of all of the stuff I do all week to prioritize according to how each serves my practice.
At the end of the week, I had learned something about commitment. Not exactly what I expected, but perhaps useful enough to share with all of you. I suspect that we all struggle with trying to integrate our practices into our lives in a deeper way, whether it’s trying to find more time for yoga, or rest, or just to find quiet time for ourselves.
Here is what came up for me this week about committing to my practice:
(1) It’s really really really hard to follow through on commitments. That seems obvious, but it may be helpful to remember it isn’t that we’re lazy or weak– it’s just hard for human beings to change.
(2) Commitment isn’t just about willpower and pushing past our old habits. Change happened most easily for me when I made a clear commitment to do something, then let go of it. When I put my intentions out into the universe and at the same time kept them close, I was more likely to follow through. Just like in yoga asana, we need to find the balance of steadiness and freedom.
(3) Building commitment is like building a tower of blocks. The foundation of our tower is our deepest longing, whatever that is. For me, my longings have to do with wanting to be authentic and present for myself and my relationships. With that as the foundation, the first block I place might be doing 5 minutes of contemplation each morning. From that block, I can add lighting a candle during that time, then I could add trying to follow my breath for 5 minutes, etc. Commitment happens in baby steps.
(4) Friends on the journey are very helpful. This is the community that we refer to as sangha. Friends who are also practicing help us in so many ways. When we see a good friend going to yoga class, it can remind us that we intended to do that too, and maybe help us re-prioritize so that we can get there. Talking about our difficulties in practicing our commitment with someone who also practices can help us move through our struggles and recommit ourselves.
(5) It helps to ask ourselves the question: “What is preventing me from following through on my commitment right now?” There’s always something. Sometimes I notice that what prevents me from practicing yoga is that I’ll have to face that I have pain in a particular part of my body, and I don’t want to know that. Or the reason that I don’t want to be fully present with someone is because I’m feeling annoyed with them, and I don’t want to feel that. Getting curious about the road blocks to our commitment can help to release them.
(6) It was helpful for me to remember that my commitments are for myself and not to please someone else. If I keep my attention on myself and my deepest longing for authenticity, then I’m more likely to remember my practice and be committed to it. If I start to over think how my commitment will affect others (will they like me more, will they like me less, etc.) then my commitment loses energy.
(7) Gentleness is key. This goes back to the first two realizations – that it’s really hard to follow through on commitments, and it’s not just about powering through. If we let go a little bit, and trust the process, then we can absolutely make baby steps in the direction of wellness. We can’t get there overnight, and that’s ok. It’s about the process, not the end-point anyway. There’s really no place to get to, right?
So these are some of the insights I had during this week of commitment. If you find any of this useful, I am glad. I consider all of you to be part of my community of practice, my sangha, and I hope that we continue to support each other’s commitment as we stumble along this beautiful and ancient path together.
As Oriah Mountain Dreamer writes in her poem, “The Dance“:
I have sent you my invitation,
the note inscribed on the palm of my hand by the fire of living.
Don’t jump up and shout, “Yes, this is what I want! Let’s do it!”
Just stand up quietly and dance with me.
With so much love and gratitude,