Thursday, December 31, 2009

Walking the Talk

As we approach the new year, indeed, the new decade, many people talk of setting new year’s resolutions. Such resolutions are virtual obsessions in the U.S. and often carry built-in failure. Most people resolve to lose weight, to make more money, or to achieve that promotion—all potentially useful goals, but all focused more on the end result than on the journey. If we do slip up or fail to achieve our goal, we often feel worse about ourselves than we did to begin with.

Instead of focusing on achieving that end result, over which we may or may not have control, we might instead commit ourselves to how we want to be in the world. In feminist terms, we would call this “walking the talk,” or putting our beliefs, politics, and values into practice.

Buddhist philosophy reminds us that attachment is one of the key sources of suffering. The writer Rachel Naomi Remen makes a powerful distinction between attachment and commitment, one of which tends to be much more life-affirming than the other. She writes,

“While attachment has its source in the personality, in what the Buddhists refer to as the ‘desire nature,’ commitment comes from the soul. In relationship to life, just as in human relationships, attachment closes down options, commitment opens them up….Attachment leads farther and farther into entrapment. Commitment, though it may sometimes feel constricting, will ultimately lead to greater degrees of freedom. Both involve in the moment an experience of holding, sometimes against the flow of events or against temptation. One can distinguish the two in most situations by noticing over time whether one has moved through this activity closer to freedom or closer to bondage. Attachment is a reflex, an automatic response which often may not reflect our deepest good. Commitment is a conscious choice, to align ourselves with our most genuine values and our sense of purpose.”

Commitment, then, is about grounding ourselves in our deepest values and infusing our actions with that clarity. It is more about how we meet life’s challenges than it is about the end result. Paradoxically, because we are less attached to things being any particularly way, we often achieve our goal anyway, but with less suffering along the way. Regardless, we can view the journey as a path of deep internal joy and growth.

I remember the first time I heard my yoga teacher invite the class to “let go of that which doesn’t serve you.” I felt a wave of relief and even freedom wash over me with the realization that I can choose what I cling to and how I want to move through the world.

As we move into the New Year, I invite all of us to return to the clarity of what’s truly important to us. May our deepest commitments infuse our world with beauty and light.

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