Spiritual Life is Not About Being Responsible
I know people who seem to think spiritual life is about being responsible. They are convinced spiritual life drives us to become more responsible.
These people believe spiritual life within them and in the world draws them to take on responsibilities. They take on projects and positions of responsibility and approach them with serious intention.
Many people view spiritual life as a ladder or staircase of responsibility. They see additional responsibilities as signs they are growing in spiritual life.
I see spiritual life in a different way.
It was easy for me to take on new responsibility. Added responsibilities were supposedly confirmation people saw my potential. People told me, “People do not ask you to take on responsibilities unless they recognize your abilities.” I came to see life though a lens of responsibility and expectations.
The ways I understood responsibility reinforced my underlying workaholism and perfectionism. The more responsibility I took on the greater opportunities I had to work harder.
My approach to work and responsibility affected all the areas of my life, including spiritual life.
I thought being responsible was what spiritual life was all about. So many people seemed to see spiritual life as following rules and thinking the right things. They appeared to be willing to give me opportunities to work hard and be responsible. I was sure I must be right about something.
I found emotional rewards in being responsible. It felt like people put their trust in me and were depending on me.
I believe spiritual life calls us to be active, engaged practitioners of what we believe. Being responsible felt like an effective way of putting my values into practice.
What is So Great About Being Responsible?
I came to understand the only real reward for being responsible is often additional responsibility.
Let me be clear. I believe in meeting my responsibilities. When we make a commitment it is a matter of our integrity to see it through.
I also believe there can be benefits to taking on and meeting responsibilities. Being responsible can build character and help us learn important lessons. There are significantly good things about being responsible.
My concern is the assumption new, additional responsibilities are a sign of growing spiritual life. A growing commitment to contemplative spirituality makes me wonder how much responsibility is good for us.
I believe spiritual life draws us to find healthy balance in our lives. Our balance includes taking time to reflect and to discern how much responsibility is good for us.
It may be because I am an enthusiastic person. When I discover a new practice or idea I tend to throw myself into it. When I decide I am committed to something I want to share it with other people.
Responsibility may have some toxic qualities for me. I am a recovering workaholic, and my old habit flares up in me.
I also think there are people who tend to feed my habit. They may have some responsibilities they would like to share. Their context may be responsibility strengthens spiritual life and they hope to help strengthen mine.The decision to take on responsibility is ultimately up to us. No one can force us to feel responsible or to accept additional responsibilities. We discern and we decide.
Each of us seeks the balance which is right for us.
Spiritual life is not urging us to take on responsibility which throws us off balance.
Responsibility does not necessarily reinforce spiritual life. We need to be careful.
Is Not Being Responsible a Spiritual Practice?
Not being responsible is one of my spiritual practices.
I am growing in my ability to say No to responsibility. When exploring a new idea or unfamiliar practice I am reluctant to take on responsibility.
Spiritual life urges me to find and maintain balance in my life. It can be a challenge for me because I enjoy exploring and discovering. I read about and visit places and ideas which are new to me.
Part of the balance spiritual life has brought me is taking time not to be responsible.
I believe fun and enjoyment are essential aspects of life. We need to give them time and protect our practices of not being responsible.
When we talk about using our time wisely that includes spending time not being responsible.
It can be a challenge for us to cultivate not being responsible. Some people who work with me as a spiritual trainer have overdeveloped senses of responsibility. They are the people who will volunteer to do things when no one else does.
These people often view responsibility as a key element of spiritual life. They have been too responsible for too long.
For many of them the habit of being responsible has been reinforced for years. Time after time their being responsible has been rewarded with added responsibility. They see new responsibility as their next step on a spiritual journey.
I ask them when was the last time they were not responsible and they cannot remember.
We work together on developing a spiritual practice of not being responsible.
Being Responsible to Ourselves
A spiritual practice of not being responsible is not about being irresponsible.
Spiritual life draws us into balance. One of the ways in which I was particularly out of balance was how I was responsible to and for myself.
I do not believe spiritual life is drawing us to be more responsible for other people than for ourselves.
It is up to me to protect time in my schedule for contemplation and deep worship. I am also responsible to spend some of my time taking care of myself. Those are not mutually exclusive, and they are not the same thing.
How much additional responsibility we take on is our choice, our decision.
Spiritual life is not drawing us into being responsible when that throws us off balance.
When are we not being responsible today?
How is not being responsible a spiritual practice for you?
[Image by Nath el Biya]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.