Showing Up: The Radical Journey of Commitment

It's like that with anything. Learning a language. Maintaining a friendship. Being married. Starting a business. There are always moments when it just doesn't seem worth it, when the whole thing feels hopeless, impossible, way too painful. You feel clueless. Yet, in some mysterious way, if you've made a commitment to hang in there until you crack the code and get it right, the commitment itself will help you move through all those obstacles. Our personal commitment engages that force in the universe that we call grace. Something gets activated, a guiding, helping presence that opens doors, shows pathways through stuck places, and helps forge growth, change, deepening. That growth may not be apparent in the short term, but when there is commitment—and when that commitment is to the 'right' thing, the path that suits you—commitment itself will open the doors you need to mastery. In the Kabbalistic tradition there's a story about a poor man who has fallen in love with a princess, and longs to be with her. He courts her by circling the palace, calling out to her through storms and heat. After a while, she begins to appear at her window. He sees her arm. Then she reveals her back. At last, her veiled face. Then she takes the veil off. He keeps circling, calling out to her. One day, she throws him a rose. And finally, an invitation into her chamber.

This (in case you wondered) is not a story about a successful stalker. It's actually a symbolic tale about the power of passion in the pursuit of spiritual knowledge. The lover was willing to put his entire self on the line, to risk failure, to look like an idiot, to master his insecurities, his fears, his distraction. He was willing, in short, to engage passionately in his quest. The story doesn't tell us what he went through along the way, but I'm willing to bet that he suffered a lot of bad days. He probably heard his mother's voice saying, "Why don't you marry a nice girl from your own neighborhood?" or his inner critic suggesting that he just didn't have the stuff to succeed in anything so radical. He undoubtedly had days when the weather was so bad that any sensible person would have stayed home.

But because he was willing to show up so fully, something seemingly impossible happened in the external world. A woman who by all the ordinary rules was utterly beyond his reach found herself reaching out to him.


The Gift of Showing Up
The secret law of transformation goes like this: when we fully show up with a clear intention, the universe will sooner or later change in our favor. Passionate, consistent, committed activity releases an energy in us that eventually gets mirrored in the outer world. It sometimes seems as though the highest and subtlest teachings of the inner traditions are being offered to anyone with the price of a workshop or a boxed set from Sounds True. So much truly esoteric material gets disseminated these days that sometimes we wonder whether people are being taken deeper than they are really prepared to go.

Yet what I've seen again and again is that the secrets have their own built in protective mechanism. Basically, you can't imbibe or receive certain teachings until you're ready. Yes, you can hear them, read them, even understand them intellectually. But your body and soul won't receive, process, and be transformed by them unless you throw yourself totally into the pursuit. No matter that the highest teachings are out there on the Internet, for anyone to read. No matter that your date gives you the full download on her childhood over dinner. You still aren't going to get the inner meaning of the practice or experience true intimacy with that person all at once, any more than you can master Spanish by taking a three-week course. It's only when you've aligned yourself with the practice or the lover over time that you begin to have the recognitions and insights and secret openings that bring the practice or the relationship or the work we're doing come alive. Even if the teacher wants to share these things, even if your lover holds out the key to her deepest heart, you won't be able to receive them until you've committed yourself to showing up, time and time again, with full presence.

Provisional Commitment

In the yoga traditions, it's often said that in order to find out whether someone is 'your' teacher, or whether a practice is for you, you need to make a provisional commitment to it. With a teacher, in the old days, you would generally commit yourself to hanging in there for one year. (Nowadays, it would probably be more like six months.) It's a bit like serious dating. When you think someone might be the right mate for you, you usually start out by going steady for a while. It's the same with a teacher or a path. In that year, you totally throw yourself into the practice. You get to know the other practitioners. You observe the teacher—respectfully, but objectively. During this time you may notice that there are things about the situation that attract you, and make you want to get more involved. You might also find reasons to doubt the whole thing. You ask questions. You note the answers you get, and you note your reactions, but you reserve final judgment until your agreed upon time is up. That's when you evaluate.

4/17/2012 4:00:00 AM