Early legends view the word as a source of power. Because of this they often extol the virtues of keeping one’s word. In India, the story of Harischandra is famous. In one version, the great sage Vishwamitra, reminded Harishchandra of the king’s promise to donate his entire kingdom, made during the sage’s dream. The king’s response was immediate and he gave up his entire kingdom to the sage and departed with his wife and children. By keeping his word, he underwent untold hardships, but in the end he was rewarded for his exemplary behaviour.
Although stories such as these continue to inspire many of us, we know that life is not like that. Living in the world requires constant adjustment. How we see a situation today may change drastically tomorrow. Given the fluid nature of the world, how do we keep our commitments without becoming rigid?
One of the problems is we are moody creatures. Our moods shift from moment to moment. Commitments based on mood are rarely kept. Making a commitment is easy, but keeping a commitment requires that we know ourselves. Self-knowledge goes much deeper than how we feel at a particular moment. Beneath our surface preferences are our values. Values are not just what we believe, but what we put into practice as well. Values comprise the wisdom we have been able to distil from life experience.
Because we have values, we are willing to commit ourselves to what we perceive to be the best course of action. However, commitments are not absolute and vary according to situation. Commitments in business are not forever and generally have a time-limit specified in a contract. Relationships such as marriage are more serious and it is expected that till death do we part. However, there are also marriages of convenience, where two people are as it were trying it out and have an escape clause. Many girlfriend-boyfriend relationships are based on this kind of limited commitment.
Problems in commitment generally occur when we make commitments that do not reflect our core values. We may be pressured into making a commitment by others, we may be swept over by our feelings, or we simply rush into commitments without considering the consequences. When we commit for the wrong reasons, we often find ourselves feeling resentful. We may even develop a martyr complex. Consequently we should not commit lightly.
Once we have committed, we need to do our best to uphold our commitments. At the same time, we may learn new information, it may become impossible to continue our commitment, or we may simply lose our resolve. In any case, we are not free to simply drop our commitments. We need to do some soul searching to find out where our heart is. It may be that we lose our resolve for one commitment because of deeper commitments. We have this idea that by committing ourselves we might lose our freedom.
However, when we see that the problem is not one of holding to commitments, but of depth, we begin to see that commitments are part of the larger problem of overcoming the restrictive tendencies of the ego. That is, commitments take us outside of ourselves. When we can see this, we realize that beneath our surface commitments is a deeper commitment. A commitment based on the soul’s urge to be free.