A bride and a groom stand before the altar and exchange their vows by saying, I do. I do is generally taken as a lifetime commitment. However, commitment isn’t simply a matter of a verbal or formal agreement. An external agreement can reinforce our resolve, but commitment itself comes from within. Although we tend to think of commitment in terms of the big things in our life, commitment is something that permeates all aspects of our life ranging from enjoying a pleasant walk in the park to commitments of career to dedication to a cause. Because commitment comes in so many forms and at different levels, the mind often becomes a battle ground in which conflicting commitments fight it out. However, the mind also has the ability to resolve these conflicts. The resolution of conflict is based on a simple principle: deeper commitments have priority over surface commitments. This principle is not a set of rules or strategies that we have learned through experience, but is a structural feature of the mind itself.
In terms of commitment the mind is structured as a number of layers or tiers. There are four major tiers of commitment, mood, intention, belief and faith. Each tier becomes progressively deeper and focuses on a larger area of our life. Let us begin by examining the most superficial layer of commitment, our moods.
We often say so and so is unwilling to commit to anything. At times we find ourselves unable to make commitments. However, whether we feel it or not, the mind itself is committed to constantly creating and maintaining order and our primary sense of order is experienced as mood. Pleasure contains a feeling of order and pain a feeling of chaos. Our primary commitment therefore is to maintain the order of pleasure and eliminate the chaos of pain.
Commitment at this level is largely unconscious and based on attachment. Our role is passive and we often play the role of victim. Addicts feel moved by forces beyond their control. The basis of action is simply to perpetuate the feeling of good times.
I get up in the morning feeling lousy, but I go to work anyway. With intention, we move from a passive to an active role. The faculty of reason comes into play. We make a decision. We move from immersion in the present to an orientation towards the future.
Infants are caught up in moods based on the fulfilment of physical needs. At some stage we begin to conceive of intentions. At this point we are not simply the victims of our mood but become consciously committed to doing things that contribute to our well-being. Even as adults, we are mostly focused on our intentions.
My friend was going to pursue a master’s degree in psychology but decided to find a job because her parents found a suitable match for her marriage. Intention is about personal well-being, belief expands the area of our concern from the individual to the community. We integrate with the community through our beliefs. Belief is not simply an idea that we believe, but is part of a larger set of beliefs that include views about morality and the purpose of life, codes of behaviour and patterns of rites and ritual. Beliefs take us from the narcissism of the personal to the other-orientation of the communal.
Beliefs are established in part through reason. Catechism books outline the fundamental tenets of a dogma along with arguments supporting these tenets. However, the scope of reason is limited to arriving at conviction about belief. Beliefs themselves are rarely questioned. Indeed the questioning of belief is discouraged through the threat of expulsion from the community for those who disbelieve. The outcome is that beliefs tend to become rigid and conventional. Commitment at this level can often be mechanical, based on fear or attachment to one’s community.
In 1521 the pope excommunicated Martin Luther for his writings opposing the Catholic Church’s practice of indulgences. Martin Luther’s opposition to these teachings of the Church is an example of faith, not belief. Faith is based on a vision of truth that goes beyond the things we are taught by our community. Faith is often articulated as belief and beliefs can reinforce our faith. However, faith comes from a deeper layer of the mind than the layer of our beliefs. Believers are members of a community. Those with faith lead the community or create a new community.
The incidence of real faith is rare. There are many who believe they have faith. But when things heat up, they discover that they don’t have faith, only a belief. Rigidity of belief is often mistaken for faith, whereas it is more indicative of an attachment to a system that perpetuates beliefs. The vision of truth that inspires faith comes from a transformation of the psyche that integrates the mind. One who has faith has all faculties aligned. Moods resonate with passion, intentions are based on values and beliefs become stepping stones to deeper vision.
Commitment to Vision
Although commitment closes our eyes to temptations to stray from the path, commitment is not blindness but based on a vision of order. As we progress through life our vision of order becomes deeper and it is our commitment to this vision that gives us the strength to take the next step in our journey within.
I leave you with a quote which applies to all spheres of our lives, where with commitment to our vision of how life should be we can make a difference.
A leader has the vision and conviction that a dream can be achieved. He inspires the power and energy to get it done.
— Ralph Lauren