Lesson 5: Commitment and Freedom Are The Same Thing

“Our commitment is the extent to which we give ourselves to any situation. Many people are afraid of commitment because they think that it is a form of slavery, a loss of freedom. Their fear is a reaction to a lack of freedom they felt as a child, or to relationships in which they gave up being themselves for others’ approval. This is a place of fusion, of counterfeit commitment, that everyone has to face and heal in relationships. It keeps us in slavery and sacrifice.

“Commitment is neither slavery or sacrifice; commitment is freedom. There are two types of freedom. One is an independent form of freedom from things, a freedom where we get away from this that bothers us. The other is true freedom that comes from within, a freedom toward things, a freedom we feel in any situation because of our level of commitment, our level of giving. For example if we are in jobs where we feel bound, in sacrifice, because it is something we have to do, all of the fun and capacity to receive is gone. We feel that we have lost our choice. However, we always have the power of choice. We can choose to be there, committed, giving ourselves fully. Our choice allows us to transcend our job description or role and to feel the freedom of commitment.

The answer to the question, “Is there life after commitment?” is “Yes“, because what we give creates our freedom. This freedom gives us space to breathe and receive in a way in which we have not received before. We get to feel more at peace, and we do not have to avoid or run away. Commitment helps us focus on what is important; it helps build our life.” –Chuck Spezzano, PhD

“TODAY you are being asked to commit yourself to someone or to something. If it is someone, you are being asked to make a choice for them because it is your choice that will make them better. The extent to which their life gets better is the extent to which you will also feel freed. So who is it? Your ability to receive comes from your giving. If it is something that you are being asked to give more of yourself to, what is it? Your commitment to whomever, or whatever is your freedom.”

* * * * * * *

Well, first let me say I wholeheartedly agree with all of this. For most of my life I have been afraid to commit and never knew it. I was very independent, very guarded, and I felt easily smothered and restricted. I only wanted to do my art and my music and not be “stifled” in any way. What’s interesting as I look back on those days is, I can see that I wasn’t actually even totally committed to my art. I was not committed to life or my self and it showed up as being not committed to other people. You see, wherever I am not committed to a person or a situation, for example,  is the degree to which I am not committed in life. And if I wasn’t committed in life, how could I have been committed to my art? No matter how many shows I booked or guitar lessons I took or rehearsals I had, I was not fully integrated in it, because I was not fully integrated. And it showed, in the mediocre fruition of my labor.

What I mean by committed is, being 100% here.

I wasn’t 100% here. I wasn’t 100% there. I wasn’t 100% present to anything, because, inside, I was running away from my pain and longing and heartbreak and isolation. A part of me was always in hiding. I hid my shame, I hid what I thought was the fact that I was broken and diseased. I had a big, fat ugly secret that was, what I considered, the “real” me.

I remember taking a personality test that used my responses to color as a way of profiling my character. It was administered as part of a job interview with a chiropractor/healer. One of the conclusions was that I was “secretive”. Well, I wonder how well I managed to keep my mortification secret in the moment that was revealed. I just feigned surprised and said something about how these things can be flawed. But inside, I felt that I had been found out. (It’s funny. I distinctly remember having not favored teal and magenta on that test and wondering if that was the giveaway because they are sort of in-between colors and, if I was a hiding person, the hidden colors in those colors would trigger me. Now I like those colors and I so want to take that damn test again!)

But whatever the giveaway, I WAS secretive. I was secretive about my shame, about my pain, about my embarrassing, hellish family, about not being “together” or optimistic at all, despite my totally joyful, together persona. I was secretive about my wants. I was secretive about needing or desiring. I was secretive about my fantasies. I was secretive about how covetous I was of what other people seemed to have.

If I was staving off these things within me, doesn’t it make sense that I would be staving off things in my external world, on some core, energetic level? As long as every part of me is not present and available to me and my life, everything, on some level, is half-hearted. And I get half-hearted results.

Considering how guarded I was, how non-committal, it follows quite perfectly that all of my boyfriends at the time were too “jealous and possessive”. What a perfect excuse to not have to face my demons. I could blame their jealousy and possessiveness for why I wanted to get away from them. Did I ever consider that I was creating that dynamic to protect myself? Did I consider that the closer someone got to me, the closer I was to being found out? Did I consider that the more I pushed them away, the more they would cling, giving me the justification I needed to end it? Did I consider that I was perpetuating my feelings of isolation and loneliness? Did I consider that if I got close to someone, I might start to depend on them and then they would have all the power and control? Did I consider that I was just simply not willing to be that vulnerable with anyone, ever again? Did I consider that I was treating those people as if they were burdensome, which is actually how I felt about myself in life? Well, of course not. It was the perfect storm to which my only responsibility was my personal preference for being unfettered.

At the time I didn’t really know anything about collective consciousness, or projection (though I certainly did my fair share of throwing that term around), or the ways in which partners can go into collusion (ultimately using each other to reinforce false beliefs about ourselves and how the world works. Like, if I don’t think it’s okay for me to need, I might energetically set it up so that my partner is or becomes very needy, reinforcing my belief that needing is distasteful), or the ways in which our partners carry or play out aspects of ourselves that we have not been willing to face, admit, or integrate. (Like, if I’m afraid of intimacy, I might get involved with someone who’s more afraid of intimacy, or more obviously afraid of it, and then complain about the lack of intimacy that’s all their fault, to even further obscure my own issues from myself.) I didn’t know anything about conscious relationship.  I didn’t know anything about conscious living. I was relating and living unconsciously, totally possessed by my fears and survival tactics, under the auspices of being so evolved that I just had no attachments or needs of anyone. It didn’t occur to me that most people who are highly evolved find themselves barraged by others seeking their guidance. Needless to say, that was not happening in my life. Though I did manage to give my opinion quite freely and incessantly anyway.

I was basically doing what Robert Masters calls Spiritual Bypassing, essentially using, in my case, Taoist philosophy as an explanation for why my eventual, totally non-committal relationship with an emotionally unavailable man worked for me and was fulfilling. I had all kinds of philosophical reasons for why everything worked. At that time, someone else who was trying to get involved with me exclusively (in a way that felt “smothering” to me), having heard my argument about non-attachment and being “in the moment” with whomever, however, whenever, said, “Well that all makes rational sense, but…are you happy“? I didn’t have an answer. My mind went totally blank. I think if I was happy, she wouldn’t have had to ask. But I probably said yes. That conversation was nearly 17 years ago and I still remember that question.

Consciously I thought I was happy. I lived perfectly romantically in my mind and my daydreams. I wrote all the time, I reveled in sunsets and rivers, I practiced guitar, I had wanderlust that I fulfilled, I read Russian novels, I sat in cafes for hours, I felt lofty and smart, I had an aptitude for foreign languages that was very impressive, I sang, I danced, I wrote great papers, I had the best possible taste in music. I was capable of figuring out anything and doing anything. I took lots of pictures of beautiful places all over Europe. My pictures, characteristically, had no one in them.

But when I looked at other people’s pictures, ones where you could kinda see the leaning tower of Pisa behind a group of friends cracking up, I secretly wished I had their pictures instead. And I secretly pined for a best friend or partner in life. But I tried to accept my lot as a loner and I used my education and artistic tendencies as a way of explaining it and making it romantic to myself. I also based everything on the assumption that someone so smart as I was, obviously, self-aware. So I had it all figured out. It was cinched.

But was I happy?

Well, does someone who’s happy generally swallow a bottle of sleeping pills, regardless of whether or not it was just a cry for help? Does someone happy act out cries for help? I’d say probably not. See, happiness has no defenses and I was, defended.

For example, I thought my childhood was not great but not crazy bad, because no body hit me and I had food, clothing and shelter. There was humor, I laughed a lot and sang and danced and listened to cool music with my Dad. Never mind the fact that I saw my mom one to two times a year between the ages of 8 and 17 because she was off trying to fix an emotionally unavailable man all over the globe. Never mind the fact that my father was an alcoholic and a rager and a bully who on more than one occasion towered over me, red faced and spitting through his teeth that my mother didn’t love me and I sabotaged his life (because I knocked on his door when he was presumably trying to have sex with his soon to be ex fiancé, or I forgot to change the toilet paper roll). Never mind the fact that he drunk drove with me in the car or that my older brother never really wanted to have much to do with me.

Now, I didn’t love this, but I thought it was still normal enough. I didn’t go the route of thinking things were terribly wrong. Because I had to be in it, I had to adapt and accept and tell myself that it was okay. I was defended. Before the sleeping pills episode, I went therapist shopping. I went to a woman who very promptly said that my heartbreak over my ex boyfriend was really about my mother and that I was suicidal. But I was so defended that I went off in a huff about how wrong and weird she was! Like a self-righteous, defended fool, I never went back to her. But you can bet, after the sleeping pills and my first encounter with the term “abandonment issues”, her words haunted me.

Defended.

Sometimes when my mom would leave, I was broken open enough to have at least an inkling that things were terribly wrong, but I couldn’t stay with that feeling long. I had to survive. I had to defend myself in the enemy territory that was my Dad’s house. I had to defend myself in a world where there was no mother there to defend me. I was very good at standing up for myself in the face of a tyrant. I was very good at standing up against bullies. But I didn’t know that a little inner bully was growing up big and strong inside of me (partly internalizing my abusive father) who would hear nothing of my pain in those hurtful moments, who would continue to get the best of me until even this very day. That bully would fight me to the death before letting me admit how much pain I was in.

Now I am trying to learn, very humbly, about what it means to truly stand up for myself against that inner bully. Imagine my horror to find that this kind of standing up involves feeling my pain, no matter how much the defended bully doesn’t want me too. Standing up to the bully means feeling my pain and slowing down and tending to it and caring for it. It means going back to those moments and giving myself time to say, “Ow. This hurts.” It means feeling all the pain that was in the room, in the whole world, in each and every one of those painful moments. The pain of being attacked. The pain of being afraid for my life at the hands of the man who was supposed to be my protector. The pain of confusion. The pain of never knowing what was going to happen or how anything would be taken care of, if at all. The pain of rejection. All the pain that my father was in. The guilt he felt. The pain of not being able to save him. The guilt I felt. The pain of abandoning my self and my love for my father so I could get angry enough to fight back. The pain my mother felt being lost and separated and un-centered and pretending that she knew what to do. The pain of my mother vainly seeking validation from arrogant men at the expense of being with her children. The guilt she felt. The pain my brother felt hearing us screaming and not knowing what to do or why this had to be our story. The guilt he felt being there and not being able to stop it. The pain of the tension in all of our bodies. The pain of all of us trading our birthright to live in a state of love for anger, bitterness, blame, withdrawal and pretending. The pain of hating someone I love because they caused me so much pain. The pain of abandoning my loving self in order to punish the people I love, with my pain. The pain of all of our love being abandoned and displaced, lost, unexpressed. The pain of our love being abandoned in all the pain. The pain of being caught in a vicious cycle with no road map out. The pain of my shame. The painful feeling of loss for the things I needed as a child and never got. The pain of the horrible things I secretly think about myself (“I must deserve this”, “I’m not worthy”, “something is wrong with me”, “I’m cursed”, “everyone should just stay away from me”, “I’m too much”, “I’m difficult”, “I’m burdensome”, “I’m a disappointment”, “I’m a fake”, “I’m mean”, “I’m ugly inside”). Then feeling the pain and horror of how mean I am to myself in thinking those things. The pain that it won’t stop. The pain of all of the unnecessary tragedy. The pain of all the heartbreak of all the people who just want to love and be loved. The pain of something that should be so simple just falling through my fingers like dust, time and time again. If only everyone in those moments had the courage to say, “I hurt. Please love me. Please accept my love for you.” The pain of that lost opportunity. It feels like an infinite onion. And sometimes peeling away the layers feels like peeling my own skin.

So, yes, I am afraid of the intimacy innate to commitment. I am afraid of the process of becoming intimate with my pain. I am afraid of then bearing 100% of my vulnerable, pained soul only to see startled and leery eyes staring back at me; confirmation that I am indeed scary and possibly contagious. Or worse, losing respect and attraction for the other if they don’t have that reaction! Thinking, “what’s wrong with them that they still want to be close to me?” Achieving intimacy requires that I be so intimate with my shadows and my pain and my negative beliefs about myself that I know them, accept them and have compassion for them. Only in this way will others be able to accept and have compassion for them. Only in this way will I not abandon myself in the event that other kindred spirits are scared away by all of me. Only in this way will I be in true love’s intimate embrace. Only in this way would I be free– by being 100% present to all of me, with all of me, nothing back behind the prison gates. Commitment and freedom are the same thing…

* * * * * * * *

After the second time my father chased me through the house, seething and spitting through his teeth, we did what any two civilized adults would. We decided that we would have weekly discussions to alleviate tension.  Except, I was fifteen. These discussions would be at home, me and my father, totally alone. I was so strong. I was so guarded. I was so protective of myself. I was so astute and externally fearless. At 15 years old I somehow managed to make the philosophical argument to my father that I, in fact, was not sabotaging his life, but that he, in fact, was the only common denominator in all of his failed relationships. Well, I’m a grown up now and the only common denominator in mine. Right or wrong, that’s a tough pill to swallow. I’m surprised all my Dad did was call me “such a little bitch” when I said those things to him.

Ow. That hurts.

To this day my father says, “…and you know what? You were right.”  He’s so proud of me for being so perceptive and outspoken and resilient and gritty. He says I have more logic in my little finger than most people have in their whole lives. It’s true. I’m smart. I’m wickedly perceptive. I see to the root of other people and situations easily. I’m tuned in to all the nuances and subtleties in the air. That’s partly what becomes of people who grow up left to their own devices or in an environment that is hostile to their being. They develop a keen sixth sense as a way of sniffing out whats going on and if its safe to come out or not. But logic can be used for many things and sometimes our sharp brains can really be our worst enemy. At some point our old brain says, “best not to come out at all”. And logic steps in to finish the job. Logic writes or finds all kinds of existentialist, or atheist (or even Buddhist) scripts to validate the instincts of our old brain and drive the decision home. That heart is CLOSED. That soul is in quarantine. And there’s no more 100% there, or anywhere.

Fortunately the soul and the heart are not dead until we die and Sophia always seems to be there too, however remotely, bothering Logic with the possibility that maybe, just maybe, this isn’t the Truth. Maybe this isn’t the last layer of the onion. It is, after all, an infinite onion. Call it Sophia, call it Psyche, call it my soul, call my Inner Child, call it my inner guide, but something, somewhere in me has sometimes thought that, maybe, what I really am is joy. Maybe what I really am is song. Maybe what I really am is a huge heart, and not a huge pain in the ass. Maybe, just like back in those tragic moments when we all traded our love for hurt and anger and self-preservation, maybe I’ve been trading my true self for a shit load of false beliefs. What, thinking that quantity was better than quality?

Somewhere I know, in my over thinking brain and in my gut, that what I have not been bringing to the table is exactly what the table needs. The truth is, I have brought all of my shittiness to every table I’ve ever sat at (which includes my fake, totally together persona). But I don’t think I’ve brought all of my true self– my joy, my ebullience, my deep capacity to love, my open mindedness, my compassion, my acceptance, my vulnerability, my bashfulness. Those things just pop out mostly when I’m not looking. You could even say, when my defenses are down. Fortunately, I’m not always looking. But when I start looking and going back to proving how terrible I am, well, like any well spoken person possessed of great logic and debating skills, I make quite a convincing argument.

So, today, sitting here feeling wrecked and exhausted and messy and remorseful, I bring also my joy, my compassion, my capacity to forgive, my resilience, my humor, my laughter, my voice, my freckles, my heart, my pain, my vulnerability, my love. I commit 100% to this process of learning how to love myself and others, even in the face of fear and pain.

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