Over the years, I have discovered that the best advice often seems contradictory or counter intuitive. As someone who practices Zen Buddhism, I try to consume a great deal of content from teachers in the area. One such piece of content, is the podcast ‘The Way Out Is In’ which is produced by Plum Village – the lineage of the late Thich Nhat Hahn. I was listening to the podcast recently when I heard the strangest advice i.e., that freedom comes from commitment. Surely if you are committing to someone/something, you are sacrificing freedom?

One of the presenters of the podcast is Br. Phap Huu, a Zen Buddhist monk in the Plum Village lineage. Like all monks, when he ordained, he had to take many precepts (rules to live by) and agree to do his utmost to live by them. These precepts would include no killing, no lies and other rules which make simple, common sense to all of us. However, many of the precepts would be far more detailed to the point that they may feel restrictive to you or me. However, Br. Phap Huu claims that taking these precepts gave him freedom. They did this by giving a clear path by which to live. It was at this point that it started to make a great deal of sense to me. When you have a clear path by which to live, you are automatically freed from all the parts of life which are no longer relevant to your path.

Over the past few years, I have allowed many areas of my life to wander. I allowed life events to take over, starting with the illness and death of my brother - John. While I have had no issue with putting things to the side during John’s illness, I never got around to picking things up again after he died. Since I listened to the podcast last week, I have been looking at how I can apply its lessons to my own life. I have realised that I have been more confused; have struggled to finish the things I have started and have been more stressed. What is more worrying is that I have been getting more stressed about things that do not matter at all. Now I have decided to take a look at how commitment can help to free me from these issues.

Clarify your purpose

Clarify and define your purpose so that you can commit and use it to guide your most critical decisions; eliminating the 80% which does not matter so that you can focus on the 20% that does.


To clarify and define your purpose, check out 'Living Purposefully'.


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The value of making a commitment

Below are the key ways in which commitment brings added value and enrichment to your life:

1. Commitment shows you what to focus on

There is so much going on in the world that at times it can seem impossible to determine where you should place your attention. With the ever-increasing reach and power of technology, this problem is getting worse. And yet, where to place your attention is the most important decision that you can make in any given moment.

It is the commitments you make which will determine where you place your attention. Commitments are something you usually make when you are calm and unhurried, but it is when the pressure and stress mounts that you see the real benefit of the commitments you have made. They allow you to identify the small areas of importance and eliminate or block out, all the unimportant stuff. This is true freedom i.e., the ability to focus on what really matters to you at the expense of all else.


2. Commitment shows you what to let go of

If you are anything like me, you hold on to too much in life. Maybe like me, you enjoy different things in life, and you try to fit them all in. However, when you try to fit everything in, nothing gets the time it really needs. The most key areas of your life will require more of your time and energy. Forcing them to compete with areas of your life that are enjoyable but offer no real value, is in effect, stealing precious time and energy from the most critical areas. When you make a commitment to those things which are most important to you, you give yourself the freedom to let go of the things that offer no real value and reduce the time and energy you give to anything which has value but is not on the same level of importance.

Another area where commitment has given me the freedom to let go is with arguments or grudges. I used to hold onto arguments and grudges because it was most important for me to be right. But as I have made stronger commitments, I have found it easier to let these things go. I do not have to give time and energy to the person who has done me wrong; I must focus on what I am committed to which forces me to stop thinking about the negative experience(s).

Related

For more on the importance of letting go and saying 'No', check out my article on The Importance of Saying No


3. Commitment allows you to be who you really want to be

When you commit to something you genuinely believe in, you automatically remove other possibilities for how you want to behave; how you want to spend your time and who you want to be. To commit is to make a clear decision. The original origins of the word to decide means ‘to cut off’ as in to cut off other options.

Too often in life, we drift aimlessly from one activity to another without ever thinking about whether that activity serves us or not. In many cases, our choice of activity is dictated by ‘he who shouts loudest.’ This leads to us running around in circles and trying to be all things to all people. However, once you commit to what is important, you begin to establish a clear priority system which will guide your decision making; ensuring that you are more consistent with the person you wish to be.


4. Commitment allows you to lose the need for approval

As mentioned in the previous point, when you have not committed to what is important to you; you tend to run from person to person, desperately trying to please them. This is the very essence of approval seeking whereby what others think of you is more important to you than what you think of yourself. This may be partly since you have no clear criteria you can use to evaluate where you are in life.

When you make a commitment to something important to you, the criteria will begin to appear. You will start to make your decisions based on what you believe to be right; not based on what will impress others. While you will always find it nice to have the approval of others; the approval of others will no longer be critical for you.

Clarify your purpose

Clarify and define your purpose so that you can commit and use it to guide your most critical decisions; eliminating the 80% which does not matter so that you can focus on the 20% that does.


To clarify and define your purpose, check out 'Living Purposefully'.


Living Purposefully Workbook Course Image

Conclusion

When I first heard the statement that freedom comes from commitment, I thought it was mad. But when this happens; I like to try to understand it better. While on the podcast, Br. Phap Huu did go deeper into an explanation as to the meaning of the statement, I have found it even more beneficial to meditate on it and contemplate it so that I could gain my own deeper understanding. At its deepest level, commitment allows you to let go of the unnecessary, focus on what is profoundly important and be more of who you are really are. When you choose to live your life this way, are you not living with great freedom? So, I would suggest that rather than avoid commitment, take time to identify the things and people who are most deserving of your commitment, and experience the freedom that comes with it.


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