May 27, 2014

Why I Can Commit, But Not Devote. ~ Kathryn E. Livingston

Markus Gann/Pixoto

I am committed to the practice of yoga. But am I devoted?

Devotion is a word I’ve always had trouble with (except when it comes to my children—I am thoroughly devoted to motherhood).

Devoted means profound dedication.

Committed seems more like, “Yes. But I’m outta here if you mess up badly.”

Commitment is “I will be there.”

Devotion is “I will be there come hell or high water.”

Devotion, to me, connotes a singular path of loyalty and dedication. Thus, comes the word “devotee.”

There are devotees who follow Pattabhi Jois, Paramahansa Yogananda, BKS Iyengar, or countless others.

I often notice when I’m with a devotee of a particular yogic or spiritual path, I hear the master quoted a lot. “Osho says”…for instance. Or, “In the words of Yogi Bhajan…” Or, “According to Bikram Choudhury…”

I don’t much like quoting others (although, as a writer, I’ve always admired the oft-quoted Winston Churchill phrase, “Never, never, never, never give up”). Rumi quotes are lovely, or Hafiz. But I’m not big on quoting—or following—a master.

Yet there is something about devotion that is enviable.

Devotion means surrender, giving, accepting and allowing all at once. Devotion means that if your guru asks you to sit in a tree for three days until he comes back, you do so without question (as Yogi Bhajan once did at his teacher’s request).

Commitment, on the other hand, means you agree to follow a path or person (i.e. “I am committed to my marriage. But…if things get really rocky, there is always the option of divorce.”)

With devotion, there are no such options. (I am devoted to my children and there is virtually nothing they could do or say to change that. I am their mother no matter what.)

Devotion means complete trust. Commitment means, I trust, but with logic.

I love the heart-centeredness of devotion, and I wish I could give it my all. But I am a bit of a skeptic, a “doubting Thomas,” a person who likes to “see the research.” It’s difficult to cross the boundary from commitment to devotion, a state that lets everything go, no holds barred.

I am committed to practicing yoga and have been for a decade—and I do practice, almost every day. But to be honest, my heart wanders. Sometimes I’m drawn to Kundalini yoga; I adore the spirituality and magical beauty of the practice. At other times, I’m called to Vinyasa, because I love to flow with life. At other times, I practice Iyengar yoga: I love its precision, dependability and alignment.

But part of me wishes I could move beyond commitment, into the state of utter and complete surrender, that I can only compare to the way I felt when I first beheld my newborn’s gaze, and felt total Love with a capital L. I was in a place of total giving to one, and only one.

I could argue that in practicing yoga, I have already devoted myself. But, I detect a difference between those who devote to a single guru and those, similar to myself, who tend to amble along a preferred path, but occasionally step away to explore or sample elsewhere.

I admire, respect and believe in commitment. I’m rather critical of people who “can’t commit” (though I try not to judge). Commitment is the stuff and staff of life. It’s the peanut butter and jelly sandwich of being in the now. It’s what gets us to baseball practice on time. It’s what keeps our job. It’s what makes us a good friend or colleague.

If we can’t commit, then I don’t believe we will ever make real progress.

Absolutely, there is no going forward without the grit and fortitude to commit.

That said, the allure of devotion still calls. I yearn to be so enamored by a particular practice, that everything else falls away. And in that falling away is only a feeling of bliss, and an unshakeable inner knowing that nothing else matters—and could ever matter—this much.


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Apprentice Editor: Emily Bartran/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: Markus Gann/Pixoto

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Kathryn E. Livingston