The word seems violent. Short and sharp, like so many crimes. It harkens suicide and mental hospitals. Electroshock therapy. Urgent test answers rammed into shallow grooves of my cortex.
I’ve been consciously thinking of the word in softer terms, lately: Beneath the whole gamut of negative cultural connotations, it means to entrust or pledge fully to a specific course, cause, or person. While it’s sometimes used interchangeably with devote, there seems to be an important difference. The two are distinct, but complementary.
In my experience, devotion is an emotional phenomenon whereas commitment is more of an executive function. Commitment without devotion becomes mere obligation. Devotion without commitment becomes spineless and evasive.
In the best light, commitment is a decision to organize your life around something that gives it meaning. It’s about a course, cause, or person that seems so pivotal, we’re willing to tether everything else to it. We’re willing to put in the work to maintain its deepening presence in our daily life.
I’ve spent a lot of years stoking my devotions with desire, but see now that part of growing up–a big part–involves choosing to commit to that which (I feel) matters most: a solid sitting practice, an invigorating yoga practice, my life’s work as an ecology teacher and, of course, my Beloved. The clarity that comes with deciding what it is we’re ready and willing to commit to is itself a relief, but then we have to actually do work if we are to live lives of integrity. This, perhaps, is what Rilke meant when he said, “Begin heart-work now...”