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Artwork by Alexandra Eldridge

When we hear the word commitment, most of us think of obligation and restriction. After all, modern life is already so heavily structured,  we’d much rather ‘see what happens’ and ‘go with the flow.’ So we may avoid making commitments. Or if we do make them, we keep them ‘soft,’ in the event that something shinier comes along.

We change careers an average of 7 times in adulthood, half of all marriages end in divorce, we communicate in the undemanding ways of text messages and emoticons, infinitely scrolling, rarely giving the fullness of our presence to anything. And by extension, we are growing to expect that life should be immediate and convenient.

But what if convenience is really a sham? It proposes to make your life easier, and there are obvious benefits, but there are often hidden tolls being taken elsewhere. Easy puts work into robotic hands, undermining our own necessity. Easy destroys the mentoring relationship. Easy robs us of the privilege of courtship, the very thing which bonds us to a place and its resources, or a craft and the people who’ve made a slow mastery of their lives. 

Consider the ancient alchemists who, despite very little success, were convinced they could transmute lead into gold. Through painstaking research and experimentation, they pioneered an artform which, though it contributed little to science, was later discovered by Carl Jung to be the historical counterpart of the work he’d been doing to map the psyche.

Taken symbolically, alchemy is about turning lower, primitive aspects of the self into a purified state; to illuminate the darkness with a sense of value or meaning, to integrate what is unconscious. This becoming whole is the process of what Jung called Individuation, which is what we’re doing with dreamwork.

One of  the key conditions necessary to the transformative process was a hermetically sealed vessel which could withstand the pressure necessary to synthesise those base elements, that prima materia, into gold. I’d like to propose that commitment is that container. Like the alchemical crucible, commitment is the vessel in which something raw and undisciplined can be transformed into beauty. Commitment is like a womb in which a new life can grow.

It is hermetically sealed so that nothing extraneous can enter into the process. No projections can be made upon it, no introduced doubt or criticism can reach it during its critical formative stages. But it’s also sealed for our own good, so that we don’t have an easy out. This is what’s meant by ‘holding the tension.’ So in times of exhaustion and suffering, fear and frustration, we remain committed long enough for the process to complete itself.

Artwork by Alexandra Eldridge

So when we place limitations and boundaries around something we care about, it isn’t meant to be a prison which keeps us stuck or stagnant, but rather to create a paradoxical freedom which allows us, through restraint, to fully explore the relationship, the craft, or the experience in all its subtle dimensions. Commitment in these terms is not an obligation but a deep devotion to that which you love. In your devotion to it, the very thing you are committed to is set free. Your constancy is what allows your creation to know all of its own colours. It can pull back and retreat, or express its fullest essence, because it knows that you are keeping the steadfast pulse of commitment.

Waiting for providence to step in and show us the way, is a little like keeping one foot out the door in case it never comes and we can still make a break for it. But really, providence is quietly waiting for our commitment. Commitments which go unmade, or what we might call ‘lack of intent’, can destroy even the noblest of dreams.

To make a commitment is one thing but to keep that commitment is harder, and must be renewed in a continual, daily practice. This is why ritual is so important. Whether by way of a symbolic object, a tattoo, a special practice or mantra, a handmade object or an altar adorned with sacred items, these things act as a steadying staff to secure us times of doubt. It becomes the outer firmness, a third presence upon which we can rely in periods of difficulty in relationship to our commitment. And so it must be tended to, visited, replenished in some meaningful way to make sure the commitment is still alive for you, as you are for it.

This is the unexpected truth of commitment. To the casual glance, it might look like it’s taking too long, it’s too restrained, it’s missing out or unwilling to adventure and change. To the discerning eye endurance is the great friend of passion. It is slow to burn, but lasting in warmth. It sees beyond the temporary trends and swells into the better depth of things. If you’ve ever stood next to a person who won’t be moved, then you know what freedom a standpoint can inspire. There, in the anchoring itself, is the invitation to soar.

Excerpt from Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home

To hear Toko-pa speak on the Alchemical Power of Commitment, watch this replay of a Live Broadcast on Facebook: