December 27, 2010

Vows are not meant to be broken. Or are they?

“Perhaps we should end the year with a vow. To vow is to go beyond, to go from the visible to the invisible, from habit to freedom, from the conditioned to the unconditioned — yet never to land in the invisible, the free, or the unconditioned. To vow is to go from what you know, from your highest aspiration to where it takes you, from what is possible to what is inconceivable. May kindness and compassion grace your dharma days!”

— Dairyu Michael Wenger

Promises to oneself or someone else. Commitment to self-discipline. Adherence to some behavioral or moral ideal.

Unlike rules, vows are not meant to be broken.

Do I believe in vows? I am no nun. I have never been married. After every dysfunctional romantic relationship of my twenties, I would make a vow of celibacy, or at least enhanced sexual mindfulness, at least until the next attractive and intriguing guy came along. So much for bramacharya. I would go to extremes, vow to become vegan and henceforth denounce dairy… until I’d reach my breaking point and binge on coffee Haägen-Dazs. I would take a vow of silence for a meditation retreat, remain wordless and focused… until the end when I’d cut out a day early to escape to the city, see a rock band and drink some beer.

Vows freak me out. In writing about them, I realize all my negative, irrational opinions about vows. Vows imprison. They require too much compromise. Vows hold me back. Vows make me fail.

Vows are self-imposed rules.

Apparently, I have a problem with authority, even when that authority is me.

Still, I see the value of vows. I just struggle with the balance between contentment and living from moment-to-moment and the idea of striving for improvement and growth by making and keeping long-term vows.

So, here are the vows I am willing to take. I am not going to beat myself up if I trip and fall occasionally. As Rumi said, “Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times.”

I vow to practice mindfulness.
I vow to be compassionate to myself and all beings.
I vow to try.
I vow to wake up.
I vow to be gentle and open.
I vow to teach.
I vow to write.
I vow to serve others.
I vow to laugh.
I vow to enjoy life.
I vow to be here now.

Every day.

Do you vow? If so, what do you now vow, brown cow?

Finally, I vow to dedicate the merits of my practice to the benefit of all beings. I wish you a wonderful end to 2010 and beginning to the next year (and decade)! There are always more questions than answers and more broken vows than kept promises. But, with a little mindfulness and metta, life is beautiful, every step of the way.

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