Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

The Power of Living From Your Vows

Lotus flower[A special guest post from Maia Duerr at the Liberated Life Project.]

 Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love. – Rumi

Most of my life, I have cringed at the idea of discipline. I’ve thought of it as something that infringes on my freedom, specifically my creative freedom. Just hearing someone suggest that I make it a habit to go to bed the same time each night makes me cringe as I imagine lost opportunities of night owl creative energy spurts.

But in the past few years, I’m learning that discipline — in the right spirit — can be truly liberating.

One way that discipline manifests is as a vow. The dictionary defines “vow” as a solemn promise, often made to God. For many of us it’s an old-fashioned word that has little relevance outside of marriage (and how many couples stay true to those vows?) or a courtroom.

A few years ago, during an emotionally painful period of my life, I had a strange experience that involved vows.

Out of the blue, a series of sentences kept repeating in my head. The words didn’t come from my own cognition or will but rather it felt like I was channeling them from some unknown source. They were at once familiar and yet completely foreign to me. I had no idea what to do with them. Perhaps this is what Moses felt like when God dropped the Ten Commandments on him with a thud!

The message was so strong and insistent that I picked up a pen and wrote it down:

  • As one who walks the path of the Buddha, I vow to nourish myself so that I can nourish others, to cultivate loving kindness and alleviate suffering for all beings, including myself.
  • As one who walks the path of the Buddha, I honor and respect the rhythms of my body and the earth. I vow to make time to stop, reflect, and renew myself in attunement with every breath, every hour, every day, every week, each month, and each season. I take shelter in the rainy season to sit in deep retreat with my sangha [community].
  • As one who walks the path of the Buddha, I vow to tread gently on the earth and carry nothing extra.

After getting the words down on paper, I took some time to reflect on what meaning they might hold for me.

The phrase that started out all three sections, “As one who walks the path of the Buddha,” made some sense since at that point I’d been a meditator and student of Buddhism for a number of years. It had an almost biblical feel to it, like an invocation that reminded me of the power my spiritual path held for me.

The focus of the first vow on nourishment and loving kindness was a reminder that I needed to include myself in the field of compassion that I aspire to send out to the world.

The second vow called on me to create regular times of rest and reflection in my life, to not get so carried away by the needs of others that I become burned out in the process.

And the third seemed to point to a way to live mindfully on the earth. On further reflection, I realized it worked on a metaphorical level as well. I was being invited to lighten my psychic load along with my physical load.

The more I sat with each of these vows, the more they resonated with deep needs inside of me that I wasn’t even aware I had.

Over the past few years I have said these vows to myself at the start of every day, following my morning meditation period.

This practice of creating, reciting, and remembering these vows has changed my life in subtle but powerful ways. They continually help me to realign my compass toward my inner truth, to stay in my center rather than reacting to what’s coming at me.

I’ve learned that vows aren’t about someone else telling us what to do. They are discipline that comes from the inside out. This is the kind of discipline that can free us to be true to our deepest values.

Vows are really promises or agreements that we make with ourselves. The “five agreements” from Toltec teacher Don Miguel Ruiz are one inspiring example of this kind of personal vow.

My vows came to me in the form of an intuitive gift and were framed in the context of my spiritual practice. But you certainly don’t need to have some wild kind of channeling experience or be a Buddhist in order to create your own set of personal vows and make it a daily practice to commit yourself to them.

Your vows may not necessarily even be in verbal form. If you practice yoga, for example, it might be that your deepest intention – meeting whatever comes to you during your day with openness and love – is embodied in the Sun Salutation pose.

What matters is that whatever you discern to be your vows, you hold these with a conscious intention every day.

Here are some questions to help guide your process of creating your own vows:

  • What is most important to me right now?
  • What is missing from my life that would truly nourish me?
  • What energy would I like to call into my life?
  • What promises do I need to make to myself in order to live life to the fullest?
  • What is my unique contribution and commitment to making the world a better place?

I would love to hear your reaction to the idea of vows.  Have you ever taken a personal vow?  What was your experience?

[Note:  If you have trouble commenting due to the new WordPress.com commenting policy here’s the secret:  use a fake email along with your real name and blog url.  Then you will receive a link back to your blog from your name.  Thanks for your patience.]

***

Maia Duerr is the creator and curator of The Liberated Life Project.

A writer, anthropologist, and Buddhist chaplain, Maia is committed to supporting people on their journeys toward true freedom, from the inside out.

If you enjoyed this article, may I ask you to share the link with others on your favorite social media sites?  And, I would love to connect with you on Google+ or the Always Well Within Facebook Page  With love, Sandra

 

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15 Comments

  1. MImi Sternberg

    Hi Sandra, I really liked this message. I’m having a challenging time, right now; needing to find an inner quiet that I can’t quite reach. I will reflect on your questions. Thanks. Love, Mimi

    • Hi Mimi,

      I am glad that you found this post helpful. And I know what it’s like to have a hard time finding inner peace… what helps me is to remember that even when it’s hard for me to get to that space, inner peace is always present — just like there is always a vast blue sky beyond the clouds that obstruct it.

      be well,
      Maia

    • Mimi, I’m so glad this article resonated for you. It’s easy to get distracted by the pull of life even when we have been meditating for quite a while. I hope reflecting on these questions will give you the juice you need to find your inner quiet.

  2. Jean Sampson

    This is fabulous, Maia! It is always amazing and comforting to me to know that something or someone (and that includes the unknown parts of ourselves) is wise and is looking out for us and for the good of our spirits. Thank you for sharing these vows that seem, to me, to have universal application!

  3. galenpearl

    I was intrigued by the story of how the vows came to you. There is one vow in particular I have contemplated for a long time, but even though I live it, I hesitate to make it. I guess I worry about what would happen if I ever decided it was not the right path for me. You got me thinking!

    • Galen, that is interesting… if you are already living your vow, that’s probably the most important thing. But good for you for being curious about your reluctance to “make” the vow too. See where that goes!

      warmly,
      Maia

    • Hi Galen,

      I just wanted to add that you can take a vow for any period of time and it still has tremendous power. For example, you could take your vow for one day, one week, one month and then decide whether to renew it at the end of that period. So you have an option if you decide it’s not the right path for you.

      According to my tradition, actually taking the vow (for whatever period and living it too) has a stronger positive force (merit) than simply living it alone.

  4. Maia,

    You are one of my favorite writers and thinkers, Maia. I’m so grateful for your valuable contribution today to Always Well Within.

    Thank you so much for exploring the idea of vows with us in your usual elegant, accessible, and insightful way. I admire your courage to both capture your vows and bring them to mind each day. Discipline is an important aspect of the path to true freedom!

    In my tradition, vows are said to be very powerful and to multiply the positive effect of your commitment. Most people don’t realize that vows can be taken for any period of time. For example, for a day, a week, a month, a year, or a lifetime. So it’s possible to enter into the practice of taking a vow for a short period without feeling there’s no turning back. It’s still a very meritorious practice, whatever period of time you choose.

    Thank you again!

  5. I take a vow every day – I wish there was a way to keep what is important in front of us always and not let the spiders of self-doubt and appearances sping their web around us.

    Great post – thank you for helping me to brush away the webs.

    • So glad this post was helpful… I think that vows are definitely one way of keeping what’s important in front of us. And I’m sure there are other ways as well… would love to hear what you discover about this!

  6. I love this. Thank you Sandra and Mia. <3

  7. Vishnu's Virtues

    Maia, I’ve always thought of vows related to getting married, entering the convent or prior to testifying in court! THanks for sharing your thoughts on making personal voww.

    This is like a personal mission statement,no? A vow looks like an intention to live with purpose. I have some guiding principles that guide me everyday but now I’m going to write them down and reflect on them:) Thanks for sharing on one of my favorite blogs!

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