“We are wonderfully creative at making tepid commitments and then finding endless ways around them.” ~ Walter Mischel, The Marshmallow Test, pg. 260
A good friend of mine recently went out on a second date with someone he met on the Buddhist Passions online dating site. He confessed to me that he’s already picked out the venue for the wedding, which room in her house he’s planning to remodel into his Man Cave and where he’s planning they’ll spend their winters. I’m avidly interested in seeing how this all turns out.
I don’t think my friend is getting ahead of himself or jumping the gun or putting the horse before the cart before the horse, or any other analogy that you care to use. I think what he’s actually doing is expressing a fundamental, neurobiologically-based need: the need to be in secure, reliable, irrationally committed relationships. The need to repeatedly reconnect with a “reliable, unguarded face.” This is one promise that new love often holds out to us, isn’t it? Only we mostly want others to make the Irrational Commitment to us – to present us with their reliable, unguarded face – in which case we DO have the horse before the cart.
The need for irrational commitment is with us from birth. It’s the thing that makes a healthy mother or father give up their self-centered lives, their consuming passions, many of their worldly pursuits in order to insure our survival. As Rumi counseled: “A thousand half-loves must be forsaken to take a whole heart home.” As I pointed out a few blogs ago, to forsake means to renounce or give up something for something better.
Being Entrusted with the Universe
Healthy babies arriving through healthy birthing practices come into the world with whole hearts. And healthy parents willingly forsake those thousand half-loves when they discover the extraordinary treasures that have been entrusted to them in their children. They get to safeguard and shape a heart, brain, mind and body more complex and divine than anything else in the known universe.
To my great consternation and surprise, my own daughter’s arrival completely rewired my heart and brain. The need to care for this divine miracle of creation, to provide for and protect her made me laser-focused in my work, and increasingly available and reliable at home. Significant, meaningful projects that I’d been lollygagging and procrastinating with, I quickly brought to good-enough completion: I finished and published my first book. I wrote up my dissertation research, reconvened my committee (after a ten year hiatus) and delivered them a draft they agreed to award me a doctorate for. I submitted plans and had them approved to build a brand new, larger house that would accommodate our growing family. And I did it all with a focused joy and passion that was unknown to me before my daughter was born. My heart and brain began processing energy and information like never before in a completely irrational service to love.
Collaboration Makes It Happen
And I didn’t do it all alone. The biggest change for me in sustaining and strengthening my Irrational Commitment was – when I didn’t know what to do or where to turn – I asked for help. I asked for help with financing, expanding and running my business. I asked for help learning how to care for my daughter. I asked for help recognizing when my calendar was making me its bitch and in prioritizing daily activities needing my attention. I asked for help in identifying additional areas that I truly needed help with and didn’t even realize it.
There aren’t a lot of examples or models in modern culture that demonstrate the importance of or the possibilities that can result from making, getting help with, and keeping Irrational Commitments. One major benefit that is clear to me in hindsight is the change in brain and heart that such a process inevitably produces. It results in massive neurobiological integration. To integrate means to come to an increasingly greater whole. Having and raising a child is not the only way to integrate our neurophysiology, of course. It just happened to be one that took me totally by surprise in ways that I never expected and no one ever properly prepared me for.
Replace Half-Loves with Whole Lobes
If my Buddhist Passions friend above, ends up engaging with just another “half-love,” my bet is that few of his plans are going to come to pass. But if he can find ways to evoke and sustain his own Irrational Commitment in the face of so much in contemporary culture that works against making and keeping one, everything he dreams of and much much more will eventually come to pass. At least that’s how I would bet.
While I’m waiting to see how all that turns out, here’s another Enchanted Loom to chew on: what else, but award-winning psychologist Walter Mischel’s book on integrated brain development: The Marshmallow Test.