The presence of obligation

Well, it’s the new year and, no, I don’t have a single resolution. I left resolutions lying by the side of the road when I took my first steps down my reality path. They are probably all still lying there in a jumbled decaying heap occasionally oozing out a noxious trickle of good intentions gone bad.

It was the obligations that wore me down. Once I make a resolution, I feel obligated to fulfill it. As the year makes its relentless appearance day after day after day, the new resolutions I make tangle with the old ones and suddenly my life is full of these obligations to myself, to others, and to imagined beings I think hold the key to my destiny. Often, they are contradictory and in direct conflict with each other. Sometimes, taking good care of me means saying “no” to someone in need and exiting the presence of nasty people.

My personal scrutiny discovered that obligations are not always solidly and clearly defined. They tend to get amorphous, bordering between the wants and choices and the musts and shoulds. It also does not matter. An obligation is a burden. It is a burden made by some agreement.

My obligations can come from a sense of love or duty. I feel obligated to contribute to my granddaughter’s well-being. I let elderly people or people holding babies have my seat on the Metro train when it is crowded.

My obligations are delivered through course of law. I am obligated to drive my vehicle safely in a manner that does not endanger others. I am obligated to pay taxes on my income.

There is an obligation that is a debt . . . it is attached to the favor that someone did for me. The bank lent me money to buy a car and I am obligated to pay the bank back. If I ask someone for a ride to work, I feel obligated to contribute towards the gas.

What about favors that people do for me that I do not ask for and do not expect? Is gratitude enough of an obligation or am I obligated to return the favor in kind? What about people who upon first appearance seem to be causing me problems yet as I work through the problem, I discover something amazing about myself or end up helping another person? What obligation do I owe that person who first appeared to stir things up?

Some people are out there doing favors for others with the expectation that the favor will come back to them in some form. Are they then being truly altruistic or is the favor really a bribe to the universe?

Because I have resources, am I obligated to share those resources? And, if so, with whom? When?

So many questions . . . and it isn’t even noon yet.

The year is already laughing at me.


©2011 by Barbara L. Kass

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13 Responses to “The presence of obligation”

  1. sandiwhite Says:

    Thank God, a realistic approach to the New Year! Just hearing about the intentions and resolutions that others are making are making me tired already. After all if a person wants to do a thing, why, they should just up and do it. Public announcement of resolutions also places the burden of accountability square on the shoulders of the unfortunate person who decided to share all with the world. Better I should make my plans quietly than have some well-meaning friend remind me that I have neglected to fulfill my “promise”. If I can manage to keep breathing for another year, things will hopefully fall out the way they should. Thanks, Barbara for shining this light!

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      good morning, Sandi — every day is a new year by someone’s calendar and I am with you on those public announcements. Enough already. I prefer to fail quietly with no one to answer to besides myself.

  2. holessence Says:

    Barbara – I arrived at O’Hare last evening and have just opened your blog post this morning. And I’m delighted to see that I can look forward to another year of SCRUMPTIOUS FOOD FOR THOUGHT here at Eternal Presence.

    You really give a person something to sink their teeth into and ponder throughout the day.


    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Welcome home, Laurie. I enjoy helping people keep their teeth and gums strong and clean. 🙂 If I were to make a resolution, it would be about being more persistent about marketing my writing so I can get published . . . Oh, dear. Now it’s out there.

  3. passionatepresence Says:

    Oh Yes! I recognize much better these days how living my life according to concepts (like obligation) has led to inner conflict, frustration, and suffering. In fact the agitation is so built into our culture, I did not see if for decades.

    As the presence here opens more and more to the mystery and lives in openness, I find that I do the appropriate action from a depth that is beyond my conceptual definitions of life.

    Sometimes though, others don’t perceive it as the appropriate action and that is just fine that they don’t. I didn’t used to be fine that they didn’t. There is a point here where it just hurts not to follow what is calling and resonating within.

    I have seen the suffering I have caused myself by trying to live according to concepts rather than a sensitive and engaged encounter with the dynamic aspects of ever changing life. I have plenty of learning and exploring to do, and I am starting to see better these days what is a concept (e.g., idea, judgment, should, etc.) and what is spacious, open, unknowing (mysterious) and free.

    Pamela Wilson has some nice things to say about it in 3 parts at this link.

    Also, I LOVE what she says in a brief excerpt from this interview.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Ben — I am intrigued by your use of the word concept. It had never occurred to me that I respond to others based on a concept rather than what I know would be appropriate. I have to listen to the Pamela Wilson interview later because I am at a place where I can’t make any noise right now, and I will let you now. I am stealing your idea of living life dynamically rather than by concept.

  4. passionatepresence Says:

    I would not say you are the only one doing it Barbara. I would say we all do it and we have been cultured and conditioned to do it. Pam Wilson doesn’t really get into the conceptual aspect. Pam talks about this mystery and how it presents itself to us maybe even as us.

    Below are 2 blog entries by Jan Frazier that start to point it out how I\we conceptualize life. The intriguing thing is that many others are seeing and saying the same thing and when I finally heard them and checked it out for myself (most important) I found that I was living my life based on concepts mostly and not really engaging with life in a fresh, open, and aware presence.

    If you want a deeper dive into this, I have a book suggestion, but my intention is not to drop another conceptual world or belief system on you or anyone else. Simply an introduction to the freedom and freshness of the Mysterious Presence that seems to be here. To see it, feel it, and be it, I had to see what was operating in place of it.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Ben — I read both of Jan Frazier’s essays. If I stop and think too much about thinking, I start to realize at some deep essential part of me just how insane living by thought can be. We are programmed to think and to think specific ways about certain things. Language is what we believe to be our only means of communication and language is born in thought. What Jan Frazier describes is another way of knowing our existence without getting tangled up in thought (although here we are thinking about it and trying to name it, conceptualize it, and understand it). I do know that when I am in those moments of perfect presence, I realize that nothing has meaning except that which I might place on it. Without my naming, life just is. Others just are. And there is nothing more to be said. And it does not matter. That we think ourselves into existence is quite possibly the only plausible explanation, but I don’t think it is the everyday thought that we are so accustomed to. I think it is a higher level of thought, but because we are so out of touch with it, we think that our common thoughts cause our existence and, therefore, we are afraid to be without thought — we might cease to exist. I will read more of her essays. Thank you for the links. And, go ahead and send me the name of the book. I love reading about everything.

  5. passionatepresence Says:

    Yes That Is It! That is a most Beautiful and Wondrous piece of writing Barbara. Shew!

    I oscillate between what Jan and you describe. I say that I can now see more clearly those times when I am relying on every day thought\conceptualization vs. that mysterious knowing or higher level of thought.

    Just yesterday, I was having trouble communicating about a problem with a co-worker. Nothing major, but we often seem to be coming from different directions. It isn’t something I have been able to really put my finger on in terms of the cause.

    Finally, I saw it after several years of it. We speak and operate in the working world based on different conceptual frameworks. Because of our roles and perceived roles, she believes she is a gatekeeper and talks about things in terms of “shoulds”, rules, and controls.

    I talk about things in terms of getting things done efficiently, according to spec. and in a way that is timely. These are some of my “every day” thinking and concepts. Rules and controls while important in some cases isn’t really what I emphasize. She does.

    What to do? The awareness of what was going on was so helpful!

    I don’t know how I missed it, but when I saw the conceptual conflict. I can see why we have had trouble communicating. Expand this scenario out to religious, political, and society in general. Conceptual conflict.

    Clear seeing of what is happening and the willingness to allow a higher view to operate and something new to emerge.

    So the challenge here is for me now that I see what is going on IS to allow that presence to operate thru me AS me in the meeting we have on Wednesday. So honoring the clarity, depersonalizing “my” personal conceptual preferences and letting her know I am now hearing her try to allow something new to emerge rather than attempting to “bull dog” my way through the meeting by maximizing the “rightness” of my conceptual orientation.

    I don’t get to be “right” in this scenario which is another concept because rightness depends on viewpoints. I do; however, get the opportunity to transcend my self imposed limitations, and that is on the side of freedom. The other is just arguing with reality and on the side of suffering.

    The title of the book I was referencing is “The Book of Not Knowing: Exploring The True Nature of Self, Mind, and Consciousness” by Peter Ralston. I am not all the way through it as it is a big book. It really has brought a greater sensitivity, awareness, and clarity with how I am engaging with life.

    My main point is that we are all trying to identify how we are going to foster change with the challenges and problems in our lives and the world.

    First of all, I think it starts with me and the clear seeing of how I am limiting myself and my interaction with others with my conceptual orientation. Then, I would say opening to and trusting allowing the Presence that is always here to guide the situation to something new and let those whom I have clashed with conceptually that I am now hearing them and ask them really what is it that is new that wishes to emerge that can support all involved (even if limited in the language and conceptual sense).

    I think it is my approach to life and how I engage with it through filters that has had to change first and foremost. Am I leaning on a viewpoint, a theory, a conceptual framework? Is it really possible to trust that higher presence you point to? That is what I have find out through actual living. So, we can conflict over our definitions of obligation and when it is appropriate, but what does the alive, fresh presence of the situation want to emerge when we see and open to something beyond our definitions?

    Thanks for the patience, balance, and space for the revealing Barbara! Did me a world of good and I am grateful for that!


    • Barbara Kass Says:

      what you are being here is key, Ben – recognizing that your co-worker was responding from her identity (who she thinks she is) is an insight that not many people have and when they do figure it out, most of them set out to change that other person (guess how I might know that? been there.) The magic and wisdom come from your Presence and I would love to be at your meeting on Wednesday. I will be experimenting with my thinking presence now that you have brought my attention to it as well. Trusting that presence is not easy for the mind . . . but you and I know “this is who I have always been.” I will be blogging about this, you know, and am going to bed with the thought “I don’t have to think anything about this and I can think whatever I want about this.” Oy. Now I have to get the book.

  6. passionatepresence Says:

    I opened my email this morning and received this poem by Mary Oliver, and thought what a nice reminder for approaching the day! Seemed like it fit right in so I am sharing it.

    Mysteries, Yes

    Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
    to be understood.

    How grass can be nourishing in the
    mouths of the lambs.
    How rivers and stones are forever
    in allegiance with gravity
    while we ourselves dream of rising.
    How two hands touch and the bonds
    will never be broken.
    How people come, from delight or the
    scars of damage,
    to the comfort of a poem.

    Let me keep my distance, always, from those
    who think they have the answers.

    Let me keep company always with those who say
    “Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
    and bow their heads.

    ~ Mary Oliver ~


    • Barbara Kass Says:

      this was such a sweet poem, Ben. Thanks for posting it. We get so caught up in our minutiae, distracted by the stories we make up about what is going on that we forget to stop and just realize: it is amazing that we even exist.

  7. the presence of thinking « Eternal Presence Says:

    […] A person who often comments on my blogs introduced me to Jan Frazier. (See the discourse at the presence of obligation.) […]

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