Being able to bear responsibility is the ability to respond with clarity, to take action without recourse to another authority. Children have an innate capacity for response and are eager to learn, from an early age, the consequences of their choices: Gather snails from a garden and tend to them. Notice the one that got smashed in the bottom of your mother’s yoga bag. Calculate a safer place for a snail sanctuary.
Responsibility is the burden and the gift of connectedness. So, ever alert to my surroundings, to the nuanced reactions of the people and things in my care, I am helped by a prayer every morning. It’s a prayer in which I vow to listen not to the chatter of my confused brain, pulled this way and that about many things, but to the clear voice of that holy thing we know as Self with a capital ‘s’, Atman, the Lord our God, Psyche, Spirit, that which is reliably present and beyond expression, but fairly easy to hear.
Responding in a timely manner, which means not postponing. Responding with an open heart, which means not second-guessing. Responding with clarity of purpose, which means not worrying about any authority other than my own – connected to the universe.
Like most valuable things, responsibility contains a paradox. I have to bear the burden of my action alone, but I am not alone. I have to be willing to stand up for what I choose, but I am not choosing. To do responsibility well, I have to get out of the way. It can’t be about myself, it can’t be about what my small self, persona, play-acting, trying to get it right self, it can’t be about what my ego wants to prove. The practice of responsibility is this: pay attention, breathe deeply and take in what is before you. Feel the truth of a situation – a student breaking down with emotion and in need of clarity, a child having a temper tantrum wanting an object, a sad stomach craving the whole box of crackers – turn off the chattering mind, listen to the Highest, and take action. I am responsible for every tender heart I meet.
It’s not up to me to discipline or teach, but simply to respond to that which is presented to me. I leave my decisions to the highest arbiter. I practice everyday, in small ways so I’m well rehearsed when big choices come, getting out of the way and listening for the answer. Then, like Arjuna in the sweet battlefield of life, being responsive. Being brave enough to take responsible action and behind it.