Opportunities and Obligations.

It occurred to me this week that the distinction between “opportunity” and “obligation” is largely one of perspective.

I awake each morning, and sometimes have my sleep disturbed, with a sense of things undone, things done badly, and things that will require more time and knowledge than I have at my command.  The subtext behind such feelings is that I am “obliged” to do something about these problems.

Looked at in the dim light of obligation, the only tool I seem to have is my thinking mind, and each morning I try to “think” my way to freedom.

However, viewing the future as the home of potential satisfaction, accomplishment, and engagement, the sharp edges of obligation dissolve and time can open into opportunity.

It’s like the difference a work horse might feel between pulling a heavy wagon all day–its harness chaffing back and shoulders, a steel bit crammed into its mouth—and the gate flying open into fields of wind-tossed grasses.

We probably all know this difference, even when our daily lives give us more heavy carts than gentle winds ruffling our flying manes.

But what if our very lives, just as they are, could be shifted toward a feeling of fundamental openness, opportunity, and freedom?  What if that dreary sense of obligation is really just a way of looking—as resentment, fear of failure, and fear of success are ways of looking?

A step towards this possibility is to notice how we are looking right now.  To put that differently: from what part of our being are we looking?  Are we using our thinking mind (that faculty that sees problems which need to be fixed and phenomena that need to be organized into familiar categories), or do we sometimes take a deep breath, relax into a sense of being present here and now, and look around us with spontaneous interest and awakened awareness?

Do we sometimes look with fresh eyes, as if decades of accumulated judgements and disappointments have been caught in the passing winds and all those presumptions, that define what we see in terms of what we expect to see, are recognized as no more substantial than leaves blowing down the street?

I don’t want to (nor am I entitled to) present myself as an authority on deeper ways of knowing and being.  I live with ambiguity, incompleteness and misgiving.  And I appreciate any help I can get to feel more present, more engaged in the opportunities that life constantly offers.

It’s in that context that I would like to share a book I’ve been reading for several weeks and which is helping to stimulate a renewed appreciation for the opportunities in my life.

The book is “Shift into Freedom” by Loch Kelly, a sample of which is available on Amazon:


I can’t be sure to what extent I am drawn to this book because it touches on a range of themes in which I am already interested (awareness, science and spirituality, Buddhism, doing and being, the individual mind and the world in which it discovers itself).  For instance, I wonder how many people would find a central premise in “Shift into Freedom” personally meaningful: that the thinking mind makes a wonderful servant but a terrible master.

I suspect that anyone for whom this distinction strikes a chord will find this book valuable.  Loch Kelly offers a practical way to trust the inherent awareness (spacious, heart-centered and accessible) that is already the silent partner of our thought-based explorations in life.  And by giving a central place to this inherent awareness–in place of a thinking mind that is unable to escape its own axioms—a deeper comfort and security can naturally arise.

We may also reclaim a capacity to see through problems that stymie the thinking mind whose narrow perspective has created them in the first place.

2 comments to “Opportunities and Obligations.”
  1. Might not entering fully into ambiguity lead to following out a path of incompleteness until something workable in this completely fluid realm has been momentarily achieved. It’s often at that point I have a beer.

  2. Well put Michael! Reminds me – with a bit of stretch – of Buddha’s teaching:

    121. Think not lightly of evil, saying, “It will not come to me.” Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the fool, gathering it little by little, fills himself with evil.
    122. Think not lightly of good, saying, “It will not come to me.” Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the wise man, gathering it little by little, fills himself with good.


    By shifting our view – drop by drop – the stronger we get in turning obligations into opportunities and treat them with equal awareness of mindfulness. It ain’t easy but practice practice practice – glimpses glimpses glimpses of awareness – gets us to Carnegie Hall?

    You’re always an inspiration!


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