Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the importance of what it means to take an oath. As I watch a parade of diplomats take oaths in our presidential impeachment hearings, I find myself playing a guessing game of who is taking their oaths seriously and for whom is oath taking just a hollow formality.
When the framers of our US Constitution put oaths in place in the 18th century, it was not a casual proposition. Placing your hand on a bible and vowing to uphold the Constitution was a gesture of sworn accountability and a commitment to “truth” in the presence of God, colleagues, friends and family.
Oaths are not confined to government. Couples take marriage vows (in sickness and in health), and doctors take the Hippocratic Oath. Fun fact: my favorite line in the more modern translation of the Hippocratic oath is “I will not be ashamed to say I know not… ”
Even Ayurvedic practitioners keep an oath and ask blessings of Lord Dhanvatari, the Hindu god of Medicine.
So what is this sacred potency that is nestled inside the language of an oath? To be sure, the potency doesn’t lie within the actual words but in the intention that sits behind them. In much the same way as a yoga pose risks being a dry, hollow shape without intention breathed into it, an oath devolves into dry, hollow words without integrity breathed into it.
As I begin to revamp my Ayurveda Habits Course, I am considering asking students to take a solemn oath–a covenant–to commit to their daily self-care. Habit-change science has proven that when you make a promise with specificity–preferably in writing–the power of the new habit already begins to inculcate.
For example, vaguely saying to yourself: “I’d like to start eating an earlier and lighter dinner a few times a week” is a little, dare I say, weak. But writing down on paper “I, Marc Holzman, solemnly vow to eat an early and light dinner on Tuesdays and Thursdays” holds promise and power.
Now, that may sound silly at first blush, but really what you’re doing is making a sacred promise to your soul–a sworn declaration honoring the gift of embodiment which is the vehicle through which your dharma (AKA your soul’s mission) acts.
Perhaps poet Mark Nepo can sum up more eloquently the importance of taking an oath to ourselves:
To Marry One’s Soul
Being true to who we are means carrying our spirit like a candle in the center of our darkness.
The same commitments we pronounce when embarking on a marriage can be understood internally as a devotion to the care of one’s soul:
to have and to hold …
for better or for worse …
in sickness and in health …
to love and to cherish,
till death do us part…
And just as two ropes that are married create a tie that is twice as strong, when we marry our humanness to our spirit, we create a life that is doubly strong in the world.
And in this light, I present my oath to you:
In the upcoming year’s events, I, Marc Holzman, vow to LISTEN more when I teach so as to better serve. Oh, and I will not be ashamed to say “I know not.”
Amazing opportunities to reunite await us in the coming year. Let’s have some fun in 2020.
It’s a promise!