We all encounter obligations in life, from spending time with family and friends to being present at important functions in the lives of the people who form our community. Many times, the obligations are actually fun and fulfilling, and we want to be there. At the same time, we all sometimes experience resistance to meeting these obligations, especially when they pile up all at once and we begin to feel exhausted, longing for nothing so much as a quiet evening at home. At times like these, we may want to say no but feel too guilty at the idea of not being there. Still, our primary obligation is to take care of ourselves, and if saying no to someone else is what we have to do, then we do not need to feel bad about it.
There is a skill to balancing our obligations, and it starts with simply becoming aware of our schedule. We may notice that three invitations have arisen in one weekend, and we know that we will pay energetically if we attempt to fulfill all three. At this point, we can take the time to weigh the repercussions of not going to each event, considering how we will feel if we miss it and how our absence might affect other people. Most of the time, it will be clear which obligation we can most easily let go and which one we simply can’t miss. Sometimes we have to miss something really important to us, and that can be painful for everyone concerned. At times like this, reaching out with a phone call, a thoughtful card, or a gift lets people know that you are there in spirit and that your absence is by no means a result of you not caring.
Meeting our obligations to others is an important part of being human and not one to take lightly. At the same time, we cannot meet every obligation without neglecting our primary duty to take care of ourselves. We can navigate this quandary by being conscious of what we choose to do and not do and by finding concrete ways to extend our caring when we are not able to be there in person.