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Shifting Responsibility

Taking Responsibility. That is such an odd phrase. There are so many ways to understand it depending where you put the emphasis. As children we learn to take responsibility for our actions. Often this relates to something we’ve done wrong. Instead of blaming the mishap on someone else, our parents want us to “fess up”. They tell us to assume responsibility so that they can deliver the consequences. This is an imposed system, made extremely explicit and structured by the grown-ups to demonstrate how life really is. We learn the law of cause and effect early and it can help keep us out of trouble. Being responsible becomes an initiation into acting like an adult.

Soon “taking responsibility” can be worn like a badge of honor. We learn that being responsible has great rewards and helps us advance in life. Telling the truth, showing up on time, and sticking by our word all become ways we are responsible. We often talk about teenagers that get good grades and hold a steady job as being responsible. It is an important distinction and these adolescents thrive on the compliments. Soon being responsible can become a dangerous source of pride.

Responsibility becomes currency in the workplace. The more responsibility we have, the more pay we expect. The more tasks and decisions we’re given, the more respect and power we require. We see the climb up the management ladder as one of increased responsibility. When ambition takes over sometimes we will emphasize the “taking”. Any opportunity we see to step up and absorb more responsibility, even when we aren’t asked or when it is not our place, is taken. This is the source of conflict in the workplace and where we enter into power plays.

Responsibility’s counterpart shows up again as blame. When something goes well, even if we didn’t do it, we want to be responsible. When it fails at the fault of our hands, we’d like to place blame. This trait from our childhood still lurks in the shadow.

When we start to study how to be “conscious” we re-learn matters of “conscience.” We stop pointing our finger outward and start investigating our own shadow. We take responsibility for our actions and ourselves in a deeper, unconditional way. We own the way in which we contribute to the events that happen in our lives. This can be an incredibly empowering experience. By shifting our inner world, our perspective, we can turn a painful circumstance into an uplifting one. As Buddha teaches, all is an illusion, and by controlling what we do and do not attach to we revolutionize our lives. This works great as long as everything goes relatively well.

Inevitably though, we are all confronted with an experience we cannot overcome with a shift in perspective. Someone says something that is too offensive or an misfortune comes that simply seems unfair. This is the next trap of responsibility.

If we are responsible for our experience, we wonder how in the world we could be responsible for this truly terrible thing happening to us. We wonder what is “wrong” with us and instead of blaming a person we blame our wounds and our inadequacy. The pendulum swings from empowerment where we practiced detachment to disempowerment where we place blame. We are attached to finding a reason why this hardship happened.

Eventually, we are lead to a place of realization that we don’t have an absolute say in the way life unfolds. We can eat right, watch our words, and do our daily meditation and still it all unravels. As Caroline Myss often says, “Bad things happen to good people.” Life always has an element of Divine chaos.

In discovering that our decisions cannot rely on the plain working of cause and effect we come to learn surrender. Responsibility and blame stem from the idea that all actions have a direct and predictable outcome. Surrender comes from a place of knowing that we cannot control all facets of our lives. We have to root our faith in the sacred, a power bigger than any one of us.

This is the place where I hear people credit their dreams, their guides, and the omens with their actions. I often wonder where the line is between handing over responsibility to the Divine and taking responsibility for following the guidance.

When I hear someone say or find myself saying, “My guides (or guidance or dreams) said I needed to come here,” I wonder why we place the responsibility outside of ourselves. Why don’t we instead say, “I felt it was important for me to come”?

Is the decision placed elsewhere to provide a loophole so that if things don’t go well, we can just toss up our hands and say “I have no idea why that happened” pointing the finger back to the Divine? Is this a highly refined blame game?

Is it easier to make unreasonable choices that have no predictable outcome when it is not our responsibility?

Ultimately we are the ones that decide to ACT on the dream, the guidance, the omens and HOW to act. Even if our dream shows us exactly how to go about something we still decide if we will follow that dream to the very letter. We could decide to tweak the vision or try something entirely different. We still are responsible for what happens. The degree of responsibility is a question we may never be able to answer.

So still, even at a very advanced stage of consciousness evolution, we struggle with responsibility and where it naturally lies. We try to shift responsibility around and experiment with where to place ownership of the very decisions that determine our life path.

At this level of sophistication I think it is important to remember back to how we used to relate to responsibility and remember that we are not immune to the pattern of responsibility. Learning about the power of responsibility and how to wield it is a lifelong process. It is a part of our nature to assume, place, and take responsibility. Holding an awareness of this innate tendency may help us evolve more gracefully.

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Stacey Couch, creative mystic and Certified Shamanic Practitioner, is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life's big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing.


  • Sally Brewer
    Sally Brewer Tuesday, 12 May 2015

    Stacey, I reread this post three times. There is so much truth and depth to your thoughts. Thanks for inspiring the awareness in all of us. Love, Sally

  • Stacey L. L. Couch
    Stacey L. L. Couch Wednesday, 13 May 2015

    From the bottom of my heart, you are most welcome Sally.

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