We have a member who, having completed koan work, no longer comes to sit with us. "I don't have to any longer," she says.
I know that next week there will be Protestants who will be asked about their Lenten practices. "We don't have to do any," they'll say.
In two Fridays someone will ask a Roman Catholic about the fasting. "Oh, we don't have to do that fasting thing on Fridays any more," they'll say.
I had an undergraduate who self-identified as a Daoist. "Do you have a temple or a practice community?" I asked. "I don't have to have one," he replied.
I was surprised when a Jewish friend ordered a bacon cheeseburger. "Can you do that?" I asked. "In our congregation we don't have to follow the traditional dietary rules," she said.
I suppose I'm ready to hear "Yeah, you go guys! You don't have to do any of that nonsense. No one's in a position to dictate a practice to you. It's your decision whether you want to do any of this. Whatever you decide is fine."
I'm ready to hear it, because I hear it often enough.
I have a quite different reaction to such statements, though. I don't know why I do, and I don't know whether it's a skillful thing or not.
I just find I'm going down a dead-end street whenever I personally turn in the direction of "I don't have to." For me, the arrival of that phrase in consciousness signals a slackening on my part, an attempt to excuse myself for whatever reason.
And few things reinforce the sense of self more than letting oneself off the hook. What largesse is received at one's very own hand! What power is felt in being able to issue the dispensation!