Wednesday, June 24, 2009
The recent confession of an affair by South Carolina Governor Sanford after going missing in Argentina for five days (can anyone say “setting the stage to get caught?”), coming just on the heels of Jon and Kate’s well-publicized break-up (and just who is watching that show anyway?) once again brings to light the topics of personal evolution, societal dictates, and marriage.
Human individuality has evolved to the point where one's personal journey and desires often supplant the expectations of lifelong fidelity and other rules that seemed generally easier for previous generations to follow. Many people today find it difficult to live a growth-filled life while fitting into society’s constructs about who and how they should love, for how long. Every culture has rules, and there are times when outer events point the way to some kind of change of rules, as with current discussions about defining and redefining marriage.
I lived in a communal ashram for a decade in the 1980s, and many people were getting married, with some having children or getting divorced. But throughout whatever changes took place, the sense of community was there. Children of divorced parents would still have the stability of regular children's educational fun programs, and the caring eye of their friends’ parents, as well as all the communal family. One member of a beloved family of the community was on 9-11’s flight 93, and the whole community, from head guru on down, came together to give his surviving wife and child solace and help them to find some happiness in spite of the tragedy. I would think that empowering neighborhoods and family, friendship, spiritual, and local communities to shift toward a more “it takes a village” type of approach would be beneficial in general with today's skyrocketing cheating and divorce rates.
Here is an excerpt from Spirituality For Dummies that discusses some more thoughts about this topic.
From Relationships to Divine Love
From Spirituality For Dummies
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.—1 Corinthians 13-1-2
Along with the inherent blessings of experiencing love, good relationships can bring great opportunities for spiritual, mental, and emotional growth. Human beings are naturally drawn to relate with other people. It is through relationships with others that we grow and discover more about the world and ourselves. Jesus has said that he is present whenever two or more are gathered in his name, indicating the importance and power inherent in joining with other souls during your journey through life.
Mutual affection soothes the heart, while intelligent conversations spark new vistas of thought. The support you feel and receive from loved ones gives you the strength to move forward courageously in whatever you’re inspired to do. Even when some aspects of your relationships may be rubbing you the wrong way, a spiritual focus can help you to see the blessings beneath the irritations, and the lush growth budding beneath the outer storms.
All you need is love
The topic of love pervades most music, books, and television and movie scripts. Love is the essence of your spirit; therefore, finding ways to release and reveal your love can also help you to experience and express your spirit. Here are some wise words about love:
- One word frees us from all the weight and pain of the world; that word is Love.
- Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
- In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two.
- Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself. Love possesses not, nor would it be possessed; for love is sufficient unto love.
- Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.
—Saint Thomas Aquinas
- At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet.
When Harry met Sally: Love, relationships, and potential potholes
My wife and I were happy for 20 years. Then we met.—Rodney Dangerfield
Okay, seriously folks: Any corporation with a failure rate as high as today’s divorce rate — right around 50 percent in the United States — would have to reexamine its internal structures and would probably go out of business. This high percentage of marital breakups is an indicator that things may be changing and evolving in human-relationship land.
Most people want to find a soul mate who will love, understand, relate, respect, and live with them happily ever after. However, few people are fortunate enough to find a true soul mate in this life. Even so, many still want to have some companionship along their paths, and so they settle for relationships that seem to be compatible and loving in the moment, but which may change into being not so compatible or loving in the future.
Due to cultural traditions, a couple may feel obliged to sign on the dotted line of vows that don’t necessarily carry the full depth of their souls’ conviction, such as promising to stay together “in sickness and in health, until death do us part,” when these vows may not reflect their true feelings and intentions. Even if both parties are fortunate enough to stay alive and healthy, today’s focus on individual growth may bring some to seek their future growth in different directions from their partners. Therefore, honesty, respect, and communication are paramount in any relationship. Don’t just repeat vows you don’t really mean. Either rewrite your vows or contemplate deeply to make a true commitment to keep them.
Even with all the shifts and changes that are inevitable with two intertwined lives, you can keep your relationship vibrant, strong, and ever-deepening. With mutual respect and flexibility, you and your partner can allow and support each other in following your dreams and aspirations while maintaining your connection of love and commitment. The key to keeping your vows without selling out your greater dreams is to understand and appreciate the preciousness of life and of each soul’s journey in this world. Without respect for each other’s growing and changing interests and inspirations, a previously promising relationship can end up crumbling into resentment, dishonesty, and anger.
Maintain good communications with your loved one about what you really commit to and how you plan to keep growing individually and together. Everyone has different beliefs and expectations when it comes to the “rules of relationships.” Discuss yours with your partner so that you can both make real vows that you can honor and keep while you are together, and also if the time ever comes that you move and grow into separate directions.
I would like to give a disclaimer here and say that having lived with a monastic focus during most of my life, I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to personally explore too many relationships, although I have experienced my share of spiritual devotional love. So while I do my best to present helpful information about the topics of marriage and romantic relationships from a spiritual point of view, if you look very closely, you may find just a teeny-tiny bit of bias on my behalf toward opting for the single life.
Marriage is a great institution, but I'm not ready for an institution..
Avoiding mediocre relationships
Sometimes people want to have a relationship so badly that they’ll settle for a mediocre one. My parents did this and went through many years of unhappiness with one another before finally going their separate ways (and for you Freuds out there, yes, seeing and hearing their plentiful arguments probably did help inspire me to go for a monastic-style relationship with the divine).
Making insincere long-term commitments to a mediocre relationship just to please others or fulfill an expectation or desire can possibly hold you back on your greater spiritual journey, because:
- Mediocre relationships can keep you from growing past the level where you and your companion meet intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. As Henry David Thoreau said, “The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” If you and your partner have a deep soul level connection, then you’ll be able to give each other the space to grow individually as you also continue to grow together.
- Your companion may not support your spiritual efforts. Some spouses may even feel jealous if you start paying more attention to God or spirit than to them.
- Relationships can consume a lot of precious time and energy. A good relationship or marriage can give greater value to your time and efforts, but a mediocre one may leave you in the end feeling the burden of unfulfilled dreams and wasted years of useless activities and meaningless arguments and banter.
- You can’t really be too spontaneous and carefree when someone else is depending on you to always be exactly who and how you have always been. While steadiness is a great quality to develop, at some point you may be spiritually guided to make some dramatic changes in how you approach and relate to life.
You need to be your own guide as to whether having a close relationship or marriage is best for you.
A not too far-fetched scenario
A husband and wife are having dinner at a very fine restaurant, when a gorgeous young woman comes over to their table, gives the husband a big kiss on the lips, says she'll see him later, and walks away.
The wife glares at her husband and asks, "Who was that?"
"Oh," replies the husband, "she's my mistress."
"Well, that's the last straw," says the wife. "I've had enough! I want a divorce."
"I can understand that," replies her husband, "but remember, if we get a divorce it will mean no more shopping trips to Paris, no more wintering in Barbados, no more summers in Tuscany, no more Lexus in the garage, and no more yacht club. But the decision is yours."
Just then, a mutual friend enters the restaurant with a beautiful young woman on his arm.
"Who's that woman with Jim?" asks the wife.
"That's his mistress," says her husband.
"Ours is prettier," she replies.
Although this scenario is meant to be a humorous commentary on why some relationships stay together, every person can look at their own lives and situations to find ways that they may be selling out what is really important — in the case of this story, true love — for lesser comforts and materialistic benefits.