Insights happen. We’ve all had them. Out of nowhere, an idea or thought pops into your mind that has transformative power. Those of us who lead spiritual lives have probably experienced this more than once. I’ve had several such experiences over the past few months that I think help to frame the crisis that my marriage is in, and how I’m able to deal with it.
In the six weeks running up to this crisis beginning to unfold, I did a series of intensive meditation practices called Maitri Space Awareness. These are compassion practices that intensify your experience, and are so powerful that, unless you are in a retreat situation (which I was not) you are advised only to do them about twice a week. A lot of stuff comes up: repressed memories, hidden fears, and sides of your personality that you didn’t know existed. The experiences can be so powerful that one needs to transition back into normal life, post-meditation, by doing about 10-15 minutes of “aimless wandering.” This sounds a bit odd, perhaps, but all you do is just go somewhere and let your intuition lead. On one day in particular, I went outside and started to walk. I was met by a rush of sound: traffic noises, the cacophony of the birds in the trees, and so on. It was nearly overwhelming. As I continued to walk, I was overcome by a tremendous sadness that was absolutely heartbreaking. It was an overcast day, and the low-lying clouds only made that emotion more oppressive. But then something truly amazing happened: that feeling of sadness and utter heartbreak transformed. It was still there, but it became tender, open, and spacious. Underneath this heartbreak was a sense of freedom and joy. It wasn’t exactly joy as we normally think of it, that is, feeling happy and carefree, but rather the joy of having an open heart. I began to see things for what they are. The world is an incredibly rich place: the birds sing, the wind rustles in the leaves, the squirrels run around busily gathering nuts, people fight with one another, and on and on. Most of the time, we don’t notice any of this. But if you stop to look, you begin to see that everything you could ever possibly want in your life is present right now.
I do think these sorts of insights happen for a reason, and that there is a trigger of some sort that brings them about. Thinking about this one insight as it was happening, I realized that, the night before, the state of Georgia had just executed Troy Davis for a crime he possibly did not commit. I had also heard on the radio an interview with the victims mother, who felt that she could now move on with her life, as in her view, “justice” had been served. And when I reflected on this, it just occurred to me that the human heart can at times be so closed that people actually do feel that hatred, anger, vindictiveness, and retribution somehow can solve their problems. These emotions do not help, but rather just engender further suffering. I felt very sad for the world, and especially for those with such closed hearts and minds, but at the same time the recognition of this profound sadness opened my heart to the possibility of having compassion for these people and for the larger world.
What does this have to do with my marriage? I’ll get to that in a moment.
The center I go to for my spiritual practice held a week-long retreat just after Christmas. I was unable to attend most of it due to work obligations, but did make the last 2 days. During the first of those two days, I did about 4 hours of intensive meditation practice. This took the form of 30-40 minute periods of sitting meditation, followed by 10 minutes of walking meditation. During one of the walking sessions, I suddenly realized that, where my marriage was concerned, I could take the long view. I realized that my marital crisis had been going on for three months, and that I was still okay, and actually in a better place as a person than where I had started. And I knew that, if I could have made it through those three months, I certainly could make it through another three months, if that were necessary. Not only that, but there was the realization that I could have this longer view because I was grounded in the present moment, in its feelings, and its experiences as they unfold right now.
Fast forward to yesterday morning. I was leaving the grocery store, feeling somewhat unsteady, a bit upset and depressed, and having a measure of dread about what awaited me that evening, as I knew my wife would be packing boxes and planning to move out. I came out into an overcast, somewhat cold and dreary morning, and the grayness of the sky reflected more or less exactly my emotional state. I thought about how I was feeling, walking across the parking lot to my car, and how I might feel if my marriage were in optimal health, if my wife were with me, if we were truly happy, and everything were great. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, the following thought popped into my mind:
“Life is perfect just as it is.”
For me, that was a profound insight. Your life as it unfolds at this moment is all that you need. It has to be that way, because there is nothing else. We spend so much time thinking about the future or the past that we completely miss the power of the present. It is only through our interaction with the world in the present that transformation can occur. This doesn’t mean that you have to like feeling depressed, sad, unsteady, or whatever, but rather you just have to accept it as part of the process and allow those feelings to come through. That’s all. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with feeling horrible and exalted in the same day, feeling depression and elation in the same hour, sorrow and happiness in the same minute. That’s just how our lives unfold. If you can simply surrender to that process, you can transform your life. Your heart opens, and things look different. You don’t need to add anything or take anything away. You don’t need to wish for things to be different, yet you also realize that it’s okay to think about the past, and also to have goals for the future. Everything suddenly becomes possible in a way that it hadn’t perviously been.
If I could have one grounding mantra for these days as they unfold, that would be it.