Discipline

I want to start this post with a metaphor, by way of an anecdote. The other day I was driving home late in the evening. I had gone out to a bookstore after work, and so it was probably close to 9:00 p.m. by the time I was returning home. There is a mosque in the part of the city that I live in, and I happened to drive past it just before the nightfall prayers. What I saw there I’ve seen in the past, but this time it really touched and inspired me. I saw the faithful coming by foot from all directions to enter the mosque in time for the service. It wasn’t like a huge stream of humanity, but rather maybe a dozen people or so that I saw scattered at various points, all walking to that same destination with the same objective. The faithful do this every day as they are able, and I believe that some of them make this journey several times a day if they can. This is the discipline of a genuine spiritual practice, and it is something for which I hold deep respect.

As some of you have already gathered from reading my posts, I am a practicing Buddhist. As such, I don’t believe in God per se, yet at the same time I find it inappropriate to judge or criticize anyone else’s beliefs. There are at least as many spiritual paths as there are people on this earth, and they all can work if done with genuine intention. In the Buddhist tradition, we often speak of the six paramitas, or “perfections”. The second of these perfections is ??la, the Sanskrit term for discipline. There are many ways of looking at and explaining what this means, but in brief it asserts the importance of having the right lifestyle: enough time for spiritual practice and study, behaving in compassionate and non-harmful ways, and so on. I would say that the greatest challenge I’ve had in walking my spiritual path since my marriage crisis erupted 8 months ago has been holding myself to this discipline. At times, life just got too intense for me to stick to it.

One thing I have been able to stick to is my regimen of actions and behaviors that are part of my reconciliation agenda. This involves the many things I’ve been doing, the ways in which I’ve reached out consistently and repeatedly to my wife, and so on. I am required to do this no matter how I might feel and no matter how she might treat me. It is an exercise in compassion and loving kindness, so I suppose in a way it actually has become part of my spiritual practice as well.

There are many things that test one’s discipline in the reconciliation process. I had one such test this morning. I woke up and decided to have a look at my long-neglected Facebook page. I seldom go there anymore, because I just find it to be such an inauthentic form of communicating and connecting with others; typically I’ll visit the site if I am contacted by someone for some reason. I used to be an inveterate Facebook addict, and I’d say it was one of the things that helped my marriage to erode. In fact, the laptops that my wife and I possess did invade our marriage and became tools to violate its sanctity.

So, if there weren’t enough to put me off of Facebook for a while, there was more there for me this morning. Right after I logged in, I saw a picture at the top of my newsfeed of the “girls’ night out” that my wife had last night with her colleagues. The woman that my wife had stayed with a couple of months ago posted this picture. There were the four women in attendance standing in the host’s kitchen, and the aforementioned woman’s husband standing there with them, looking like a complete goofball, wearing a wig so that he might look like a woman. My wife was wearing a striped orange summer dress that I’d never seen before, and was holding a Cosmopolitan of the same color. My wife doesn’t drink, so she probably had little more than a couple of sips.

The photo didn’t really bother me as much as did the comments underneath. Most of them were inoffensive, but right down near the bottom was a comment from the adulterer himself. He is a “friend” of this woman and her husband, and this couple actively aided and abetted acts of adultery, treating my wife’s affair as though it were somehow normal, and giving her safe harbor by allowing her to live with them for three months. The adulterer’s comment said something to the effect of “I love the way your drink matches your dress, honey… Lol” [sic]

Now, I really do despise the abbreviation “LOL” and never use it myself — except if I’m quoting someone, as I’ve done here. I find it juvenile and inauthentic. I put it in the same container as expressions like “my bad”: they just rub me the wrong way. But what rubbed me even more was the comment itself. This immoral fraud calling my wife — my wife — “honey,” as though he had some sort of normal relationship with her that he could just be public about.

That’s adultery in a nutshell, folks. Launch a completely immoral relationship with no future prospects whatsoever, and then attempt to make it legitimate by taking it public. Now I don’t know if the adulterer knows that I can see his coments, and frankly I don’t really care. My initial reaction was to watch my blood boil a bit, and then to think about reporting the picture as offensive. Of course, there was no harassment involved, so that wouldn’t fly, and it would just probably cause a backlash against me. Then I thought that maybe I should ask this woman to take the photo down, as I found it offensive. But I don’t find the photo offensive, just the adutlerer’s comment.

Then I thought about this woman’s intentions. Clearly from her standpoint she is neither aiding nor abetting adultery. In fact, she doesn’t see my wife’s infidelity as an act of adultery, but rather looks at it like a “new relationship” that needs nurturing. Now why is that? Well, this woman lost her sister to cancer about 10 years ago, and I believe that she misses that sort of sibling closeness, the kind that can develop into a close friendship in adulthood. She does not have that anymore, and I believe that my wife is sort of a surrogate sister figure to her now. This woman has also been through many traumas, and I believe that she feels she can be helpful to my wife in guiding her through this “transition” in her life. No matter that this transition moves away from morality and into grossly immoral territory, it is just a Very Important Juncture in my wife’s life that she could be instrumental in aiding. I’m certain that she’s heard all sorts fo slanderous things about me that help her to justify in her mind the actions she has taken on behalf of my wife over the past many months.

So here’s what I did about this situation: Nothing. I just ignored it. There is absolutely nothing to be gained from my engaging or confronting this situation in any way. I just thought to myself, “that’s just a picture, and those are just words.” I’ve chosen the moral high ground, and that position speaks for itself. I don’t have to do anything more than wear my wedding ring and continue with my long-established behaviors. And if someone should say something to me about my marital situations, expressing sympathy or concern, I just simply tell them that it’s private and  not an appropriate topic of conversation. It only takes a half dozen or so words to convey that message, and such brevity can be very powerful.

Yes, I could confront that situation, open a can of worms, and humiliate people. I could actually precipitate the end of that affair much more quickly by doing this as well. But my objective is not to end the affair, it’s to reconcile my marriage. I think this is where some so-called marriage “experts” get it wrong by advising the betrayed spouse to expose the affair. You might be effective at ending the affair, but you might also destroy your potential for reconciling your marriage as well. Believe me, I’ve heard the arguments for this approach: it’s not about trust (because your spouse won’t trust you afterward, and besides, they’ve already violated your trust) it’s about honesty. The problem with that idea is that you cannot force someone else to be honest. If they want to be dishonest and deceitful, that is their choice. It doesn’t mean that you have to roll over and take it — you can object to things you find offensive — but I do think it means that you should recognize that you cannot change someone else’s behavior. When people post these kinds of photos and write incriminating comments, that is their opportunity to embarrass and humiliate themselves. If they choose to do that, that is their prerogative, and I say let them do that. There are actually far more opportunities for the affair to end as a result. When one puts that kind of negativity out there into the world, there is a corresponding back-pressure that eventually results, and this can manifest in all sorts of unforeseen ways.

Okay, so there is one thing that I did do. I consulted the I Ching. Yes, I know, this is probably pathological at this point, but I have found it to be really revelatory on virtually every occasion. I wanted to know what to make of this photo, and the answer I got was this:

Hexagram 29: Darkness. Darkness after darkness, danger after danger. There is difficulty going forward or backward. The situation is similar to having fallen into a black well. One needs to cease struggling in order to move forward.

This is where my wife is at. She is struggling. She has fallen into a deep, black well, and cannot get out. My role is very clear. I have to stay the course, and provide her with nourishing. She needs replenishment, not humiliation.

Thus my decision to ignore the whole situation. In a nutshell, and in a very practical way, that’s discipline.