Dear Susan, I Am Rethinking My Marriage and Don’t Know What to Do

April 27, 2016   |   2 Comments

A meditation teacher and award-winning author provides guidance on readers’ real-life problems. Here is her advice on what to do when you’re spiritually disconnected from your spouse.

Dear Susan,

Four years ago something changed in me. I woke up feeling electrical. Full of energy. I saw things different, knowledge of things I don’t know came from where.

Now my husband and I are on two total separate spiritual paths, I guess you could say. He says I’ve changed. I know I have. I like this new me. I live in the moment not the past or future. He thinks I don’t care because I don’t fight with him. I don’t get frustrated or angry as before. I don’t want to step backwards, yet I feel I’m stuck in limbo because I don’t want to leave him behind. He is just beginning his journey. I don’t know how to help us. Any advice?

Dear Friend,

Though I have never had an experience like the one you describe, I know people who have. One woman woke up in the middle of the night and happened to press the soles of her feet together whereupon she was struck by wave after wave of what she called pure energy. She felt ecstatic. The grind of daily life—paying bills, cooking food, answering email—contained no charge whatsoever. Whether things went well or poorly, she was filled with delight. Her sense perceptions sharpened to the point of exquisite pain-joy. Light melted into dark, happy into sad, salty into sweet, and so on and back again. She was in an undifferentiated state of is-ness, without preference of any kind. This lasted off and on for several months. However, when it dissolved, she found herself re-deposited here on the mundane plane with a pile of dirty laundry, expired credit cards, and a host of peeved colleagues. While she was (quite rightfully) absorbed in her other-worldly experience, her worldly life continued along without her. Threading them together proved quite difficult.

There is a funny interplay between the so-called divine and the so-called ordinary. In Buddhist thought, when taken to extremes, they represent two opposing points of view, both of which are to be avoided. They distract one from seeing clearly.

The first is called “eternalistic” and refers to the idea that one can transcend the earthly plane (either now or in the afterlife) to reside in a place of no-suffering. But to aspire to a heavenly place while here on earth is considered kind of weird. We are in the human realm, a place of joy and sorrow, love and conflict, clarity and confusion. It seems that our work is to be here rather than somewhere else. When we cultivate a life based only on the positive, we miss the journey of being a person.

The second point of view is called “nihilistic.” Nihilists believe there is no divinity and reject all spiritual paths. We are born and die in a meaningless world. There is nothing beyond. However, when we cultivate a view of extreme negativity and refuse to acknowledge the mysteries or what exists just below the surface, we also miss the journey of being a person.

Throughout an ordinary day, most of us bounce between these two extremes. When we think that rain on our day off is punishment for not getting our work done, we have stepped into the eternalistic realm. When we throw the newspaper in the trash rather than the recycling bin, we are playing for Team Nihilism.

The Buddhist view is neither eternalistic nor nihilistic. It is called the “middle way.” This is the path of moderation, wisdom, and a commitment to give up one’s reference point, again and again. The middle way is the path of freedom from hope and fear. Pema Chodron describes it as, “an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.”

According to 2600 years of Buddhist practice and study, when one creates a living relationship to the middle way and thus to the chaos and uncertainty of being human, a very particular outcome is predicted: Limitless compassion arises, both for yourself and others.

Compassion is the jewel in the mud, the treasure buried in our hearts, the source of outrageous potency and power. A spiritual awakening that does not break your heart open is, to me, a little fishy. When we are open we feel the human condition more keenly, not less. What we are looking for is not implacability and a permanent state of unruffled-ness, but a heart that rages with love and joy, that cares so deeply, that feels over and over again the happy-sad state of being human. Should disheartenment in the journey arise, we are to let go and return to this place of humanity. The same instruction applies to the moments when we feel we have lifted off into a place of bliss: Let go. Come back home. Share the fullness of your heart and the wisdom of your journey with us. We need you.

None of this means you should stay with your partner if you don’t want to. If you want to end the relationship, just do it. But don’t attribute it to some electrical force field that pushes you into a more advanced bracket of humanity. There is no such thing. Maybe you have fallen out of love. Maybe your journey together has ended. Maybe you prefer to go on without him. Maybe you’re grumpy and resentful. Maybe you don’t have a clear reason, you just want out. That is okay. Just don’t put it down to your spiritual evolution because that simply cannot be true. The more evolved we are, the more deeply others burrow into our hearts.

In all cases, the love you share with your husband is of great importance. The decision to stay or go is not only about you, it is also about him. Be as kind as you can, no matter what direction you choose. Stay or go with all of your heart, but don’t imagine that you are in a different category than he is. Rather, look him in the eye, tell him the truth, rage or sob or laugh together—and see what happens next.

In my Shambhala Buddhist lineage, we have a chant that contains these lines:

The essence of thoughts is dharmakaya, as is taught.
Nothing whatever but everything arises from it.
To this meditator who arises in unceasing play.
Grant your blessings so that I realize the inseparability of samsara and nirvana.

No matter what you choose regarding your relationship, I hope with all of my heart that you find within yourself the place where love and loss, desire and boredom, spiritual attainment and non-attainment are viewed along a single continuum. This is the middle way.

I wish you well. I send my love. I offer you a deep bow.

Do you need advice? Submit a question to Susan here.

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2 Comments

  • Posted by:  Sightseeing guide

    Thank you for your words of wisdom!

    They helped me many times.
    Your ideas are invaluable.

    Thank you!

  • Posted by:  Barbara Wingate

    Beautifully put

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