By Chintan Girish Modi August 2006 When one partner takes to the path and the other does not, a marriage can go through heavy weather. How it is resolved depends on the relationship and the willingness of the seeker to embrace it as a spiritual practice. Spirituality is meant to bring people together, but the converse can happen too.-Anand TendolkarSpirituality is about a celebration of life – not just me and my God.-Mehroo KotwalMost of your problems are gone when you understand that you are not this bodyJawahar and Daksha Baxi Twenty-one years ago, when Anand Tendolkar married Anuja, he seemed a promising young man, ready to flag off a successful career in the corporate world. It was an arranged marriage. But trouble started brewing soon after. The first seven years were spent ‘being aghast’ at how different they were. Twelve years ago, he had a heart attack. There was much introspection about how life was shaping up, and he decided to focus more actively on spirituality. He began conducting corporate workshops on self-awareness, team-building and unlocking human potential. There was a strong need to ‘convert others’ to his way of thinking. He even went through a phase of feeling superior about being on the path. This put a strain on the marriage, with each trying to change the other. It’s only in the last seven years that they’ve really started celebrating their differences. How does embarking on a conscious path of seeking impact our existing relationships? Most human bonds are based on underlying needs, drives and expectations that we are often unconscious about until seeking forces it into the open. Moreover, as new experiences and influences alter us as human beings, the changes are bound to reflect in our dealings with others. This creates fresh challenges, which we can address and resolve only once we wake up to them. And it is particularly true of marriage, with its unique inter-personal and socio-cultural dynamics. Looking back, Anand thinks up a humorous yet pertinent analogy. ‘I tell Anuja that she thought she was buying herself a suited-booted MBA. But when she got home and took off the wrapper, she found a kurta-clad reiki teacher instead.’ The relationship began growing when they realized it would be too boring to live with a clone. Today, he is grateful to his wife for the adjustments she made. All the self-righteousness on his part seems to have vanished. There’s a realisation that different individuals may have different needs. ‘Spirituality can be very seductive; so one has to be on guard. It is meant to bring people together, but the converse can happen too. One shouldn’t allow it to become an escape route. It is about engaging more with the world,’ he says. The ConflictSeeking is usually perceived to be a solitary activity. It is associated with one’s search for deeper meaning and a will to connect with the Self in a focused way before one eventually transcends even that to experience true wholeness. And marriage, by its very nature of being, involves an alliance with another person. It comes with its own needs, priorities and issues. Can the two actually be compatible? Ivan Granger, a computer programmer and webmaster of www.poetry-chaikhana.com, has been married to his wife Michele for 15 years. He has weathered many challenges in attempting to strike a balance between a sincere path of seeking, and the daily challenges of marriage. But with experience he has come to acknowledge that these challenges can fill one’s life with a greater sense of wholeness, when confronted with openness and awareness. Ivan remarks, ‘At a certain point along the path, a seeker must break with society on an energetic level. One doesn’t have to become a renunciate – though that is a possible approach – rather, one has to step free from society’s limited notions of reality and social roles. One must, with great internal balance, step beyond what might be called ‘the consensus reality’. Ultimately, one must step beyond the false notion of a limited or egoic sense of self.’ The conflict arises because, as Ivan says, most of our social institutions, especially marriage, depend on the idea of a stable individual. And this appears to be at odds with seeking, which is essentially a process of growth, discovery and exploration of much unfamiliar territory. This was the area of Ivan’s greatest struggle through the first several years of his marriage. ‘How do I free myself from limiting definitions of self, and at the same time, be a loving and responsible partner who is more or less the same person every day? I also quickly came to the frustrating realisation that, in a marriage, whether or not you have children, a kind of nesting instinct kicks in. You naturally want a certain amount of material comfort as a couple. That brings you into the demanding world of work and career… and another societal role you have to enact but not identify with. I certainly struggled with questions of time and energy, trying to balance all of that without losing my fundamental spiritual focus.’ Moving OnNikhil Dasgupta (name changed) decided to file for divorce, after it became evident that conflicting interests were proving to be disruptive to both partners – physically, mentally and spiritually. He had been married for 18 years. Having been a freelance human resource consultant for a number of years, he has lately found himself getting interested in areas like teaching and writing. He loves to experiment and learn new things. But his wife is very career-oriented. It was an arranged marriage. ‘What you expect at 25 is largely shaped by the people around you, especially parents and friends. What you experience in your 40s can be very different,’ he says. Dasgupta believes that two individuals moving in a similar direction are likely to have a more vital relationship. If one partner opts to move along a path of conscious growth while the other is unwilling, the opposing priorities and interests can often derail a relationship, he observes. Psychotherapist Uma Ranganathan points out that both partners need to be aware of themselves and of their feelings for each other. Only such awareness can enable them to deal with conflicts and sort out differences before they become unmanageable. Uma says, ‘The question really is, whether spiritual seeking and a search for awareness lead to marital discord, or whether marital discord comes about when a genuine spiritual or inner connection between two people is lacking. Doesn’t it happen that individuals turn into seekers because there is something already missing in their lives?’ Learning to CommunicateGaps in communication are hugely responsible for the problems that couples go through. There’s a need to work on the marriage together. Mehroo Kotval, a human resource consultant, suggests that we need to put a sense of ‘relatedness’ into our relationships. ‘Spirituality is about respecting the energies of the people we come in contact with. It’s about a celebration of life – not just me and my God.’ She believes that the solution lies in asserting ‘boundaries’ and communicating what one feels when these are aggressed upon. Mehroo shares the story of a couple. When the wife realized that the spark in her marriage was waning off, she conveyed it to her husband, and they agreed they needed to talk. So, they went off on a holiday and discussed aspects of the other’s behavior that were causing resentment. They managed to spot what was going wrong, and by actively working on it, turned the holiday into a second honeymoon. Communication becomes easier when we are prepared to reinvent and renegotiate roles according to the needs of both partners. Mehroo makes a distinction between ‘role taking’ and ‘role making’. Very often, we step into one-size-fits-all kind of roles that are pre-determined for us by society. A healthier marriage makes space for both partners to understand their mutual needs and figure out a balance that will work effectively to help their growth. There’s another significant issue in balancing marriage and seeking: sex. The issue becomes more pronounced if the seeker embraces celibacy. Mumbai-based psychiatrist Dr Dayal Mirchandani affirms that it can be very difficult for the non-seeking (if one can use that word) partner to put up with this. ‘Sexual intimacy is an important part of the bond that couples share. Restricting this can cause conflicts within the marriage.’ The solution, says Ivan, is to see sex as a spiritual tool. He adds, ‘Though several spiritual traditions are wary of sexual experiences because they think extreme sensuality can externalize awareness and cause a dissipation of vital energies, I began to understand that sex can also awaken and focus spiritual energies. I began to understand how intimacy could be about the touching of hearts, rather than a surface experience.’ Uma adds, ‘True spirituality deepens the bond between people; it doesn’t destroy it. However, this does not mean that two individuals who are not suited to each other should continue to live with each other. In this case, a peaceful parting might be best, where the two realize that living together is not right for them.’ What stops most couples from recognizing when a relationship is over is the powerful social pressure to make it last. We are led to believe that marriages are permanent, and experience much heartbreak when it proves not to be so. We can also experience insecurity because something we’ve cherished for so long, is being taken away. Although a permanent relationship is definitely an ideal, it is also necessary to acknowledge that not all
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