This question addresses a problem that is probably quite common in one form or another. There can often be difficulty in a relationship when one person is interested in leading a spiritual life but the other is not and might even be hostile to the idea, perhaps feeling they are being replaced in their partner's eyes by something in which they have no part.
Q. I have been interested in spirituality for a long time. Several years ago I met someone and we got married and now have two children. Before this I’d practised meditation but stopped as there wasn’t time anymore. However now I’d like to start again. Unfortunately my wife regards my spiritual interests as pure self-indulgence and that’s the kindest thing she says about them. It’s come to the point where we realise we don't have much in common and would probably separate but there are the children to consider. I’ve read your chapter on relationships and, broadly speaking, I agree with the points you make. But we are constantly arguing. I try and keep quiet but it’s hard in the face of the amount of abuse I get. This is my question. What’s the correct thing to do from a spiritual perspective? I admit you’re only getting my side of the story here. It’s just an unfortunate situation in which two people with little in common are stuck together but I do feel the more aggrieved party. Sorry for making this such a long question. I realise you’re not a marriage guidance councillor but I was prompted to write after reading what you said about the spiritual purpose of relationships. It’s hard to see what it could be in this case though I guess karma must be involved.
A. Obviously I can’t comment on your individual relationship but I can make some general points. You don’t say how old the children are but I’m assuming they’re still reasonably young and that’s why you feel you shouldn’t break up yet. Normally I would agree with you but it can get to the point when the atmosphere in a household is so poisoned that it would be better to make a change. Only you and your wife can be the judge of that. Karma almost certainly was involved in getting the two of you together, especially if the attraction was instant and of the ‘we’ve known each other before’ sort. This can gloss over the underlying personality conflicts which surface when the romance dies down. But perhaps sorting those out is the purpose of the relationship. Again, only you can know when the sorting out has gone as far as it can, though circumstances can sometimes bring things to a head too. Do remember, though, that what's left undone in one life will probably have to be done in another, future, one.
You imply that you would like to lead a more interior life but can’t because of the demands and difficulties of your relationship. If you’ve got together with someone you do owe it to that person to think of them and not freeze them out of your life. Perhaps your wife feels you are doing that? Equally, though, she owes it to you to let you follow a spiritual practice if that doesn’t interfere overmuch with your family life. It’s a question of balance. The Buddha, of course, left his wife and child to follow his destiny but, if that is a temptation for us, we must be really sure it is our destiny and not just our desire.
One more point I’d like to make is this. It may be that you are being tested. You are being asked to renounce a happy family life and also the comforts of spirituality. Peace is denied you. You are being forced to give up everything and fall back entirely on accepting God’s will whatever that may be, not seeking fulfilment in anything, either outer or inner. This is quite a high stage of the path so you could take some comfort in that. But I don’t know your circumstances so I can’t judge your position and, even if I did, I couldn’t advise you except through these general points. I can perhaps offer some consolation in that these things wouldn’t be happening if they weren’t part of your path. They are challenges you are being called upon to confront and, if you are true to the highest you know, you will be successful in doing so. I hope that’s not cold comfort. The Masters told me that what I experienced was what I was meant to experience, and that I should have complete acceptance of it. I think that applies to anyone who has seriously embarked upon the spiritual path. It's certainly a thought to hold on to when times are tough. Finally try to remember that your wife is involved in this too and she can’t be happy either. That may mean that a separation is on the cards but you may both still have lessons to learn.