Zen for Couples: 'Not One, Not Two'
When walking down our spiritual paths, it's important to take the journey together... separately.
BY: Ellen and Charles Birx
But again it's important to stress that experiencing oneness does not negate the relative perspective of "twoness," the difference between self and other. Rather, it vastly expands your vision-so much so that it gives you a completely new perspective. When we fall in love or make love, the ego boundaries come down to some extent and it is a very positive experience, but it is limited. When the walls come down completely, the experience of oneness is of cosmic proportion. It transforms your life. The experience of oneness is so expansive that many people who open to it, either spontaneously or through meditation practice, stop there. They view everything in terms of oneness. Statements that are true from an Absolute perspective are now mistakenly applied to situations in the relative world of cause and effect-and you hear of many "enlightened" people with relationship disasters.
The problem here is ignoring the relative. There is the need to take a further step in learning how to actualize your realization of the Absolute, or world of oneness, in everyday life in the relative world. The Heart Sutra says, "Form is precisely emptiness, emptiness is precisely form." Form refers to the world of things, the relative. Emptiness refers to the world of no-thing, the world of oneness, the Absolute. There is no Absolute apart from the relative. It is through the relative that the Absolute is known. That is why relationships are so important. Roshi Kennedy often says, "You can't put your arms around the Absolute." The Absolute is manifested in a particular person and a particular relationship. Nonduality is directly experienced in "just this" relationship with your particular partner.
In an enlightened relationship, both oneness and differences are perceived and lived out simultaneously. But it is not enough to understand this intellectually. Nonduality must be experienced directly and actualized in the relative world on an ongoing basis. Enlightenment is not something that is attained once and for all. It is a moment by moment process of being open to the expanded vision of nonduality. In the same way, enlightened relationships are not attained once and for all. They also require moment by moment opening to both oneness and differences. The direct experience of oneness, or non-separation, is so enlivening, soothing, and boundless that it allows you to experience differences, individuality, and separation without feeling threatened, abandoned, or deprived. Paradoxically, the experience of Absolute oneness enhances your appreciation of the relative world of differences.
Often at retreats when people see us both sitting in meditation side by side on our mats, they comment, "It must be great to have someone to share this with, someone on the same spiritual path." Of course it is wonderful to have a life partner who shares a deep interest in spirituality and meditation-someone to go with to retreats, someone to talk with about spiritual matters and insights.
But even so it is important to realize that although we share much spiritually, and are united in our spiritual practice, each of us travels his or her own unique spiritual path. Although from the outside, sitting side by side in the same posture, we look like we are doing the same thing, the experience of meditation is different for each of us at any particular moment in time. We each walk along the path of Zen at different rates and with different lessons that need to be learned and unlearned.
We each have our own spiritual path whether it looks the same or different. It is like the old spiritual, "Lonesome Valley" which tells us, "Nobody else can talk it for us. We have to walk that valley for ourselves." No matter how much we may love our partner, we cannot take away our partner's pain, we cannot "make" our partner happy, and we cannot "enlighten" our partner. Each person must walk the spiritual path for her- or himself. So even if we travel together, we travel alone.
Recognizing this aloneness is essential for togetherness.