Before Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment at age 35 he was a
confused twenty and thirty-something looking to learn how to live a
spiritual life. He had an overbearing dad, expectations for what he was
supposed to do
with his life, drinks were flowing, lutes were playing, and the
ladiezzz were all about him. Some called him L.L. Cool S. I imagine
close friends just referred to him as Sid.
Many people look to Siddhartha as an example of someone who attained nirvana, a buddha. But here we look at a younger Sid
as a confused guy struggling with his daily life. What would he do as a
young person trying to find love, cheap drinks, and fun in a city like
New York? We all make mistakes on our spiritual journey; here is where
Each week I’ll take on a new question and
give some advice based on what I think Sid, a confused guy working on
his spiritual life in a world of major distraction, would do. Because
let’s face it, you and I are Sid.
Have a question for this weekly column? E-mail it here and I’ll probably get to it!
DISCLAIMER #1: I do not claim to be in touch with the Buddha. In fact, I don’t think I even know anyone named Sid.
DISCLAIMER #2: While healthy debate about how to handle these situations is welcome in the comments section I would like to kindly ask that individuals refrain from posting negative remarks about the person asking the question itself. These are real people working to bring spirituality to real scenarios. Let’s please respect them.
Q: I cheated on my husband. It was a one-time thing, a mistake,
not any kind of relationship…. I’m willing to chalk it up to, ok, I
slipped/made a mistake, and I tell myself I shouldn’t beat myself up. Nobody is
perfect. But then I wonder If I’m copping out in terms of Right Speech etc. and
that I should tell him. Help. – S.P.
I always thought it was interesting that when Sid became a buddha he didn’t lay out a set dogmatic thing that everyone and their mom should do to be good boys and girls. He approached his former colleagues/first students and said, “Come and see for yourself. I’ve got this jam I’ve worked out and you should riff on it too to see if it works for you.” The history books usually only record half of that statement.
My point is that all relationships are different and what might work for some may not work for you. For example, based on your conundrum I might project that you and your hubby aren’t swingers. There’s something unique about two individuals that are super open about where they are as a couple and what their needs are sexually. An event like sleeping with someone else is not only not taboo but a welcome topic of discussion in that case. Nice work if you can get it (the communication part that is, I won’t weigh in on the multiple partners thing here). Sid, for example, grew up in a time when it was socially acceptable for him to have his wife as well as a harem to “entertain” him.
Based on the way you’re feeling I would guess you have a more conventional relationship than that. Let’s consider your relationship as a tree. Because I’m writing from Vermont this week and there’s lots of those. Like a tree your relationship started off quite young and simple but overtime grew and matured and is actually now something worthy of awe. The vows you took in marriage to love and respect one another are like the branches of flowers on the tree, making the tree all that more beautiful.
Now one of those branches of flowers may have been that you will no longer have sex with other people. So at this point that branch has been damaged. Infected in fact. There’s a sickness in the tree. What do you do? How to save the tree?*
Three initial options that come to mind:
1) Cut the branch, pretending like it was never there. Ask yourself if you think that this really was a one-time thing and, if so, do you think the memory will fade entirely over time? In your heart do you think keeping this act to yourself will leave the rest of the relationship undamaged?
2) There’s a chance the infection has already seeped into the very roots of the tree, i.e. the foundation of
the marriage. You can ask yourself, “Is this something that I think about on a regular basis?” If so another question might be, “Is it
effecting our daily life together?” Sometimes cheating is the first
death knell of a relationship so it’s good to figure out how you feel about it yourself.
3) My last question is do you want to talk to your spouse, allowing the infection to seep in further in the hopes that the tree will be strong enough to handle it? I can’t guarantee that your husband, your relationship, or you are strong enough to handle cheating. I can guarantee that open communication about how you feel about your relationship overall is essential in this case.
Cheating on a partner can stem from a lack of communication or not feeling like your needs are met in the relationship. So in this case one route is to view your indiscretion as a learning experience; you can address with your husband whatever led you to cheat if not the act itself.
To address the aspect of your question about Right Speech It’s worth noting that there are many ways to interpret this teaching. Right Speech includes not engaging deceitful speech but it also includes not engaging in divisive speech. From my perspective there are times when not saying something to someone you cherish can be as compassionate as saying something. Ultimately you have to go with your gut on this one on what Right Speech means to you.
In conclusion, no matter what you do, don’t beat yourself up. Taking an aggressive stance against yourself is contradictory to what the Buddha taught. We all mess up sometimes. The only universal advice I imagine Sid would offer in this case would be “Be kind and be honest with yourself. The rest will follow.”
* Lodro does not nor is likely ever to know much about flora. He just thinks trees are pretty. And that relationships are hard.