Yesterday a friend told me that she found an old book of mine lurking in the shelves of Powell’s Books in Portland. Her email message said:
Hey, Brian! Guess what I found at Powell’s today . . . an old copy of The Path of the Masters lurking in the Indian philosophy section -- instead of Sikhism. Since it was an older version smelling of mildew I just had to take a look -- and guess what I found inside, an inscription “To Brian . . . from Sue . . . 1970.”Sue was my first wife. We got married in 1970. That year we also both became enamored with the spiritual philosophy described in “The Path of the Masters,” Sant Mat, a.k.a. Surat Shabd Yoga and other names.
I have no idea how the book found its way into Powell’s. I rarely sell my books, and even more rarely will I sell a metaphysical title. Perhaps I’d gotten a more recent edition by the time Sue and I got divorced in 1989 and she walked off with the older book.
Anyway, I got to thinking. About how close Sue and I were in 1970. How much we loved each other. How wonderful Sant Mat seemed to us at the time. How I thrilled to the mystic message of “The Path of the Masters.” How I was sure that I’d be with both Sue and Sant Mat forever.
Life had other plans for us. Sue and I were happy together for many years, then we weren’t. Sant Mat, in the guise of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), and I also were happy together for many years, then we weren’t.
Now I’m formally divorced from Sue. I’m sort of informally divorced from RSSB, since the organization has fired me from giving talks at group meetings because my Church of the Churchless writings are too heretical. Both divorces are working out fine. All praise to divorce!
When it is naturally the right thing to do. And only then. I’m not a believer in divorce. I was raised by a mother who was a divorcee and never remarried. When I was growing up I wished that I had a father like my friends. But I know that my mother was better off without the jerk she had been married to.
There came a moment in my marriage to Sue when we knew it was over. Dissatisfaction had been building for a long time. Then it came to a head. Nothing dramatic led to the tipping point, no infidelity, no spouse abuse, no dramatic argument. We just knew. Both of us openly acknowledged what had until then been an unstated fact: we weren’t right for each other.
Sue and I are still married—to someone else. We’re happier now. It’s been sixteen years since we got divorced. Time, as they say, heals all wounds. As miserable as we were together, going through the divorce still was difficult. Old habits and attachments die hard. When you’ve woken up with the same person for eighteen years, staring at an empty pillow is tough.
Until there’s a fresh face on the pillow smiling back at you.
Likewise, when I began to have doubts about the Sant Mat philosophy that I’d been spiritually married to for even longer—thirty years or so—I felt horribly conflicted. I was unfaithful and a failure. Also, I was honest and open to growth.
For quite a while I was pulled back and forth. I wasn’t comfortable where I was, metaphysically, but I was afraid to leave my long-time philosophical companion.
What I didn’t know at the time was that you never leave anything or anyone with whom you’ve had an intimate relationship. They always remain a part of you. You can’t get rid of the influence they’ve had on you, nor would you want to. Every day I spent married to Sue contributed to the person I am now, just as every day I spent devoted to Sant Mat has.
“Divorce” usually is considered to be bad. It isn’t. Divorce, in my experience, is a recognition of reality. That’s good. In life there is coming together; there’s also moving apart. It’s a dance.
We may dance our whole life with a single marital or religious partner. Or, we may not. I just got back from a tango lesson. My wife and I asked for help with a sequence we were having problems with.
One of the instructors gave us a tip: “dancing isn’t about doing all of the steps correctly in a mechanical fashion; when you move with the music in harmony with your partner, that’s dancing, no matter what you’re doing.”
This is great advice. Similarly, life isn’t about marching in lockstep to some externally imposed set of moral rules. “Thou shalt forever stay married to your spouse.” “Thou shalt forever remain faithful to your chosen spiritual practice.”
Circumstances change. People grow. The dance of life is much more like a jazz improvisation than a circumscribed ballet. You don’t know what move is going to be demanded of you next in order to keep in harmony with your fellow beings on the great Earth Dance Floor.
Sometimes you need to hold on tighter to what you have. Sometimes you need to let go and grab a new partner.