When we married we made a solemn vow to help each other on our path to God. The use of the word God in that sentence is a problem because everyone has a different idea of what it means, and for many people it is not a positive concept. In our vow it represented a higher state of consciousness that has also been called Divine Love.
At the time we were deeply involved with a number of therapeutic processes and with a spiritual practice centred around a group known as an Enlightenment Intensive (EI). (You can read an account I wrote of participating in an EI here.) In an EI participants set out to discover their own truth of issues such as who they are and what life is about. A proportion of them will have an ‘enlightenment experience’ in which they become aware in a way that is fundamentally different from our normal state of consciousness. The experience is not through thought, nor feeling, nor sensation – it is not through any process. One way of trying to describe it is that there is no sense of separation between the one having the experience and that which is experienced. In communicating what they experience people end up using words such as God, Divine, Divine Love and Pure Love – because the experience has a transcendent quality that evokes a sense of glory and wonder.
The experience is also a genuine enlightenment experience, in the sense used by Zen masters, Buddhists and mystics through the ages. It is a state in which a person experiences themselves and life and other people as profoundly as possible, often with an overflow of love and insight. What we meant in our wedding vow was that we were going to help each other become more aware of ourselves and each other at this level of consciousness. It requires a complete openness to everything – and a commitment to knowing what the truth is in any situation, no matter how difficult or confronting that truth might be.
It might clarify what we mean by comparing our current focus on relationship to our previous paths which were based on therapy and later a spiritual process.
When we were engaged with therapy we subscribed to a process whereby one became aware of how one’s behaviour in the present was conditioned by unconscious associations with some combination of trauma and attitudes embedded in our personal history. The core therapeutic processes were aimed at uncovering the links to the past, expressing the emotional charge caught up in the historical events and coming to a place where current behaviour was based on conscious choice. The ‘ideal’ toward which one made progress was a person who was aware of all their conditioning and able to make free choices in the present.
We both gained enormous benefit from our therapeutic processes. We both had violent and often uncaring childhoods that left many scars that needed to be recognised and, as far as possible, healed. However we also came to recognise that there were many core aspects of our childhoods that had literally shaped who we were and that this shaping could not be undone – not by analysis, nor screaming nor understanding. So whilst continuing to be open to understanding more about the ways in which we behave unconsciously or have been conditioned by our past, we did not pursue the therapeutic ideal.
Our engagement with Enlightenment Intensives (EIs) opened us to a different ideal and set of processes. The new ideal was an individual who was in a permanent state of enlightenment, which meant in constant contact with pure Love and the Divine in everyone and everything. The core processes to achieve this state were involved in purifying oneself, physically, emotionally and spiritually. The requirements for this included abstaining from intoxicants, letting go resentments and transcending one’s desires. As well as purification we had strong meditation practices; for example I used surrender meditation 2 hours a day for more than a decade.
Again we both gained great benefit by pursuing this path for many years. However in order to follow the practices we found that we had to suppress core aspects of ourselves. Most spiritual practices regard intimate relationships as a distraction (or worse) and it is not accidental that most spiritual teachers and gurus are not in intimate relationships. The general orientation is away from sex, pleasure and intimacy and after a time we felt that this was too high a price to pay. We loved relating, having sex and sharing pleasure together. So we gave up seeking sainthood and instead sought the Divine in each other.
So following a relationship path means that we are constantly seeking to experience each other at the Divine level. When we succeed there is a sense of an amazing love connection, we both radiate and see each other as the most attractive beings imaginable. When other people witness us in this state they are bowled over and love watching the exchange and flow of love between us – it is as if Love itself is contagious.
In order to achieve this state we have to be completely open to each other. Completely open means no secrets, nothing hidden, no aspect of ourselves that we are unwilling to be seen by our partner and no requirement that the other person be any particular way. We cannot make the state happen, but if we sit looking into each other’s eyes and continue to be open to each other, then, within at most an hour, the state will occur. The state of love between us will last for anything between a few seconds and a few minutes. As we are learning to tolerate the contact and love we are able to allow it to be there for longer.