In my article in February I wrote about meditation and marriage and how both contribute to deepening our sense of who we are at the deepest level of our being. Couples are often reminded at the marriage ceremony to view love, not as a noun, but as an action verb; to see love not merely as something they experience but as something they do which honours and celebrates the astonishing miracle of their being together.
The birth of a child stirs something primal in the depths of the human person and awakens us to our inner depths”
Neither meditation nor marriage is a permanent state of bliss! To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here, right now. Meditation helps us to begin to do just that, firstly with ourselves. Until we can accept ourselves as we truly are, we will never be able to recognise or accept others as they truly are. As they grow together in marriage, couples come to appreciate that the deep love they feel for their partner in marriage is really a reflection of God’s love for them, which meditation also awakens. As in meditation, the commitment in marriage is to move beyond the self, to commit to live life together.
We were blessed in our marriage to receive three wonderful gifts from God. Holding each of our children in our arms for the first time were deeply graced moments. The birth of a child stirs something primal in the depths of the human person and awakens us to our inner depths. And before long, love is made manifest in the myriad of ways a parent is called upon to respond to the demands of a little child. And the joy such responses bring opens us up to receive love in ways we never thought possible. I always loved putting them to bed at night, tucking them in and reading or telling them stories. And, last thing at night, I did every night what my father had always done with us – I went to their bedrooms and gently touched them on the forehead with the palm of my hand.
I love to play with my grand-daughters and their favourite game at the moment is playing what the eldest (five years old) calls ‘Mammies and Daddies’. This involves us minding our children, waking them up in the morning, feeding them and bringing them to creche and big-school and then returning to our ‘house’ to work from home – just as her Mammy does! She has heard me talk about my Dad and now I see that when she puts ‘our’ children to bed, she kisses each doll gently on the forehead after she has tucked them in!
That simple act, that loving gesture by my father each night was always a great comfort to me and contributed greatly to my understanding of God as a loving Father; as being loved for who I was, as I was. Meditation also gives rise to that same kind of experiential knowing.
Marriage teaches us that love is more than a feeling; that it can be hard work, often fierce and imperfect, but always life-giving. It becomes a choice we make over and over again, ever-renewed by wonder. These days, I am re-discovering this with my grand-children. When I watch them sleeping after a period of play I cannot help but recall the verse penned by Rainer Maria Rilke:
“A billion stars go spinning through the night, blazing high above your head.
But in you is the presence that will be, when all the stars are dead.”
Both marriage and meditation also involve a great deal of letting go. There is a quaint phrase in the English language ‘to knock the corners off’ somebody; it means to accustom a person to the vicissitudes of life; to cure a person of naïveté, selfishness, etc. by exposure to reality. Whereas our education, our life experience and all of our relationships do that to each of us to some extent, the two most effective instruments in knocking the corners off me over the years have been marriage and meditation.
Both marriage and meditation hold a mirror up to us, allowing us to see with fresh eyes how we have developed habitual, often familial, ways of dealing with life’s challenges and show us, sometimes with great humour and sometimes painfully, how such habits are often defensive and unhelpful in life and in relationship.
In meditation as we sit in silence we find ourselves assailed by a myriad of thoughts, emotions and sensations which reflect back to us the preoccupations, desires, needs, and worries of the egoic self. As we continually let them go and return to our word, we begin to discover a spaciousness underneath the noise from which emerges a deeper sense of who we are. And, in marriage, as our habitual ways of doing things rub up against the very different habits of our partner we slowly but surely learn that there is no single right way of doing anything but that a range of alternative approaches bring a great richness of possibility.
The poet Hafiz captured this beautifully when he wrote:
“The Beloved sometimes wants
To do us a great favour:
Hold us upside down
And shake all the nonsense out.”
In meditation, the act of continually letting go of thought and returning to our world does the same thing and, devoid of all our baggage, we find we are, all the time, standing on holy ground, grounded in love.
You can read Dr. Noel Keating’s February article, Meditation and Marriage here.