Saturday, August 13, 2005


The couple had been arguing for months. Quite skillfully, the pair’s spiritual guide had been skirting around the issue for quite some time, keeping her distance as best she could.

Her primary task was to help the two, as individuals, to enhance the quality of their spiritual lives. However, since matters of the world often spill over into, and create problems for, mystical pursuits, she couldn’t ignore what was going on between the two. The challenge was sort of like a high wire balancing act.

On the one hand, she had to avoid falling into the trap of allowing herself to be dragged into the matter, and, as a result, be perceived, among other things, as taking sides, thereby risking having one of the two distance himself or herself from the spiritual path. On the other hand, if something wasn’t done soon, both of them might allow the negative emotions which were running at high tide in their relationship to completely inundate their spiritual activities altogether.

However, when the local version of the ‘War of the Roses’ seemed destined to enter extra innings and, in addition, began to suck other people of the spiritual circle into the dangerous, outer currents of the marital maelstrom, she decided things had reached a fail safe point and that something needed to be done to address the issue ... for the good of all. Although the spiritual guide had talked with each of the parties on an individual basis, dropping subtle hints, here and there, about how to treat one’s spouse as a partner in life, rather than as an adversary, these sessions appeared to have fallen on deaf hearts, and, so, a much more direct, joint meeting was indicated.

The couple had agreed to come to their teacher’s home in the evening. As a joke, and, hopefully, as a way of lightening the atmosphere somewhat, she briefly entertained the idea of receiving the two in full Samurai battle gear, but discarded the idea because the two were far too caught up in unpleasantness to be able to laugh at themselves.

She knew that, deep down, both of them loved one another. Yet, unfortunately, and as occurs all too frequently, their love for one another had been misplaced or lost or buried somewhere along the way, and, consequently, they had forgotten how, why, or where they had become separated from the river of love which once flowed so freely and abundantly between the two of them.

After the two showed up at her door, like strangers who happened to stumble onto her porch as a result of an improbable set of coincidences, and she had greeted them, taken them into her study, seated them, and provided some refreshments, she sat down as well. She dispensed with any preliminary chitchat, and, instead, walked straight into the arena and said to herself: “For those who are about die, we salute you.”

She began: “There were two seekers of the truth who once made a journey together. Unavoidably, the route which they planned to take took them straight through the heart of countryside inhabited by people who were their sworn enemies – that is, enemies of anyone who was interested in seeking truth in a way other than what people of that country accepted as being ‘the’ proper path to truth.

“For most of their journey, the companions – through a combination of intelligence, vigilance, and luck – had managed to stay out of difficulty. But, one day, events conspired to intersect their path with that of one of their avowed antagonists.

“Essentially, what happened is the following. The pair came to a small river where they found a man lying on the bank nearest to them.

“The path of their journey was such that the two hoped to ford the river at this point since it was the shallowest portion of the river for quite some distance in either direction. The man on the ground had injured his leg and needed to get to the other side where he had a horse and cart tied up.

“Even though the water was relatively shallow at this juncture of the river, nonetheless, it still was too deep to negotiate for a man with an injured leg – especially, given that there were some strong currents which came into play near the far bank. The man needed help, but the two could tell, by the color of the hat the man wore, that he was also one of those who had tremendous enmity for adherents
to what such people considered to be apocryphal teachings.

“One of the two traveling companions offered to carry the man on his back. The injured man accepted the offer with gratitude, not realizing that the two strangers were precisely the sort of people with whom he would not be caught dead under other circumstances.

“A short while later, all three individuals were safely on the other bank of the river. The one who had carried the injured man across the river also helped him get onto his cart, and, then, the two travelers bid the man farewell and continued on with their journey.

“The pair walked in silence for some time. Eventually, they stopped in order to eat something.

“The two had been friends for a long time. They knew one another’s quirks, moods, and manner of engaging life.

“One friend knew that something was bothering his buddy so he said: ‘What’s up? I know something is upsetting you. Why not tell me what’s on your mind?’

“His companion was a forthright individual, so he replied: ‘I don’t think you should have helped that injured man this afternoon. The guy hates people like us, and if he had come to know anything about what we believe, once he got to the other side he probably would have called his neighbors to murder us and believed that both the killing and the help he was given was as God wished.’

“His friend shook his head in sadness and remarked: “You know, I took that guy off my back hours ago, but you still are carrying him around with you. Why don’t you put him down? Our journey is taxing enough as it is without the extra baggage.”

Upon completing her story, the spiritual guide was quiet, giving the couple sitting in her study an opportunity to reflect upon the tale’s potential significance for their own situation. A few minutes passed like this.

The man shifted in his chair, coughed once, and said: “That was a very good story. I liked it a lot.” Then, casting a sideways glance at his wife, he added: “I wish certain people would appreciate its teaching as much as I have.”

His wife’s lips curled into a tight smirk and she shook her head, as if to say –‘there you go again, always at me, always criticizing.’ The man’s wife said: “Well, notwithstanding the opinion of some people, I also loved your story. But, you know what really boils my brass,” and she started to say something, hesitated, looked at her teacher in embarrassment, and closed her mouth so that one could see the muscles in her jaw tighten.

The wife was silent for a moment longer before saying: “I really wish I could take a long holiday somewhere ... you know ... just get away from all the pressure, stress, and conflict. In fact, I’ve been thinking about, maybe, going to that spiritual retreat out in the countryside which is affiliated with our spiritual center.

“Maybe, I could do this for an extended period of time. I think it would do me a lot of good,” she asserted.

Upon hearing the woman’s thoughts, the spiritual guide said: “I once knew a fellow who was a very dedicated member of some spiritual group or other. In fact, if memory serves me here, he was so committed that he sacrificed job, career, family, and quite a few other things in order to go and live at a monastery, ash-ram, or the like – I forget, now, exactly where it was that he went, but it was remote and cut off from the rest of the world.

“This guy loved the place. He adored its quiet, its remoteness, its simple life, its code of letting everyone do his or her own thing.

“He spent all his days and nights at the spiritual center just reading sacred scriptures, chanting, fasting, doing vigils, helping out in the kitchen, discussing spiritual issues with the other residents, working in the garden, and taking long, peaceful walks through the forests and around the lake which was on the property. The entire set of experiences was exhilarating, joyous, ecstatic, life-affirming.

“Indeed, the whole arrangement was so wonderful the man stayed at the retreat for fifteen years. Eventually, he felt sufficiently energized and in-tune with his own being that he decided to re-enter the world beyond the horizons of the spiritual center where he had been living.

“Consequently, he got an apartment and a job in a nearby city. Surprisingly, before long, he was miserable and his life was filled with difficulties that quickly were overwhelming and consuming him.

“The problem was simple. None of what he had learned at the spiritual center was being transferred to his new circumstances – not because there weren’t valuable teachings being transmitted through the spiritual center, but because he hadn’t learned how to make those teachings work outside of the very restricted, protected, remote, simplified way of life which was being lived at the spiritual center.

“He had allowed himself to be deluded into supposing that because he had a strong faith when he was not called upon to test such faith while spending time at the spiritual center, he also believed his faith would remain intact when he moved to a world that would challenge his principles, values, and commitments at every turn, and he was wrong.

“Fasting, chanting, vigils, seclusion, discussion, and reading are all important activities. But, they are a preparation for living, not a substitute, and one tends to run into problems when one assumes that if one can do such feats of austerity, that, therefore, being able to successfully engage the world will follow automatically .

“It’s similar to the difference between military training and actual battle. One might be great in boot camp and, yet, fall apart during combat, because although the two are related, they are not the same.

“Or, to take another example, there are people who do very, very well in the context of schools but cannot, or will not, make the adjustment to non-school environments. Knowing how to play the school game is not necessarily the same thing as knowing how to play the game of life.

“Running from life is not the answer to anything. One needs to learn how to run to life and embrace life for the set of opportunities it is.”

The husband’s eyes had been aglow all through the teacher’s story and follow-up commentary. He was eager to say something, and when he was sure his teacher had finished, he blurted out: “I’ve been trying to tell my wife exactly that for so many years. Of course, I didn’t say it anywhere near as beautifully or succinctly as you did, but the gist of my ideas were pretty much the same.”

A grimace appeared on his face. “I just get so annoyed with her when she goes into these hide and seek games she plays, as if running away is the answer to everything.”

The spiritual guide lowered her gaze to the floor and replied: “There was a woman I used to know many years ago who had a daughter. During the summer, every evening around twilight time, the two of them would sit out on the veranda, while talking and
listening to the birds sing their bedtime songs.

“The daughter was in her late teens or early twenties. She used to stay with her mother when home on summer vacation from the university.

“One evening, the mother asked her daughter what the name of a certain bird was that was perched on a long limb of a nearby tree. The mother described exactly where she was looking so her daughter would be able to identify what her mother was referring to.

“The daughter told her mother the name of the bird, and her mother thanked her, and the two were silent for awhile. A short while later, the same thing happened again.

“The daughter was a little puzzled about this and thoughts of Alzheimer’s passed through her consciousness, but, once more, the daughter answered her mother’s query, but a slight, subtle strand of annoyance had crept into the daughter’s voice. As before, her mother thanked her daughter for the information.

“A few moments later, her mother asked the precise same question, and her daughter said in an exasperated tone of voice: “For goodness sake, Mom, will you ask some other question, I’ve already answered your question twice within a very short period of time. What is it with you on this bird thing?”

“Her mother smiled at her daughter’s remarks -- the way mothers do when they see the faults of their children but love them anyway. She said: “I guess you don’t remember when you were very young – maybe 3 or 4 – you used to ask me that same question five
times a day for weeks on end, and every time you would ask me, I would give you the information you sought, and I enjoyed doing it. The mother paused, briefly, before adding: “Whatever else they teach you at university, patience doesn’t appear to be in the curriculum.”

Upon the conclusion of their teacher’s story, the man’s wife laughed, commenting: “How completely appropriate.”

She looked over at her husband and said: When one person wants something, they want everybody to be patient, but when the shoe is on the other foot, well ...,”and her voice drifted off.

The teacher said: “Actually, the story was for both of you, as are all the stories which I have been relating to you. I’m not directing these stories at one or the other of you, but to both of you.”

She studied the couple for a moment. “Do you two dance together at all?”

The couple shook their heads in unison -- one of the first things they had agreed upon all evening ... and for quite a few months. The husband said: “We used to dance when we were dating, a long time ago, but we haven’t done so in years. Why, are you suggesting the solution to our problems is that we go out dancing more?”

“Not exactly,” the teacher said. “And, yet, the whole idea of dancing has a lot of relevance to what I see going on between the two of you.”

The spiritual guide paused and, then, remarked: “Maybe, by way of introduction and in the hopes that I am not inciting any impatience in either of you, I could relate another story.”

She looked at the two of them. They both gave signs of interest.

To be continued tomorrow . . . (God Willing)

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