Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wife sounds like the laundry

In most of our human relationships, we spend much of our time reassuring one another that our costumes of identity are on straight.
Ram Das 

In the "Search for Self" class I recently completed at the Interdependence Project, we did a contemplation in which we were asked to think of a label we identify with. None of the possibilities that emerged for me were "wife." 

And yet, I've been a wife for more than half of my life. It doesn't come up for me because I don't see myself filling the socially constructed role of "wife" very well.

When I say "wife"
it's cause I can't find another word
for the way we are
but "wife" sounds like you're mortgaged
sounds like the family car

Jonathan Richman
When I Say Wife 

 For a long time, I thought I was a bad wife because I didn't fulfill those expectations. What I've learned, though, is that "wife" is a label, not a definition. It is a role; it is not me, even if I am it. 

A man once came into my meditation class, and asked -- during the wide open Q & A -- how I could reconcile being married (I wear a ring) with the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence. He'd earlier made a comment about wishing he could go on retreat, explaining that his girlfriend didn't understand why he would want time away.
Everything is impermanent, I said, in the sense that it is constantly changing. Nothing stays exactly as it is in any given moment -- not mountains or coastlines or skin or relationships. What that means is that your relationship is never solid or static; you can't freeze your partner into the person they were when you stood at the altar. 

Living from a realization that everything and everyone changes, you can dance with the energies. Some days it may be an angry dance, an almost-choreographed sword fight. Other days it's a ballet, and every move is precise and interwoven. You might get a solo. Or one person's timing might be off, throwing things into chaos for a bit. But it can be a thing of beauty and joy. 

At some point it will end. Life is impermanent. Death comes for us all.

Once, at the end of a retreat when participants were talking for the one of the first times and getting to know people they'd been sitting with, I was standing with two women who were talking with great love and affection about their partners, who also were women. One turned to me and said, "How about you? Do you have a partner?" I stammered, "Uh, no, I'm straight." She smiled. "You still can have a partner."

I do have a partner, a longtime one, so long that our cells have turned nearly five times since we first became an item. I am fortunate and grateful that he's not threatened by my going on retreat, that he dances with me, even if we sometimes step on one another's feet.

Buddhist psychologist John Welwood describes it as "the play of oneness and twoness" -- oneness being the ultimate level of absolute love, where no one is separate from others, and twoness the relative level where distinct personalities meet.

Happy anniversary, Spouse.

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