Love and Change
It’s a new year. I ponder the many changes it will bring. I notice how 2003 ended—again– with the ever-increasing apocalyptic catastrophes that wiped out entire towns worldwide, plunging thousands around the globe into a sea of loss and desolation. We feel the heat of change in our own country, especially with the presidential election nightmare threatening to mar our already damaged political and economic landscape. Where will this country be next year?
I look back on the last twelve months and shake my head at the changes in and around me. I see how my children are growing daily in their physical bodies, as well as their deepest and highest parts. I think of them as grown men making their way into what would by then be a totally different world. Which institutions will survive for them, what form will they take and how will my children experience them? What will their world be like?
Already the family is changing. How many of us truly feel deeper ties with people outside of our blood families? I can only imagine the number of individuals sitting at Christmas dinner, feeling totally displaced in their own families, wondering how a bunch of almost -strangers grew up together in the place they casually call home. Women are finding their voice. Men are moving more comfortably into their feminine side. Our beliefs are changing to the core and life, as we know it, has become challenging on every level. We are constantly evolving with the world, though in varying degrees.
The image of the bride always brings this home for me. I see her coming down the aisle feet barely touching the floor, illuminated by faith, hope and a brand of love replete with longing, desire and a host of levitation-inducing emotions. Ah, what a sight. How beautiful she is. This is where her journey begins. I think of how the years will change her. I wonder if she will harden or become wise. I think of her as a mother; how her heart will open to depths and heights previously unknown. I know the many ways a marriage can go, so I feel a swirl of joy and sorrow for the radiant bride who will never again be the same. What will happen to her when she begins to individuate, as she will; when insurmountable differences emerge and she begins to question herself, her spouse, her life, her destiny, the very meaning of love?
Marriage is no longer what it was. Like everything it is evolving, threatened by a world that has become material and external in orientation. For most of us, the concept of marriage remains ancient. It is a blindly accepted custom; an abstract expectation. No wonder so many are disappointed or feel it isn’t what they bargained for.
We marry, share a home, raise kids and then a blur of life fills in the gaps. We carry an amorphous image of love in our heads that has everything to do with what’s been fed us from birth, what has been imprinted in us from experience and what lies dormant in the very depths of our souls. We vow to love each other till death do us part but few of us have even asked ourselves what our picture of this love is; few of us have sat down with our partners to define our relationships. What, for example, is the meaning of fidelity? This is clear to most women. And easy. It means their husband exclusively forever, in body, soul and spirit. For a man it isn’t so. It could mean he will love and care for his wife and children but have a secret life. Or he won’t have a mistress but will play the field from time to time. What happens when something so fundamental cannot be bridged? Is this still a true marriage? We take these things for granted.
Filipinos, especially, love to tell each other “please don’t change” or “stay the way you are” and when things go wrong say accusingly, “you’ve changed”, “you’re not the woman I married”. Well, of course not. We are human beings. Change is part of our inner and outer constitution. How else do we meet our individual destinies? Yet knowing all this, how do we stay together, growing in “love”, individually and together forever? And how do we do this consciously, in a way that honors our spirit and that of our spouse and not blindly, just because it’s what we think the bible says?
I read a book recently that has been a big help in my quest for illumination on the challenges and evolution of human relationships. “Friends and Lovers: Working through relationships” is a wonderful book by Julian Sleigh that sheds light on the nuances and intricacies of relationships. He says:
“The modern marriage envisages that those who marry are not two halves making a whole but two wholes who place themselves in the service of each other. The aim is not only to share a domestic arrangement or even for the sake of bringing up a family; these aspects need a higher principle to enliven and safeguard them. This higher principle is one of regard for the wholeness of each other, the unfolding person who is equally at home in the spiritual world and in the earthly. Regard for the one who can aspire to great thoughts and enjoy a rich imagination, and at the same time can be fully practical and wise about earthly needs and situations that life presents. It calls for persons who are able and glad to give space to each other and enable the other to grow. Persons who know their own weaknesses and selfish habits and are working to overcome them. Persons who are striving in their soul life to be channels of feeling and love. Persons who have greatness of heart.”
This paragraph gives us an idea of the essence of a true and good marriage. It implies growth and freedom. It illustrates a kind of love that is far from romantic. It isn’t a “falling into each other” kind of love but one that aspires towards a greater ideal. Sleigh further writes:
“We do not change another person through spiritual love: we help him to be free to be himself. We strive to create a safe space for him to fill, large enough to enable him to grow, yet firm enough to assure him of our understanding and our regard for him. We will not intrude with advice unless it is asked for, and even then we will encourage him to find his own solutions. We will not cross his boundaries and invade his space; we are not allowed to force him to be free. We will only seek to transform the moonlight of his aloneness into the sunlight of companionship.
Our love will help him to be free in so far as it comes from our own inner freedom.”
These aren’t just words. As I read this, I felt my gut fill with warmth, knowing I had hit upon a spiritual truth. Getting there, of course, is what life is all about. But carrying this possibility of spiritual love in our consciousness and feeling already creates tremendous space for change. If I could quote the whole book, I would. But I thought it might be better to invite the author instead. (Julian Sleigh arrived in the Philippines in February 2004 for a series of workshops and lectures).
I’ve read this book three times and each time my understanding of the complexities of relationships has deepened, and not just in my head. I have become more forgiving, more understanding, but also clearer in myself about my own spiritual growth and development. Change is inevitable and difficult, but when viewed in terms of the spirit, one cannot help but see the hand of the Divine.
This time next year, I hope to look back with gratitude and comprehension on the intricate pattern of change I would have woven in and around me. I hope to feel the changes in the country and the world working in me in a deep yet uplifting way. And I hope that we will all be better equipped to meet change with acceptance, purpose, grace, and a greater capacity for love.