I’m reading poet David Whyte’s book titled The Three Marriages. He describes three important commitments that humans make through the course of our lives: to love, to work, and to self-understanding. He writes:
“All of our great contemplative traditions advocate the necessity for silence in an individual life: first, for gaining a sense of discernment amid the noise and haste, second, as a basic building block of individual happiness, and third, to let this other all-seeing identity come to life and find its voice inside us. In the Buddhist tradition the ability to be happy is often translated into English as ‘equanimity,’ roughly meaning to be equal to things, to be large enough for the drama in which we find ourselves.
Almost all of our traditions of instruction in prayer, meditation or silence, be they Catholic, Buddhist or Muslim advocate seclusion or withdrawal as a first step in creating this equanimity. Small wonder we feel it goes against everything we need to do on the outside to keep our outer commitments together. Intimate relationships seem to demand endless talking and passing remarks; work calls for endless meetings, phone calls and exhortations. In the two outer marriages (love and work) it seems as if everything real comes from initiating something new. In the inner world we intuit something different and more difficult. It can be disconcerting or even distressing to find that this third marriage, this internal marriage, calls for a kind of cessation, a stopping, a fierce form of attention that attempts to look at where all this doing arises from.
…The third marriage to the internal self seems to be to someone or something that in many ways seems even less open to coercion or sheer willpower than an actual marriage or a real job. Not only does this internal marriage seem to operate under rules different from those of the other two outer contracts but it also seems to be connected to the big, we might even say unbearable, questions of existence that scare us half to death and for which we have no easy answer.”
I went to sleep with those words in my head and woke up thinking of my partner as he boarded a plane for Central America to present a series of lectures to writers and students. I soon heard my son (who is home from college) descend to the kitchen to pack his lunch and eat a quick breakfast. He chose to work 7 days/week this summer to help cover his college expenses. I thought of my own pending layoff in a little over a month and how I have an unexpected opportunity to reinvent my work life.
Each morning and throughout every day, I am grateful to have a lover and children who support me (the first of Whyte’s three: love). I’m also grateful for my experiences that offer a little wisdom and insight into how I might navigate the road ahead (the second: work). My inner self is also hoping for a little synchronicity and a few awesome surprises along the way, or something akin to this Chinese proverb:
“Happiness is somebody to love, something to do, and something to hope for.”
(The Three Marriages, Re-imagining Work, Self and Relationship by David Whyte was published in 2009 by Riverhead Books.)