Spirituality and Emotions

Q. My teacher (a Buddhist monk) essentially says that I need to practice transcending my emotions if I want to advance in my spiritual training and my wife says I need to get into my emotions (if I want to stay in my marriage). What am I not getting?

A. The way we see it, your teacher and your wife are both right. But they are speaking from two aspects of self and you may have to chose which aspect you want to focus on developing most at this stage in your life.

Your teacher is interested in what might be called the transpersonal self or the big self with a capital 'S'. This Self, maybe we could call it the universal self that seeks to be one with God, does evolve by detaching from the personal, by rising above the needs and desires of the 'small' self. From the highest levels of this Self's viewpoint, all things personal are seen as illusionary and in some ways infantile. The advantage of this Self is that it can take in the big picture and truly attempt to grasp the magnificence of us being here at all. The disadvantage of this Self is that it is ill-equipped to make a living and/or commune successfully with spouses and families.

Your wife is in interested in the personal self. This is the ordinary self that goes through all the trials of living here on earth. Though this self might wrestle with how to be selfless in constructive ways, it is at the root, ego based. It has all manner of thoughts and feelings: some elevated, some base, and a lot just ordinary. This self has a history of family upbringing, woundings and triumphs, patterns, and personality which it can't escape -you know the picture. The advantages of this self is that it realizes it has to find ways to function here on earth and it gets to regularly experience the roller coaster of sensations (including sex of course) that come to all who are here in their bodies. The disadvantage of this self is that it can get so bound up in fear and small stuff that it looses its connection to the higher order of things.

Now it seems the ideal would be to have access to both these aspects of self, to be able to travel back and forth between the two when it is appropriate to do so. The problems arise when the head (which is ego-based) decides to make a beeline to the big Self early on, without knowing enough about the small self. The ego much prefers 'big' over 'ordinary' and secretly hopes to find powers, specialness, and/or safety in sanctity . Now it's fine for a monk/nun to focus on this path first because a few people know in their hearts it is the right one for them. These folks are clear their relationship focus is with the higher Self and they are not to bother with all the mess of human relationships. They get around the making a living problem, in most cases by surrendering to and depending on the collective around them to supply essential needs. It's a big commitment they make, and they feel ready to pay the costs. But it can easily become a problem when 'monks' attempt to teach their own way to individuals who are not ready to make this same commitment.

Probably the long range goal of everyone is to transcend the small self and live closer to God as the life stages advance. The trouble is that attempting to transcend the small self without first knowing it and all it's feelings very, very well, runs very close to self delusion, denial, and avoidance. And because your wife is poking at you we suspect you might be falling into that territory. It's probably what the Buddha's wife would have been doing to him he had begun his teachings about transcending worldliness without first knowing worldliness!

We have met many people who have a strong connection to spirit and a long standing spiritual practice but when it comes to intimate relationships and sometimes issues of matter and money, they often fall short. Successful intimate relationships (and successful child-rearing) needs earthly bodies who are present and aware of their feelings. Light beings who detached too early and thus avoided learning what they needed to about finances and boundaries often come to a rude awakening at middle age.

Honest self exploration is a very genuine spiritual practice and from what we have seen spiritually disciplined people train more easily into feelings awareness when they make up their mind to do it. Since you are in a marriage and seem to want to hold it, why not put focus on small self awareness and about what you are feeling and about how to express what you are feeling to your intimates. Feelings training is tough work and will keep you very busy. Later in life when the staging is appropriate and your householder duties are well handled, then work on transcending what you know you have -verses attempting, at this point, to transcend what you haven't learned enough about.