For some reason unknown, I have always been fascinated by Arctic and Antarctic adventurers. I live in Canada, at Saranagati where winter weather reaches -25C (-10F) and occasionally -40C (-40F). At such times I feel driven to put on my woolies, step into cross country skis, challenge the adverse weather and go off into the wilderness for hours.
My wife is a substitute teacher at the Saranagati School. One afternoon as I waited in the school reading room for her, relaxing on a cozy sofa, a book on a nearby shelf caught my attention. It was a compilation of true tales of northern adventures.
To pass the time, I started reading a section about two men, best of friends, who ventured across a desolate part of Greenland. For the cross country ski expedition, which lasted several weeks, they carried supplies in heavy back packs and on sleds they laboriously pulled. Half way into their adventure, things became difficult. The weather was bad, and their relationship became strained. They began to annoy each other to the extent that one adventurer expressed how his nerves were acutely grated by the constant squeaking of his partner’s boot during their 10 hour daily treks.
When the trip was over they both laughingly admitted the pressures and strain had been so enormous that each had thought of shooting the other with the rifles they had carried in the event of polar bear attack. However, commitment and sanity triumphed; they made it to the end. Ironically the adventure greatly increased the bonds of their friendship.
“Wow!” I thought to myself, “Sounds a bit like the stages and transitions most marriages go through!”
The marriage adventure begins with the euphoric honey moon stage; “Everything is prefect, we are in heaven, this is going to last forever!”
In the next stage a couple may begin to think, “Gandarhava’s abducted my spouse and left me with some kind of alien.” Differences become noticeable- he’s a spender, she’s a saver; he likes spicy prasadam, she likes mild; she’s orderly, he’s disorganized etc. These differences may become annoying and at times things as small as hearing the breathing of one’s spouse from another room, or whether the seat of the privy is left in the vertical or horizontal position have been reported as sources of severe irritation. It may seem like they are often in a power struggle. Both may begin to think that everything would be alright if their spouse would only change.
However there are some things integral to each individual’s personality that will not change. Thus the plot thickens.
At this point couples are at a critical junction in their journey. If they lack skills, support and commitment their relationship can gradually spiral downward toward separation and divorce. If they have firm commitment but lack skills and support they may swerve off course and continue to live together, though perhaps not so happily every after.
On the other hand, if they have commitment, skills and support they can learn to work together as a team, honoring differences, working through challenges and live peacefully executing Krsna consciousness.
One of the inauspicious symptoms of Kali Yuga that Maharja Pariksit observed was that quarrel and strain were beginning to occur between husband and wife.[i] Judging from statistics today, marital discord is at an all time high and the sense of commitment has greatly eroded, resulting in divorce rates around the world that are alarmingly high. One nation’s parliament actually gave serious consideration to making marriage licenses a five year renewable contract, as divorce took up too much court time.
Commitment is an extremely important and powerful value. Its significance is noted in Bhagavat Gita as vyavasäyätmikä buddhi. This Sanskrit term refers to resolute determination or commitment as the active principle of spiritual life. The Grihastha ashrama is meant for devotional service for the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord Sri Krsna. In spiritual marriages this active principle of commitment becomes a sacred bond.
There are different types of commitment in marriage. One type is a constraint commitment, such as social pressures, sense of duty, financial considerations, and concerns for children’s welfare or fear of loss of contact with children, the difficulty in the steps to leave, moral factors, sacred religious vows, or a poor quality of alternatives. These constraint commitments are the like the steel guardrails on the winding scenic highway between Saranagati and Vancouver that can, in an emergency, prevent one’s car from plummeting over a cliff into the Fraser River’s rapids 200 feet below. Most marriage will face times when this power of commitment is drawn upon. Doing so gives one the strength to surmount obstacles. This is what separates sentiment from actual love.
To live exclusively in constraint commitment, however, would not be the healthiest relationship. Doing so would be like grinding my car against every guard rail on the three hour trip from Saranagati to Vancouver. There are better alternatives than relying solely on constraint commitment. A marriage can be sustained in this way, but only because partners feel duty bound or pressured to do so by external constraints.
Devoted commitment, on the other hand, is something internal. It nurtures, gives strength, energy, support and encouragement. This is the healthy sacred bond of marriage. Prabhupada asked couples he married to vow to “live together peacefully in Krsna consciousness.” Srila Prabhupada described that the nature of healthy relationships is one where the husband is energized by his wife just as Krsna is energized in the presence of Radharani. [ii]
This energy is the fruit of devoted commitment. In marriage this comes from sharing principles and values, honoring differences, working for common goals, having a reciprocal service attitude, maintaining mutual respect and appreciation, and revealing one’s mind and hearing one’s spouse in confidence. These activities, if consciously cultivated, make the home a safe haven and place of inspiration from which one can go out into the world to render service to the Lord. This refuge makes even difficult times a burden of love.
If devoted commitment in not nurtured and constraint commitment becomes the sole bond in marriage, trials and tribulations can become like the burden of the beast. Such unhealthy marriages can be filled with stress, unhappiness, resentment, strife and, in the most unfortunate circumstances, emotional and physical abuse.
Marriage is a journey, not a destination. To fulfill Srila Prabhupada’s expectations of our marriage requires a willingness to do the hard but satisfying work of making the adventure of our marriage flourish.
Recently I encountered a poem, by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, which reminded me of the importance and benefits of this sense of healthy commitment.
One ship drives east and another drives west
With the self same winds that blow.
T’is the set of the sails,
And not the gales,
That tells us the way to go.
Like the winds of the sea, are the ways of fate;
As we voyage along through life,
T’is the set of a soul
That decides its goal,
And not the calm, or the strife.
In the journey of life there can be many storms. We can be bitter, helpless victims of those squalls, sails flailing, or as Mrs. Wilcox infers, we can draw strength from the set of our soul’s commitment, take the challenge, learn new skills, tighten our sails and bear down on aspirations fostered by our principles and values. This should be especially true if we take, as the captain of our ship, the able guidance of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
[i] SB 1.14.4 Translation. “All ordinary transactions and dealings became polluted with cheating, even between friends. And in familial affairs, there was always misunderstanding between fathers, mothers and sons, between well-wishers, and between brothers. Even between husband and wife there was always strain and quarrel.”
[ii] “If one has got good wife, then he gets energy to work. Therefore, prakriti, she is called prakriti, energy. Similarly, this is a fact. Krishna has got also energy, the original puruña—Radharani, energy, prakriti. Krishna is engladdened in the presence of Radharani. That is nature. Similarly, a man, he becomes energized if he has got a good wife or good mother. This is the history of the whole world. Any great man in this world, you will find that behind him he has got a good wife or good mother. Prakriti, energy. That energizes. In our country how we have seen many persons. Just like Sad Guru Das Bannerjee, (indistinct), they had very good mothers, and they became very great men. Similarly, we saw one Englishman, Lord Wellington, he had a very intelligent wife and he became great man. So this prakriti is energy. By the energy of one woman, one becomes very great. That is the material arrangement. Not only material, in the spiritual world also the same thing. Just like Krishna is energized in the presence of Radharani, in the presence of Radharani. Krishna is called Madana-mohana and Radharani is called Madana-mohana-mohiné.”
(Srila Prabhupada conversation March 7/72)