(As told to Anupama Kondayya)
No one tells you that you lose some things in marriage. Like my 7-year friendship with my husband.
We became friends on the first day of our first job. He played different roles in those years – colleague, friend, boyfriend – ever-present as a significant part of those 7 years that I spent carving an independent identity.
Until he became my significant other.
Blinded by the illusion of knowing each other, we ignored the need to focus on bonding as man and wife which created many blind spots and conflicts in our marriage – preferred beverages, hunger patterns, approach to spending time with each other, personal interests/tendencies, the way we handled our families, the way we let our families handle us – everything started to cause conflict.
Additionally, I’d quit a vibrant city-life to move to the quiet dead suburbs of USA, welcomed by the worst winter of the decade. The house arrest, our differences, the illusion of familiarity, and other people/circumstances created a cauldron where many a terrible fight were cooked. We had some amazing times, too, sure. But punctuated by fights. No help was forthcoming either, with people getting judgmental or preachy. It seemed hopeless with no solution to the imbroglio in sight. I’d gained a husband, but lost a friend and much more.
Related reading: Osho on love as a disease and meditation as medicine
In the midst of the frustration, there was a realisation one day: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for”. Rather, I. I couldn’t change my husband, but I could change myself; through introspection and spirituality, among other things.
I’d attended Bhagavadgita interpretations in B-school, so I started there. But I needed something more practical than philosophy. I’d practiced Pranic Healing meditation for 2-3 years and had quit for a year. I restarted that, trying to generate love and kindness from within hoping it would penetrate our lives too. But I had no love left. Then, I discovered an online Mindfulness Summit – about 25 speakers giving out practical ways of being mindful in daily life. My husband attended it too, and we loved it! It felt like we were back on the same team…two people in love, lost and wounded, trying to hold on to each other and finding a way back to bliss.
A few speakers in this summit referred to Vipassana Meditation. It was a Eureka moment! I’d heard of it and had wanted to attend a course but had conveniently forgotten about it, certain I wouldn’t find resources in a foreign country.
Only, I did! A short drive away! And I knew I had to go. I was going to work on myself, because that is the only thing one can do in Vipassana. But I felt certain that it would improve all aspects of my life, including marriage.
Vipassana meditation was developed and first taught by Gautama Buddha. But it’s religion-neutral, involves no cults, no Gods (not even the Buddha), no rituals and no money. In fact, to me, it is a most scientific technique.
Here’s my understanding of Vipassana: We have a pre-evolution part of the brain called ‘reptilian brain’, responsible for our instinct. When we feel threatened, this reptilian brain triggers a ‘fight-or-flight’ response, just like animals. Except, this threat is not necessarily to our physical survival but could be to our ego, status, identity, existence and beliefs, leading us to engage in ‘fight-or-flight’ for self-preservation. Knowing this is of no help when the reptilian brain takes over…the blood rushes to our limbs, our heart starts thumping, the rational brain shuts down and we go onto auto-pilot. We may regret our behaviour later, but the reptilian brain will take over again when we feel threatened. During Vipassana one learns to identify breathing patterns and physical sensations associated with these instinctive emotions like anger, fear, irritation, even gloating when praised, pride etc. One learns to identify them minutely and then, very simply, to not react to them.
As simple as it sounds, this non-reaction is tough. But without a doubt, it is the most important and valuable thing I have learned in life.
Now, when there are differences between us, I’m able to recognise the instant I start getting annoyed. Just realising that I’m getting angry allows my rational brain to step in and decide on my response (even if it’s anger, it has to be chosen, not instinctive). It’s easier for me to say things jokingly or complain teasingly, so he gets the point but it stays pleasant. We’ve not had a single fight in the two months since Vipassana. For most part, there is an ocean of calm within me from where I ‘respond’ now…not ‘react’ from my reptilian brain.
The biggest testament to these changes and how they have positively affected our marriage is my husband’s statement that seeing how I respond now makes him want to attend a Vipassana course! Of course, I support this most heartily while wishing that more people – young and old – and couples benefit through Vipassana.
Vipassana is a personal practice that lets an individual deal with the world without generating undue attachments and aversions. But its immediate effects show in all interpersonal relationships, since we are easily affected by other people’s actions and words. And in a marriage, the benefits increase manifold due to the nature of the institution, the expectations it brings, the sheer length and the domesticity of it. No other teaching, no advice, no person has been able to provide me with a lasting and practical path to building a good marriage as Vipassana. For that, and for bringing my lost old friend, my love, back into my marriage, I am indebted to Gautama Buddha and his science of insight.