Perhaps the most difficult marriage of all — the third marriage beneath the two visible, all-too-public marriages of work and relationship — is the internal and often secret marriage to that tricky movable frontier called ourselves: the marriage to the one who keeps changing at the center of all the outer relationships while making promises it hopes to God it can keep.
If we are involved in the outer world in ways that betray our conscience or deeply held beliefs, then even simple internal questions can be very difficult to ask. . . . Not only can we become afraid of these internal questions but also we can become terrified of the spaces or silences in which these questions might arise.
The third marriage, then, especially in today’s world, where we have created societies and commercial environments that claw at us from morning to night, can be the most difficult marriage of all. To the outward striver — that is, most of us — it can seem as if this internal marriage is asking for a renunciation of the two outer marriages. Feeling this can come as almost a relief, a way out, for in the name of our many responsibilities and duties, we can use it as the perfect excuse not to look inside at all, feeling as if our outer world will fall apart if we spend any time looking for the person who exists at the intersection of all these outer commitments.
All our great contemplative traditions advocate the necessity for silence in an individual life: first, for gaining a sense of discernment among 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 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. For the busy mind, for instance, it is almost impossible or even painful, to stop and read the following:
In the beginning of heaven and earth
There were no words,
Words came out of the womb of matter
And whether a man dispassionately
Sees to the core of life
Or passionately sees the surface
The core and the surface
Are essentially the same,
Words making them seem different
Only to express appearance.
If name be needed, wonder names them both:
From wonder to wonder
(Tao Te Ching translation by Witter Bynner)
Existence opens. ‘Thank you,’ we say, ‘but I don’t have time. Please give it to me in three bullet points that I can look at later, when I get a moment, when I retire, when I’m on my deathbed or even when I’m actually dead, surely, then, there’ll be time enough to spare.’ Trying to be equal to Lao Tzu’s opening remarks in the Tao Te Ching when we have no practice with silence and the revelations that arise from that spacious sense of reality can be like a novice violinist trying to play the opening notes of a Bach concerto. We can be so overwhelmed by the grandeur of the piece that we give up on our beginning scales.
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.