There is a very fine line between Being You and Being in Ego. Spiritually you need to fulfil your specific part of the universe—we need you to be you for the Infinite All to exist. So every part of the universe is insignificant in its equality, and yet we are all simultaneously critical to the whole. So how do you be spiritual and you at the same time? The best way I know to describe this is to give you an example of someone who marries these two realities seamlessly.
For most of my life I’ve known a couple and I’ve grown up watching their lives and personalities unfold under a variety of joys and stresses. Being who I am, I’ve been able to collect an incredible amount of information about how they live and interact, and that lead me to questions about their histories that helped fill in the blanks I had. In this couple, it is the husband who leads an enlightened life. His enlightenment may not seem apparent to the casual observer, but that’s only because of that very fine line I mentioned previously—the line between being yourself and being in ego.
The reason most people wouldn’t notice or suspect that this man is enlightened is because his life can appear to be a living hell from the outside. For our entire lives my neighbours and I have heard this man be repeatedly beaten down and none of us have any recollection whatsoever of his wife ever saying a kind, supportive or loving thing to him. In fact if she did, I’m sure we would all notice it immediately because in contrast to the rest of her behaviour it would glow in the dark.
She can be guaranteed to point out every failing she perceives him to have and now her view of him is so thoroughly disappointed and disgusted that the standard tone of voice she uses with him would be most appropriate to a misbehaving six-year-old. Because women naturally mimic their mothers more than their fathers, many will use scolding tones when criticizing others. It has innocent enough origins, but it’s not particularly conducive to the most positive relations between two adults.
So this guy basically catches hell all day long. He gets yelled at for what he does, what he didn’t do, what he might do, and for what he did years ago. If you recorded her all day long and removed the words, just the tone alone would tell you that she’s perpetually exasperated by his stupidity, lack of awareness, his laziness, and his poor prioritization of tasks. At the same time all of the neighbours would describe him as very friendly and helpful, very generous and thoughtful, and everyone would agree he’s an extremely hard worker who basically works from when he wakes up until when he sleeps. So if that’s his life, how can it be good enough to be an enlightened life?
That question isn’t easy to answer until you understand their pasts. She grew up as the only daughter of a stern mother of one girl and a baseball team of boys. So when she was programmed to speak to the male gender, she was taught to give them hell—to assume they’re in trouble and to scold them into “proper” behaviour. So that’s how she speaks to her husband—completely unconsciously. She isn’t choosing the words she thinks will be most effective based on her own life experience, she’s blindly imitating her mother in an inappropriate context.
His past is that he grew up with an angry, abusive father who he learned to calm down by being completely obsequious. So his standard starting point in life is to assume that he’s in trouble and to save himself by figuring out what to do to calm things down. So considering that’s his primary skill in life, he really did pick the perfect wife.
What’s critical to understanding the subtle difference between ego and personality is that one is not the same thing as the other. Personality is who you are, and who you are is always perfectly fine. Ego is when we begin to judge who we are. This is the step that the enlightened old man can take that most struggle with. He doesn’t judge his own behaviour.
So here’s the tricky part: we could argue that this man is in a bad marriage and that his wife should treat him better, and that’s true. He would be happier and both parties would be healthier if she wasn’t always angry and he wasn’t always afraid. But that doesn’t mean he’s having a bad life. She is, but that’s because she keeps choosing anger and she sits all day and thinks about his failings and why he didn’t get this done, or why he did something his way instead of her way. There’s no way to think thoughts like that and have a happy life.
The reason he’s okay is that he doesn’t second guess her behaviour or his reactions. He simply is who he is and his life taught him the skills to be with a woman like this and so that’s what he does. Period. No thinking about how it could be better, no wishing she was different, no wanting a different past, and no criticizing of his father for teaching him to live that way. He accepts his history and his present with his internal silence and therefore he simply Is.
Yes, the fact that he never says a bad thing about his wife seems strange to all of his neighbours. And yes, his life would get even richer and better if he was with someone who treated him more like he treats her, but even with that being the case he still has one of the best marriages someone can have. If you asked him what he thought about being married to his wife, he would do as he always does and he would point out everything about her he likes. And being married to someone who you honestly view as great is as good as it gets.
So you can see it’s very possible for one spouse to be in a good marriage and the other to be in a bad one. Because life is all about perspective. And while he’s not thinking ugly thoughts about her, that’s pretty much all she thinks about regarding him. So if we asked her about her marriage, she would exasperatedly list a litany of complaints and failures because that’s what she thinks about—what it would be like to be married to a different man.
Yes, this man’s unfortunate past lead him to get married to someone that seemed familiar, and he’s been working to win that person’s favour since he was a kid. But because he doesn’t see anything wrong with leading that life, he’s fine. He’s happier and better off than the rest of us because all he can see is his good fortune because that’s all he’s looking for.
So your pain comes from you wanting a different life. His peace comes from accepting and appreciating the one he already has. The only question is, which one do you do right now, and which one are you going to choose in your future moments? Are you going to be an angry disappointed spouse, or is your awareness focused on being a quietly contented one? Because the quality of your marriage will always depend far more on your attitude than your spouse.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.