By Alan Cohen
A friend told me, “Marriage is a great institution if you don’t mind living in an institution.” Since February is the month of lovers, let’s take a look at what it takes to be a great lover and find great love.
The funny thing about love is that the more you try to organize it, the less like love it becomes. As spiritual master Meher Baba noted, “Love has to spring spontaneously from within and It is in no way amenable to any form of inner or outer force. Love and coercion can never go together; but though love cannot be forced upon anyone, it can be awakened in him through love itself.”
People usually institutionalize things when they don’t trust life to take care of itself naturally and spontaneously. I’m not saying that institutions are bad or that we should not have them; they serve a purpose. But institutions have a way of becoming hollow shells that the heart gradually dies out of. Most religions, for example, began with a genuine enlightenment experience by a prophet whom God spoke to. That experience was so powerful that it inspired others to follow in their footsteps. The glitch in that formula is that if you really want to meet God, you have to follow in your own footsteps, not those of another. It’s more about energy than action; more about consciousness than behavior.
A friend of mine studied with a Native American shaman whom she adored. One day my friend asked the shaman, “How can I be more like you?” The shaman gave the best answer I ever heard: “If you want to be more like me, be more like yourself.” He was teaching that the road to enlightenment is paved with authenticity, not imitation.
The story is told about an African tribesman who went to his favorite rock by a river and sat there eating an avocado. Suddenly a shaft of light broke through the leaves above him and he realized he was one with all life, eternally whole, and filled with peace. In other words, he became enlightened. When the fellow returned to the village, everyone realized there was something extraordinary about him; he had been transformed and he glowed with a new light. When the villagers asked him, “What happened to you?” he explained, “I was just sitting on the big rock down by the river eating an avocado. A beam of light fell upon me, and I saw God.”
The next morning when the tribesman awoke, he found no one in the village. He looked in all the huts, but everyone had mysteriously disappeared. Finally he decided to give up searching and just go back to the rock he loved to sit on. When he arrived, he was amazed to find all the people from the village clustered on the rock, avocados in hand, scrambling to get to the top of the rock.
Silly as this parable sounds, it’s not very different from the way we try to institutionalize spirit. The key to the tribesman’s illumination is that he sat on his favorite rock enjoying his avocado. The villagers would have met God more quickly and directly by going to their own sacred places rather than legislating his.
Great relationships are built on joy, choice, and full presence. If you meet in the temple upheld by those pillars, you are in a holy place indeed. You fuel the flame of love by being fully alive yourself, and when your partner is fully alive too, you have a bonfire. If one or both of you brings less than full life to the altar, the relationship becomes a charade of fear, and it will wither and die.
Abraham-Hicks suggests an odd but meaningful marriage vow; “I like you pretty good, and I plan to stick with you as long as being together brings joy to both of us.” While such a vow may sound scary if you are afraid your relationship might not last without more of a commitment, it can be empowering if you recognize that commitment to life is the foundation of great relationships. If you stay true to your spirit and your partner stays true to his or her spirit, and you find yourself paddling in the same canoe, you are in the best ride of your life.
I heard about a spiritual community in Italy at which married couples renew their marriage contract on an annual basis. Each year the couple revisits their agreement to be together and they ask each other if they want to remain married for another year. I rather like this formula, since that’s how it is anyway. We are all making it up as we go along.
Commitment is important, and a meaningful lifetime commitment can be highly empowering. Just be sure that your commitment is less about time in your life, and more about life in your time.St. John of the Cross said, “Take God for your spouse and friend and walk with Him continually, and you will not sin and will learn to love, and the things you must do will work out prosperously for you.” The Steve Winwood song “Higher Love” bears the same message: Show up as yourself, trust life and love, let higher power orchestrate your relationship, and no rule you make will be as powerful as the joy you feel together when willingness is your motivator.
Alan Cohen is the author of many popular inspirational books. For more information, visit www.alancohen.com.