square one

(family life as preparation for deeper spiritual work)

photo courtesy yasodhara ashram

Sometimes people separate spiritual life and family life in a way that isn’t realistic. You can actually accomplish a lot during the time that you are raising a family and once your children become independent you can focus more intensely on your spiritual aspirations. I disagree with some people in India who leave their young families to become sanyasins. I feel it is better to become the best husband or wife, the best father or mother and friend to your children, and to use your family life to grow until you can dedicate yourself wholeheartedly to the spiritual path.

In sanyas there are twelve years of tapas (purification), but you can also carry out your tapas within the family—even within your physical, sexual relationship. Instead of using your partner for self-gratification or compensation, you can develop a relationship where sex is the enhancement of love and where there is a true inner giving.

So in your family life you can prepare for deeper spiritual work. Use the time to develop honesty, compassion and patience. You can also begin thinking on a deeper level—what is love, do you really love or are you only in love with the idea of loving? In Kundalini Yoga this kind of questioning is the foundation work, symbolized by the square in the first chakra. Ask yourself: What is consciousness? What is mind? Where do I lie? How subtle can a lie be—perhaps pretending to agree when you really don’t, or acting sweetly when you are bursting with resentment? There is much you can do during the eighteen years it takes for your children to grow up. Then in your remaining years, you can become a saint! Just try it and you will see!

Family is not necessarily a hindrance to spiritual life, but it can delay your progress if you want to focus on spiritual work. Naturally if I have a husband, then I will be thinking about what he is doing—if he looks tired, or if he didn’t have supper, or if he is still out somewhere in the rain. Your mind is there with your partner. It cannot be helped. Your mind is divided.

If you bring observation, awareness and humility into daily life, and quality into all your work, then it doesn’t matter where you are— in an ashram, in the city, married or unmarried. Because when you have humility, observation and awareness, you know exactly how attached you are and where you need to practise non-attachment. But you have to really do it, not just leave it as an intellectual concept.

A very one-sided life is not necessarily better than any other life. I have seen someone who was considered a very holy man in India because he had practised mauna (silence) for ten years. But living in a cave where communication is impossible does not necessarily lead to higher development. I observed that when this man was asked one challenging question, his anger roared up. What is the use of silence and brahmacharya if someone can still push your buttons and set you off? You have achieved nothing.

We are all here on this Earth to learn, to grow. And therefore we have to accept the problems and difficulties in whatever choices we make. There is no ideal state, so we have to struggle through the situations in which we find ourselves. In your family you may meet the exact challenges you need. My guru told me that I was trained for my work from the day I was born. Once when I complained to him that I couldn’t be anybody’s spiritual mother because I didn’t have a human mother who cared, he looked at me and said, “First you couldn’t break loose. Then when you had a mother who set you free, you complain.”

Each individual has to make their own decision about pursuing their spiritual life. Whether you are married, have children, or have a career, this should not stand in the way. You can dedicate everything you do to the Most High, and bring the greatest quality possible into your life.
A pioneer in bringing yoga to the West, Swami Sivananda Radha is the author of 10 classic books on yoga, including Kundalini Yoga for the West and Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language. Her teachings focus on developing awareness and quality in life.

  read more of swami radha's past columns

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