The Three Marriages

According to author David Whyte, we are involved with Three Marriages – relationships, work, and our inner selves.

Most of us grow up only during a marriage or a work-life or a sweeping self examination, not before them.  Strangely, despite this fact, in the marriage ceremony we commit to all the ideals beforehand, in public, before parents, before friends, before extended family; as one comedian said, before strange foods we will never eat again, and I might add, before crowds of perfect strangers we may never meet again.

. . . We may be able to evade emotional commitments to others in marriage or relationship through a steady stubborn refusal, by rehearsed, detailed explanations to mother or simply by telling the whole world to go away, but work in all its forms may be even harder to ignore, simply because it is tied so much to actual daily survival.  By definition, all of us, living at this time are descended from a long line of survivors who lived through the difficulties of history and prehistory; most of whom had to do a great deal of work to keep the wolf, the cold and the neighboring tribe from the door.

threemarriages_blog. . . There is no shelter from the calls of work.  Find a corner to stretch out in, away from other eyes and lecturing voices and eventually our own conscience, built on millions of years of evolutionary survival, comes looking for us; tells us to get up and do something useful,  for God’s sake.

. . . In many ways, work must be a marriage; otherwise, why would we put up with so much over the years?  We must have made hidden vows somewhere to follow something larger than the difficulties of the everyday.

But work is not only necessity; good work like a good marriage needs a dedication to something larger than our own detailed, everyday needs; good work asks for promises to something intuited or imagined that is larger than our present understanding of it.  We may not have an arranged ceremony at the altar to ritualize our dedication to work, but many of us can remember a specific moment when we realized we were made for a certain work, a certain career or a certain future: a moment when we held our hand in a fist and made unspoken vows to what we had just glimpsed.  For some it may come very, very early.

. . . Happiness in the second marriage of work, like happiness in the first marriage with a person, is possible only through seeing it in a greater context than surviving the everyday.  We must have a relationship with our work that is larger than any individual job description we are given.

. . . 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.

. . . In the midst of a seemingly endless life, however, we can spend so much time attempting to put bread on the table or holding a relationship together that we often neglect the necessary internal skills which help us pursue, come to know, and then sustain a marriage with the person we find on the inside.  Neglecting this internal marriage, we can easily make ourselves a hostage to the externals of work and the demands of relationship. . . . The other timeless metaphor for this internal configuration has been a source or a well, a place to drink from, as if somewhere, there is a constant invisible outflow, a flow from which we might be refusing to drink.

Often our inability to draw on that inner well can become more and more painful the farther we get from the water.


. . . All of our great contemplative traditions advocate the necessity for silence in an individual life: first, for gaining a sense of discernment amid 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.

. . . 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.

David Whyte


About hopeseguin

Who am I? I'm still discovering just who I am, I suppose. A. Powell Davis writes that "Life is just a chance to grow a soul."

Posted on September 30, 2009, in Books and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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