I am happy to give the book, Self-Expansion through Marriage * by Swami Kriyananda “rave” reviews and to say that I continually recommend it to people who come to me for spiritual counseling.
During my 28 years as an Ananda minister, I’ve seen that people’s life challenges generally fall into four categories: relationships, health, finances/job, and spiritual life. Of these, spiritual life is the most important. Even so, the marriage relationship is usually the focal point of the greatest tests a person faces, whether it’s wanting a relationship but not having it, or being in a relationship that’s not working out.
A handbook for relationships of all types
Self-Expansion through Marriage is very well named, because the book itself is so very…well, expansive! I describe it as a “handbook for relationships of all types, not just marriage.”
I suggest that if you are married, you get this book and read it often. If you already have the book, try to re-read it once a year at least (a perfect thing to do for your wedding anniversary). If you are contemplating marriage, then you too should read this book and insist that your fiancé read it also. And if you are in an intimate relationship that doesn’t involve marriage, the suggestions in the book are still applicable and will help you very much. (To complete the gamut of what may come along in a committed relationship, there’s even a chapter on “Expansive Child Raising.”)
Even if you are divorced, single, certain you don’t ever want to marry or re-marry, or are already happy in a marriage and don’t think you need any help — nevertheless, I still say you NEED to read this book. That’s how important it is. Relationships are God’s great gift to us. They serve as a mirror for self-improvement and help us “knock off our rough edges.” None of us is an island, disconnected from others. Relationships are how we grow and learn.
And OUCH, how that can hurt, especially in the most intimate of all relationships: marriage. A good marriage is a rare and wonderful thing. Keeping it good is HARD WORK! A bad marriage can fill your life with aching misery.
A not-so-good marriage and an excellent one
I know this from first-hand experience, because I’ve had both kinds of marriages. I met my husband of 30 years, Sudarshan, when I first moved to Ananda Village in 1978. At the time, I was separated from my first husband, and moving slowly and painfully toward a divorce.
Sudarshan and I were married in 1980 and it’s been a great blessing, though the marriage has been filled with many intense learning experiences — some of them very tough for both of us. We are both very strong-willed people!
What about that first marriage? My first husband and I married young and for all the wrong reasons. Our uneasy marriage lasted nine years. If I had read Kriyananda’s book beforehand and understood it well, we could have avoided a great deal of suffering. Nevertheless, I learned a lot from the marriage, to say the least, and he and I have been able to remain friends at a distance. He too has remarried.
One of the most important things I learned as I moved from a not-so-good marriage to an excellent one, is something Kriyananda emphasizes in the early pages of Self-Expansion through Marriage: Don’t expect marriage, or any other relationship, to fix everything in your life. It’s unfair to impose those kinds of expectations on another person; no relationship can possibly bear up under that load.
The only “ones” who can permanently change everything in your life for the better are God and Guru. If you really understand that part first, then your relationship has more chance of not just surviving, but of being filled with joy.
Why “opposites attract”
Another important point made in Self-Expansion through Marriage is that “opposites attract.” Often we feel attracted to someone who has qualities that we don’t have, or wish we had more of. Such attractions reflect an attempt to find balance and harmony in life.
Someone once asked my mother the primary reason she and my father had such a good marriage. She laughingly answered: “I think it’s because the knobs in his head fit the holes in my head.” Problems arise when we don’t appreciate the differences, even though the differences are what drew us together in the first place. Learn to appreciate those differences, or as the French say: viva l’différence! They add spice to life.
All the “big” questions
Self-Expansion through Marriage takes on all the “big” relationship questions — why marry at all, growing together spiritually, commitment on every level, sex, communication skills, intuition — and does so with grace and beauty, as well as down-to-earth practicality. At the end of each chapter are a dozen or so concise review statements, any or all of which would be great for a couple to sit and discuss together, or as an outline for a relationship seminar.
I found it interesting that Swami Kriyananda entitled the chapter discussing sexuality: “Sex in Marriage.” Immediately I wondered: is Kriyananda saying that sex should happen only within a marriage? I’ll let you read that chapter to find out the answer.
My favorite statement from this all-important chapter is one that Kriyananda often makes to couples when discussing this topic: “Let your physical union be an expression of love. To keep it that way, let it only be occasional; that is to say, let it be an occasion.” The society we live in is so confused about sexuality (due to media exploitation and other factors) that anyone would be hard-pressed to say anything about this subject in a clear and calm way. And yet Kriyananda does so gracefully and with true compassion for the wide gamut of feelings on the subject, including people’s perceptions of their individual needs.
Seek to please God first
To be able to go forward to the end of life with the love and support of a spouse is a noble goal and a worthy dream. But it’s a dream that becomes possible if our priorities are right. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God (within you)…and all these things shall be added unto you.” The “things” referred to in that Bible verse surely include joy-filled relationships!
In the chapter entitled: “For Those Who Are Seeking God,” Kriyananda comments: “The important thing in a marriage committed to spiritual development is to allot God the primary place in life…. [The spiritual seeker who is married must seek] to please God first and one’s wife or husband secondarily.” When married couples live this way, everything else falls into place.