|The Three Marriages - Three Marriages 5|
Self: The Third Marriage
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 other relationships while making promises it hopes to God it can keep. What is heartbreaking and difficult about this inner self that flirted, enticed, spent time with and eventually committed to a person or a career is that it is not a stationary entity, an immovable foundation; it moves and changes and surprises us as much as anything in the outer world to which it wants to commit.
Love in the words of Shakespeare may be an ever fixed mark, but the person, the self who loves, is not. Nor is the person who works a work, navigates a career. They are both a long, turning wave form moving through experience with a kind of changing, revelatory seasonality, carrying all before them like a tide, surprising everyone with their twists and turns and contradictory flows. We are each a river with a particular abiding character, but we show radically different aspects of our self according to the territory through which we travel. As Seamus Heaney said in one poem, You are neither here nor there / A hurry through which strange and known things pass. Now a swift-moving stream, now a slow traverse, at midlife perhaps nothing but a dried-up stretch of seemingly lifeless gravel, becoming a lake again, then by strange summary on the hospital bed, an estuary, a giving out, a transition into the next existence.
In the midst of 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. We find ourselves unable to move in these outer marriages because we have no inner foundation from which to step out with a firm persuasion. It is as if, absent a loving relationship with this inner representation of our self, we fling ourselves in all directions in our outer lives, looking for love in all the wrong places. 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. If we are involved in the other world in ways that betray our conscience or deeply held beliefs, then even simple internal questions can become very difficult to ask. As if we intuit that drinking from the well will clear our eyesight and help us see what is real in the other world and that once we have built that outer solid wall, brick by brick over long years through equally long effort, the gift of seeing that reality is the last gift in the world that we want.
Not only can we become afraid of these internal questions, but also we can become terrified of the spaces or silences in which these questions might arise. The act of stopping can be the act of facing something we have kept hidden from ourselves for a very long time. The third marriage, then, especially in today's world, where we have created societies and commercial environments that claw at us from morning until night, can be the most difficult marriage of all. To the outward striver—that is, most of us—it can seem as if this internal marriage is asking for renunciation of the two outer marriages. Feeling this can come as almost a relief, a way out, for in the name of our many responsibilities and duties, we can use it as the perfect excuse not to look inside at all, feeling as if our outer world will fall apart if we spend any time looking for the person who exists at the intersection of all these outer commitments.