When my husband and I were planning our wedding, we chose to write our own vows to make sure they really meant something to us. Easier said than done, especially after being immersed in a bunch of yoga philosophy! If you’re supposed to be responding to each moment as it comes and extending loving kindness indiscriminately to the whole universe, how is making a long-term commitment to any one person reconcilable with that? In search of some guidance, I went to a satsang with Shakti Mhi, which not only gave me inspiration for my wedding vows, it gave me a deeper understanding of what it meant to be in a relationship.
Shakti used an analogy to explain how your partner is your link to the rest of the universe. Imagine you travel out of the city one weekend for a remote lakeside getaway. On one of your nature walks, you are swept away by the beauty of a lush blossoming tree. It’s reflection shimmers off the glassy surface of the lake and the air is rich with the scent of flower petals. If only you could experience this beautiful scene every single day! You know it just wouldn’t be possible to drive out to the lake all the time, so as a souvenir of the blossoming tree, you cut off a small branch and place it in a vase of water. Once at home, set your piece of the blossoming tree on your kitchen counter where you can see it everyday. You tend to it diligently, making sure it always has fresh water and enough sunlight, keeping it nourished and healthy. In turn, the branch is your connection back to the tree by lake; every time you see the branch it is a reminder of the blossoming tree from which it came, and as you tend to it, you are tending to a piece of that complete tree.
In relationships, the tree is the universe and the branch is your partner. You are only one person and it is impossible to actively care for the whole universe all on your own. So, you take a piece of the universe home with you, your partner, and you tend to them, nourish them, and show them the loving kindness you would extend to the whole universe if you had the capacity. When you care for your partner, though them, you are caring for the universe. In turn, your partner is your window into the rest of the universe; through them, you experience the love, suffering, joy, and pain that exists in the rest of humanity. Through intimacy with them, you develop compassion, empathy, tolerance, oneness, and many more qualities which can then be extended to the rest of the universe.
Shakti explained how the yogic practices of yantra, mantra, and tantra could be brought into relationships to build intimacy with your partner. Put simplify, yantra, mantra, and tantra are meditation practices based on visual images, sounds, and feelings, respectively. In order to truly know your partner, you have to approach them with a meditative mindset that sets aside expectations, prescriptions, and judgments so that you can perceive this person as they truly are. To really see your partner you must look at them without imposing on them your own desires about what you want them to be, fears about what they could be, or any other biases that cloud your perception. To truly hear your partner, you must set aside defensiveness and prejudgment, listening for what they are actually trying to express. To really feel your partner, you must broaden your perception to capture what they are communicating non-visually and non-verbally. It is only when you truly know your partner that you can effectively serve them.
At the end of the satsang, I asked Shakti what she would suggest I say as my wedding vows to foster this type of relationship. Her response: “Silence.” She said that wedding vows should not be a once in a lifetime thing. You should be actively choosing to make that commitment when you wake up every morning, every hour of the day, every moment.
My husband and I did come up with wedding vows to keep our ceremony somewhat normal, but we tried to write them in way that would foster the type of mindful relationship Shakti described. However, after attending the satsang, I realized that the words we chose for the vows would be insignificant compared to the continual commitments we would be making to each other every moment thereafter.