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How to Be Happy: Reflections on a 40+year Marriage

“You do not know if you have lived faithfully to your wedding vows until your last breath.”
~Yogi Bhajan*

 

Earlier this month while I was in San Francisco, I went to my teacher Siri Vedya’s Kundalini Yoga class in the Haight Ashbury district. I’ve been taking classes from Siri Vedya since 2007, and a big part of the attraction is the small talk he always gives at the beginning of his classes. The topics vary, but they are always interesting and based in his wisdom. Last week’s talk was no different. I wish you could have been in the class with me, as his delivery is always charming, but since you weren’t, with his permission, I’ve excerpted the talk below.

 

 

Siri Vedya and his wife have been married for over 40 years. It’s impressive. But what is even more striking is that they seem happily married. He had been asked by many people to give his advice on how to cultivate a happy union so finally, he sat down with his wife to reflect about it. Together they came up with this list of three fundamental pillars that have helped sustain their 40+ year marriage. They are:

 

  • Trust
  • Spiritual Commitment (or maybe a higher purpose commitment for anyone who feels like the word “spiritual” doesn’t resonate with them)
  • Deeply valuing what your partner brings to the relationship.

“Trust
To build trust, you need to learn your partner’s personal story well. Extremely well. Become the world’s leading historian on all the details, large and small, of your partner’s life. This may be hard. My wife is shy, and it took many, many years to really understand her story. But it was worth it. The more you can deeply understand each other’s unique history the more each person feels seen and understood. And feeling seen and understood builds trust.

 

Trust is also built by mastering “The Art of Small Kindnesses.” Small kindnesses are like adding tiny drops of nectar to the heart. These small, but meaningful drops keep the heart full and can help heal the inevitable wounds that occur during a long-term relationship.

 

By way of example, I met with a couple that wanted to renew their vows after 10 years of marriage. I’m a Sikh minister, and I get these requests from time to time. During our discussion, we discussed the milestone of a 10-year marriage and the importance of small kindnesses. They instantly understood the concept and turned towards each other, both of them smiling broadly. Then the wife turned to me and said, “He makes me a cup of coffee every morning”…And I could see the significance of the coffee went well beyond that small act of being his wife’s barista each morning. It had become a wonderful kindness that helped sustain their marriage…

 

Spiritual Commitment
If the relationship has a spiritual intention, there is an infinite dimension to the relationship-a journey without limits with always more work to be done and more growth that is possible. Many couples who stay together for multiple decades say they use their relationship as a personal growth opportunity.

 

One way to explore the full extent of that growth is to agree to use the kindest of each partner’s arguing (fighting?) styles in the relationship…As I came from a more animated, vocal upbringing, I had to learn to “argue like a Lutheran” so my wife didn’t feel overwhelmed. It took some work, but we found our way. 🙂

 

These guidelines don’t just apply to romantic relationships. I was part of Yogi Bhajan’s early yoga community and like all communities, we had our share of difficult characters. One of us once asked Yogi Bhajan why he was tolerating bad behavior from someone in the community. He replied,

 

“You do not understand me. I only relate to a person’s destiny, never their fate.” *
This is what great couples and great relationships do. They see clearly the best version of the other and always call for, inspire and encourage that great destiny.

 

Value what your partner brings to the relationship
In the dance of the day-to-day, things happen that stress a couple’s connection to each other. This is where an easy flow of apologies and forgiveness come in handy. If you see your partner is willing to acknowledge when grace has been breached, it breaks the cycle. If you can forgive, even when a line has been crossed, it stops the downward momentum. True apology and forgiveness can lead to healing.

 

 

I wish you all strong and supportive intimate relationships.
And now, let’s do some yoga!”
Siri Vedya, November 9, 2019

 

 

*as remembered and possibly paraphrased by Siri Vedya