As I explore the art of soulful living, for me, it comes down to essentially the quality of relationships we can cultivate and sustain in life with each other and the Divine. Somebody once said the greatest thing you can do for your child is to have a loving relationship with your partner. To single parent readers, I’m not in anyway suggesting single parent families are necessarily less complete. In fact some great Islamic thinkers grew up in single parent families. Thomas Moore, would have us look at what makes a family complete and show us that in some cases single parent families may be more complete then some two parent families, especially if we can drop some of our ideas about what a family should looks like. Hollywood does a good job in feeding us some of those ideas.
Nouman Khan in his talk, posted yesterday, said how a break down of family structure seems to be a global issue in our time. Even families in which everything appears ‘good’ with no financial problems, good jobs, no affairs – not even emotional ones, etc. can at some point hit a breaking point according to author and marriage counselor Hugh Prather. It seems, the breaking point can come in at any time especially when the children are young and demand every ounce of our attention and energy. Or even, once the children have left the house when we only have each other and in between us the baggage the past 30 or so years of marriage has brought with it.
I came across two amazing words today from the African tradition” Sawabona and Sikbona. “SAWABONA” is a common greeting among the tribes of northern Natal in South Africa and it literally means “I SEE YOU” As to say, “I respect and acknowledge you for who you are” In return people say “SIKBONA” which literally means “I AM HERE” as to say “When you see me you bring me into existence”.
Orland Bishop explains how the seeing here is a dialogue. ‘We see isn’t from a single ‘I’ but includes an ancestral seeing and a Divine aspect – establishing you as a witness to some phenomenon which becomes a witness to your own presence. What has this moment of life given us together now. What struck me about the translation to this greeting are the words ‘we see’ as opposed to ‘I” see. The Sufi’s have something similar to sawabona, which they have cultivated to a high degree over the centuries for not just two people but also their interaction with inanimate objects. I prefer to leave that for another time though.
I feel I experienced a moment of sawabona yesterday when I looked at my wife while I felt the warmth of her beautiful hands in a cafe. It was just for a few moments. It seemed like I saw the sacred in everyday life with the eyes of Eternity. It was so amazing my heart was singing and my soul was intoxicated by the sheer beauty and miracle of being alive, here, today in this moment. I saw it again when I looked at the face of my two year old son while becoming frustrated as I searched for location of my car. The lovely thing about experiencing sawabona with toddlers in my experience is, on the stage of life, they’re awake (to the present moment). They don’t wear costumes or masks roles can bring and are ready to meet you here and now, totally and completely. What if we can cultivate this way of seeing each other in our relationships? Or put another way, how can we cultivate more soulful and meaningful relationships with all the distractions and issues the modern world brings into our homes?
One way my wife and I are exploring is to start by setting a space, time and intention; half an hour seems right. May be this time and space can be honored by lighting a candle, having some tea, siting face to face and acknowledging each others presence. Maybe starting with a spiritual practice for a few minutes would help set the energy. May be the roles of husband and wife can be dropped to see if we can experience the presence of each others souls, each others friendship -i.e those essential ingredients and qualities we bring into our roles of husband and wife. Some may have seen this more clearly before or around the time of marriage. May be more importantly, in the tradition of sawabona, cultivate the art of seeing as a dialogue through presence. May be sharing some poetry in which each line is read slowly from and to the heart can help open that space. We are currently reading ‘Notes to Each Other’ by Hugh and Gayle Prather, which contain short soulful passages on marriage and relationship which invites reflection, contemplation, beauty and stillness.
“Few people believe they have the right body, and yet they do not destroy it. Many think they did not get the children they deserve, and yet they would never desert them. Most people will not even abandon a dog. Why then is it impossible to say, “you are my friend. I will never leave you”?
It is not. And I say this to you now: You are my partner, the one I want to walk though life with, the one I want to grow old with, the one whose hand I want to hold as I die. I will never neglect you. I will never turn from you. Forever and forever, I will never leave you.”
‘Notes to Each Other’ by Hugh and Gayle Prather