Impermanence and Mediation as the Path to Understanding

I have a close friend who is going through a divorce. She and her husband of nine years have two children. He asked for a divorce four months ago – a move that stunned her and has left her very, very angry.

She’s looking for relief from her anger, which is causing her suffering. She’s a curious new Buddhist, and is hoping that there are teachings in the Dharma that can help her navigate her way through what’s happening and what's to come.

There are. It’s significant to recognize that for a Buddhist, marriage and divorce are mere concepts. Marriage is not real; neither is divorce. Neither is permanent. Like concepts of gender, race, age, and family, marriage and divorce are illusory things that are ever changing, breaking apart, and appearing and disappearing.

The Buddha taught that change is inevitable and therefore clinging is destructive. In the case of divorce, something that seemed very real and whole has broken in two, and revealed itself to be unreal; another concept of ours that reality doesn’t admit.

There are three destructive emotions that can come in the wake of divorce that I’ve seen acted out again and again to varying degrees: anger, jealousy, and greed. The real suffering that comes from divorce are these negative emotions. Blaming each other for the failure of the marriage, greed in terms of splitting up the belongings of the family, and jealousy in terms of competing for the love and approval of the children or when an ex-spouse finds love with someone else. All bad.

The reality of divorce is that you do lose the stability, cohesion, and support of marriage. There are benefits that come with a stable marriage. When these benefits are torn away, there is such a thing as righteous anger. But that anger should be as impermanent as the marriage was: in other words, it should soon disappear.

Through clinging, by holding on to disappointment, by keeping anger alive - for months, and in some sad cases, years – we continue to suffer. But when we break away from these emotions and the suffering that comes with them, we’re free to move forward.

My friend is clinging to anger. The Buddha taught that clinging – attachment – is at the root of all suffering. All is transient. Stability is an illusion. If my good friend can accept and live with reality and not cling to her ideas of what it should have been, and release her anger at not getting the things she believes she should have gotten, she will fly free.

I have no specific 'divorce' advice for my friend, but I did suggest she return to using her maiden name. I heard a Buddhist teaching on divorce years ago, in which the lama said that women sometimes hold on to their husband’s surnames for years after they’ve divorced, for no reason other than they are clinging to their former identities as wives.

Maybe these women are ashamed about returning to single status. They may say how they have disengaged from their ex-spouse, but if they’re still using his surname after they’re no longer married, this is an unhealthy attachment. If these women met this decision in honesty, they would admit that the reason they're still using their ex-husband's names is that they want to continue to identify as married persons or persons who have at least been married. Ego and self-loathing is behind all that thinking. There is nothing wrong with being single again. Find your truth in that.

Aside from this, I don’t have much advice for my friend. But I know what meditation can do under any circumstances, and for anyone, and so I suggested she take a meditation course.

Through meditation, we break attachments to the illusory (conceptual) self. Our way of looking at reality changes. We experience life as it really is – impermanent and not under our control. We gain a clear awareness of the pitfalls of attachment.

We’re released from thoughts of the past or the future. We come to the wisdom that love is not attachment, and attachment is not love. Whatever suffering that comes from divorce can be ameliorated through understanding this. This is where meditation is of great benefit for people going through divorce or any other change.

If my friend studies and practices the Dharma and meditates daily, her suffering will end despite the dissolution of her marriage. But if she launches herself into a new relationship in hopes of angering her spouse, makes mercenary grabs for spousal and child support, watches him on social media, conducts character assassinations behind his back, pits their children against him, and wishes him the worst for years to come, her suffering will continue. HER suffering will continue. What a waste of life that would be.

I just sent my friend the 2017 schedule of meditation meetings at the Buddhist Faith Fellowship in Middletown, and the Sangha where I go each weekend. There, she’ll find the truths in the Eternal Laws and Pure Reality, and though meditation, develop an awakening mind.

By releasing her husband and her illusions of marriage and divorce, she will blossom. She’ll experience the purest and most complete love there is – the love of the Buddha. Her anger will fall away. She will separate from her husband in a beautiful and loving way, and the love can still remain. Her life will move forward in love and compassion for all.

Live in peace.

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