In the midst of a Buddhist meditation retreat, in the summer of 2001, Carl asked me to marry him. With eyes and heart aglow, I said yes. It was so “us,” to get engaged at a Buddhist retreat. The shared intention to wake up, to open our hearts, had always been central in our relationship. Our meditation teacher kindly but firmly invited us to get real about our motivation and not to function from a romantic trance. Why are you doing this? Why do you want to involve others in your intimate relationship and vows? Are you looking for their blessing? Are you hoping to bless them?
At the time we felt flummoxed, confused, a bit rained on. In retrospect, I couldn’t be more grateful for his questions.
The largely unconscious fantasy of what it means to marry dies hard. You fall in love, have a beautiful ceremony, and live happily ever after, right? But somehow it doesn’t work quite like that in the real world. It is helpful to make our fantasies conscious – to examine our implicit and often hidden ideas about what it actually means to us to be married, what we expect, what we want, what we assume, what we want to offer to our partner.
First we were disoriented by our teacher’s questions. Then, people began asking other questions. Did you get her a ring? Where will the ceremony be? What are your colors? There was also the 16-inch-high stack of wedding magazines from recent brides, overwhelming us with information we did not care about.
We felt so much out-of-control momentum, as if we were speeding along on a train we were no longer driving, that we canceled the wedding.
Over the next few years, as we remained deeply in love, the impulse to make it official kept arising. We sat with those difficult questions posed by our teacher and eventually had clear answers. We knew why we wanted to marry. We knew what was important to us — the quality of our relationship — and what wasn’t — the color of the tablecloths on the day we said our vows.
We made a list of who we’d invite. In a daily ritual practice, for six months before we wed, we read the names of all of our those on our invite list out loud, sending blessings and good wishes to them. It was a beautiful way to connect with our loved ones.
We also had, over many years, a regular practice of meeting each other’s eyes and saying, “I marry you.” For us, when the day of the wedding came, it was a public confirmation of our already married-in-our-hearts state, an opportunity to celebrate with our community, and to share the goodness of our connection with them. Our ceremony was held in July of 2005, four years after our engagement, at gorgeous Red Butte Gardens.
While we kept it pretty simple, and didn’t worry too much about centerpieces, decor, and colors, planning an event for more than 100 people always has its challenges. Carl and I took as a central guiding principle while planning our wedding this statement attributed to Gandhi: The means you use must embody the end you seek. Anytime we were feeling out of alignment with the love and connection we aspired to in our marriage, we took it as an invitation to stop. If planning tipped over into stress, resentment, worry, we stopped. Reoriented. Changed whatever needed to change, let go of whatever needed letting go of, and realigned with our deep values. We still use this quote as a powerful guidepost in our day-to-day lives.
In the Buddhist tradition, wedding vows aren’t made to love each other forever.
Instead, we each vowed to commit wholeheartedly to our own awakening, our own path of actualizing our potential, our own path of opening our hearts as fully as possible, to using our lives to benefit others, and vowed that we’d wholeheartedly support the other on their own path. It was and still is perfect for us, and still guides our relationship today, 10 years later.
Erin Geesaman Rabke is enjoying her growing family and continues to focus her energy on the joys of daily living.