Marriage – a spiritual exercise, not just a social construct

MOYERS: You’re saying that marriage is not just a social arrangement, it’s a spiritual exercise.

CAMPBELL: It’s primarily a spiritual exercise, and the society is supposed to help us have the realization.

Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth

To have reached this conclusion in the conversation, on which this book is based, is quite satisfying. It is what one would like to believe. It is the higher meaning one seeks to find, and is pleased to find that it is so in the eyes of someone as comprehensively informed as Joseph Campbell.

Previously, Moyers and Campell, had discussed on how marriage is finding one’s lost mate; that the two were originally one. So, one has an inner realization, a sensation from the heart for having found one’s other part. Before that, according to this view, both were incomplete, and were searching for what was always there to be found. Yes, J. Campbell alludes to the Ying and the Yang, as he discusses this view of marriage.

What he says makes good sense because, there is a merging of the two – who were originally one – into a kind of balancing of forces, of ideas, of practices, and in their attempt to live on as one. This idea of complementing also carries an idea of equality, because as the man offers his abilities and qualities, he makes up for what his wife lacks. At the same time, what the man may lack, the woman makes up through her feminine attributes. Of course, one also sees attributes that are difficult to identify purely as masculine or feminine; qualities like intelligence, astuteness, and the like. These can be present both, in the man and the woman; but, when they are committed to work with each-other toward the sucess of this union, the masculine and feminine expression of these attributes is in a beautiful display. After all, when the man and the woman – husband and wife – realize they were originally one, the idea of cooperation becomes a pleasure rather than a burden, just like the left and right side of a body working together. One foot moves forward, then the other foot moves forward, and thus, the whole body moves forward in one direction.

Why not to consider a marriage merely as a social arrangement?

Much harm can be done when marriage is seen merely as a social arrangement. It has become so for the most part, and even less than that, because society itself deteriorates by the day in many ways. Furthermore, the ideas of love, intimacy, loyalty, commitment, care, friendship etc. cannot be powerfully motivated merely by the force of society. This external pressure toward such feelings is meaningless when truly put to the test. The real meaning emerges from within. It comes most powerfully when one realizes that one’s wife is actually a part of his own original self; likewise, the wife realizes with her mind and her heart that her husband is a part of her own original self.

Such an idea could prove very distasteful to those who are strongly individualistic. Such a man or woman would despise the ideas of being incomplete before having found his or her other half. And perhaps, while there may be truth to denying such incompleteness, may the realization still move a man or a woman to doing good in one’s life. One may not necessarily mourn one’s incompleteness, but rather, cherish the opportunity to find one’s completeness through meaningful pursuits.

For those, who cannot, and feel the necessity to marry, one can easily see how much more meaningful and spiritual the realization is when one comes to the conclusion of having found one’s other half. This can never be accomplished by a mere social arrangement!

Marriage – a union before and beyond children

Most surely, Joseph Campbell speaks of marriage as having a purpose that goes beyond producing children. The union of the man and woman, who have mutually realized having found their missing halves, results in a kind of bonding which precludes the presence of children. They are delighted and satisfied to have found each other, and in finding each other, they have found themselves. Their relationship, and the potential for it, existed before any children arrived. Furthermore, it is a relationship that is meant to extend beyond the time when the children grow up, become independent, and start lives of their own.

MOYERS: Then the necessary function of marriage, perpetuating ourselves in children, is not the primary one.

CAMPBELL: No, that’s really just the elementary aspect of marriage. There are two completely different stages of marriage. First is the youthful marriage following the wonderful impulse that nature has given us in the interplay of the sexes biologically in order to produce children. But there comes a time when the child graduates from the family and the couple is left. I’ve been amazed at the number of my friends who in their forties or fifties go apart. They have had a perfectly decent life together with the child, but they interpreted their union in terms of their relationship through the child. They did not interpret it in terms of their own personal relationship to each other.

Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth

This is such an important realization to have, especially during this time when we are experiencing the surge and passing away of a generation, and them being gradually replaced by their children. The children, as they gain autonomy and build families of their own, are confronted by many examples of failing marriages. The marriages of their parents are failing, because, they as a man and a woman saw marriage not as essentially the union of themselves, but the contract approved by society to produce children. Now that the children are missing, the purpose of the marriage seems to have disappeared from their union. They now feel obsolete in union, but they still do feel alive and useful as individuals, albeit uncommitted to each other. This is truly sad to see!

The spiritual exercise of union – the consummation of marriage

Had the man and woman entered into the spritiual exercise of union, and the physical union remained only the secondarily important aspect of marriage, their union would surely be lasting. It would remain intimately pleasurable! Even age, or the coming and going of the children, would have little impact on their union because that was never the ultimate purpose in the first place! The ultimate purpose – the primary purpose – was to find each-other, and then, make all the adjustments to sustain this union, this commitment, this relationship with each other, regardless of time.

Joseph Campbell even says that the spiritual is the primary aspect of marriage, and the biological is the distraction. In fact, his exact words are: “Primarily spiritually. The biological is the distraction which may lead you to the wrong identification.” The identification he speaks of is the identifying of one’s mate, one’s half that one is seeking and is to find. If the search is spiritual, the union is spiritual. If the search is physical, the union is physical.

Think about it

It is possible for a man and woman to find themselves physically attracted to any number of others. A man may find himself attracted to many women during his lifetime. A woman may find herself attracted to many men. None of those attractions is the lasting basis for marriage. However, to have found one’s soulmate – a man with a woman – to have the spiritual union, the communion, and the consummation is to find the lasting marriage. There is no longer the thought of separation because the two were meant to be together. Love, intimacy, and bonding come naturally. What a beautiful marriage it would be, when such a purpose and realization are the beginning of, and the continuation of marriage!