Let Everyone See Your Love
In 1973, I dropped out of my psychiatry residency program. Joyce and I embarked upon a spiritual journey to find purpose and direction for our lives. We intended to do a six-week-long meditation camp near Chamonix, France, with Pir Vilayat Khan, head of the Sufi Order.
All we knew about Sufism was what we learned going to Sufi Dancing one night a week in Portland during my residency. That night became a holy oasis each week from the fiercely blowing sands of my residency. Sufi Dancing kept us aware of our hearts, but we knew nothing more about Sufism and had never met Pir Vilayat.
We were carried up the mountain from Chamonix on a cable car and were let off at the bottom of a truly magnificent alpine meadow looking across the valley to Mont Blanc. We trudged up the meadow with our heavy backpacks and arrived at a small stone building which was to be the kitchen for the retreat. Inside, perhaps a dozen people, mostly Americans, were busy preparing for the retreat. Since we were early by a few days, we volunteered to help them. We were surprised, however, by the harsh way we were treated by these people.
Soon it became clear to us why we were being treated so poorly. Most of these people were single, and the two couples acted so distant with one another we could hardly tell they were together. Joyce and I, on the other hand, remained together at all times, working side by side, and showed great affection to one another. The way we acted clearly was irritating these people.
We had become used to people’s negativity about our closeness. Many people viewed our relationship as unhealthy and urged us to create more distance between us so we could stand more fully as individuals. Even teachers we loved and respected often gave us this message. We had taken to hiding our affection, holding hands and kissing only when no one could see. But here among Sufis, who we thought knew so much about the heart, we had hoped to be more accepted. With sad resignation, we again hid our closeness.
Finally, a shout came from outside the kitchen, “Here comes Pir Vilayat!” Everyone rushed outside and lined up to watch their teacher, dressed in the garb of an East Indian holy man, majestically walk up the path. He was much smaller than we expected, as if size has anything to do with majesty. Several people rushed down to meet him and were greeted warmly with hugs. We stayed back, watching him embrace each person. We saw him smile, look into each person’s eyes and say something. It seemed like he knew each person intimately for many years. We would be the only ones, we thought, with whom he would perhaps shake hands, and then ask us our names.
After hugging the person next to us like long-lost friends, his eyes finally turned toward us. There was a pause while he took us in with his eyes, then a joyous expression lit up his face as he wrapped his arms around us. He started chanting in a loud voice the Arabic words, “Ishq Allah Ma’abud Li’Allah,” “God is love and God is also the beloved.” Then, looking deeply from one of us to the other, he slowly and emphatically instructed to our amazement, “You are one! You are united! Do everything together! Always be together! Let everyone see your love!” Then he was off.
We stood there in stunned silence. We had just received the greatest validation we had ever gotten in our relationship. Someone truly saw and acknowledged our closeness as a good thing.
There followed an awkward moment with the people around us, as if they now needed to readjust their views of our relationship. One person actually walked up to us and apologized for feeling jealous of our love for one another.
The next day, Pir Vilayat summoned us to where he was staying, a cave dwelling above the meadow, and served us tea. As we were wondering why he summoned us, he again surprised us deeply.
“Joyce and Barry,” he began in his distinctive British accent, “In this next six weeks, we have courses and teachers on meditation and many different forms of spiritual practice. What we don’t have, however, is a class on relationship. I’m afraid that just won’t do. It is perhaps what these people need the most.”
We smiled in agreement, especially given our experience of the past few days.
He continued, “How would you like to teach a class on relationship?”
Again we were surprised. How does this man know that we could even pull this off? He hardly knows us. What does he see in us that we’re not even seeing in ourselves?
Overcoming our shock, we agreed, and the next day Pir Vilayat announced our class to the whole camp. It was the first time we were talking publicly about our thoughts and feelings about making relationship a part of the spiritual path, rather than keeping it separate. People received it enthusiastically, translated into German and French, as if starved to hear that it was actually possible to join spirituality and relationship.
But more than the class, and more than the miraculous validation we received from Pir Vilayat about our closeness, we realized we were receiving an answer to our prayers about our next step in life. No longer were we feeling without purpose. We now had a glimpse of our life’s work. We would teach relationship as an integral part of spiritual growth. We would let everyone know how possible it was to know this joy. And without the closeness in our own relationship, we wouldn’t be able to teach this effectively.
The last day of camp Joyce and I felt a tinge of sadness. It had been such a life-changing six weeks for us. It was hard to leave the mountaintop to go back into the world. But then we thought about the clarity of our purpose and, with joy, picked up our backpacks and headed down the mountain.