When I first began to awaken in 1961, I looked at my family and I saw that they were all asleep, and I really didn’t want to have anything to do with them, so I distanced myself from them. My colleagues at Harvard as well. Most of them just no longer seemed interesting to me. So, many of them felt very hurt and cut off by my behavior, and that created suffering for other people. The delicate matter here is the problem of building your spiritual journey on the hurt you do to others.
Let’s say you are in a marriage in which you begin to awaken and your partner doesn’t. What do you do? Do you leave your partner? Or do you work with the situation? In California where I live, over 55% of the people that marry get divorced, and 80% of the divorcees remarry. So I am living in a culture that is serially monogamous. One partner at a time. But then when you grow and your partner doesn’t, you say goodbye. Within that culture, there is expectation. We don’t have to decide whether it’s good or bad, it’s just what it is. But in other cultures marriage is treated as a more lifelong commitment, so that when one person starts to grow, to push the other partner away would be quite violent. Another way of saying this is that those people that you are with, because of your karma, because of the nature of things, you start to work with their presence. They become your curriculum.
Eventually, I saw that I could not trade in my mother or father, and that pushing away of them was costing a great deal. So as I got a little more stable in the transformation of myself, I turned around and reached out to them. At first I kept trying to change them so I would be more comfortable with them. I rationalized it by saying I loved them and wanted them to see what I saw. But basically, my attitude lacked respect for who they were. My father worked very hard to get the financial security he gave to me and that financial security has allowed me to do the kind of inner work that I have done. Should I blame him because he did not do the inner work? He grew up as a very poor person, where he was very concerned about his food. I was never concerned about my food and so he gave me an incredible gift. My gift in return to him is to appreciate who he is, and to prepare my mind to not have judgements about him; to create a space with my mind where he can be whom he needs to be.
When you look at the world of all the people you will see that there are many different levels of spiritual evolution. They are merely stages of development. Be careful not to impose values of better or worse. It is no better to be an adolescent than to be a child. It is no better to be an old person than middle age. These are just different stages of development.