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Come Rain or Come Shine

Meditation and yoga allow you to weather the sudden storms in your relationships.

By Mark Epstein, M.D.

At his wedding, Chuck's godmother gave the new couple one bit of advice. "Never go to sleep angry," she warned them. "Make up before the day is done." Chuck thought this was very sensible; it went right along with his study of Eastern philosophy. Greed, hatred, and delusion were the causes of suffering. Why would he and his wife want to feed the fires of such destructive forces?

Yet things had not worked out as he had envisioned. Some years into the marriage, Chuck and Rachel had fights that never seemed to get resolved, at least not in the way he thought they should. Chuck still believed that they should not go to sleep angry, but as a consequence he would stay up all night processing his rage while his wife slept.

In a session with me several days after the latest argument, Chuck told me what he had been through. He and Rachel had been driving to a friend's party, but the printed directions were wrong. Chuck got off at the indicated exit, headed west as he was instructed, but could not find the next landmark. Why wasn't it there, he wondered? He snapped at his wife, assuming that she wasn't reading the directions properly. Irritated with his tone, she assured him that she was reading them just fine, but she asked him to stop for directions.

He assured her he would but then sped past the gas station. They were late already, and he was convinced he could find the place: It was somewhere on this street. He had passed it the day before, he remembered. Careening about in search of the landmarks indicated in the invitation, he finally stopped at a neon-lit fast food joint straight from a David Lynch movie. A group of four youths in gold chains eyed his car. He headed back in the other direction as his wife grew more and more irate.

He asked her very calmly to please stop yelling at him, but inside he was seething and indignant. Rachel did not find his forced calm appealing and continued to be irate with him. He became withdrawn while fantasies of crashing their car began to flower in his brain. There is nothing that Chuck hated as much as being yelled at in an automobile. He did not like asking for directions and took pride in his ability to find his way, even when lost.

He felt that Rachel did not trust him when she lost her temper like this and routinely took it as a blow to their love.

He finally stopped for directions at a local motel, drove to the party, and spent the evening waiting for her to apologize, even after they discovered that their host's printed directions had, in fact, been faulty. Chuck and Rachel danced once, to Aretha Franklin's "Respect." The irony of the lyrics was not lost on him.

My friend Michael Eigen, a New York psychoanalyst who, unlike most of Freud's descendants, is not put off by the pursuit of the sacred, tells a story in his book Psychic Deadness (Jason Aronson, 1996) about a meditator named Ken who came to him for help with his abusive temper. Throughout my talk with Chuck, flashes of Ken kept breaking through. Ken's case study is entitled "Stillness< >Storminess," with the arrows indicating a dynamic relationship between the two states, one that both Ken and Chuck were unwilling to accept.

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