Family Life and Spiritual Growth

Looking back on fifty years of life filled with painful and futile tribulations and time spent both consciously and unconsciously in a more or less effective search for the truth, I can see that my period of family life — as a father and family man — has been and is the touchstone, the royal road, the springboard of my spiritual life.

There was, of course, the family life of my childhood which, under the guidance of remarkable parents knowing only love as a means of education, was the first major — even if unconscious — step in my spiritual search.

This love which, unfortunately, I am only now fully capable of recognising, marked the first milestone on the path of initiation and subjugation of the ego. But what blindness and revolt accompanied it!

Then came “my time” that I call a “time of freedom”. Alone, with no bonds — at least that is what I thought — clothed in carefully excused desires and duly explained concepts. The time when I explored the elements of methods, the time of chaotic and painful trials.

But the time has come when the choice of a partner, the decision to found a family and lead it through this earthly life proves to be for me the greatest spiritual test of the moment.

As with building a boat: first you spend time in the port, become inspired, dream of boats and sensations associated with the sea, you are initiated into life on the sea and dream of voyages — that is childhood.

Then you try out different boats, with more or less success. You risk your life. You know fear, revolt, and ephemeral victories — this is the time of the young man, alone and initiated, the time when one perceives the illusion, the time of action.

Then comes the time to construct your own boat, solidly, for a great voyage. You choose the crew and set out. Once at sea, whatever happens, neither fears nor complaints will provide a solution to the tempest, the defects of the boat, the weakness of the crew or the shortcomings of the captain (oneself). Only a practical spirit, patient, spiritual, compassionate — with all these qualities fused together in a whole — will resolve these technical and human problems — this is the time of marriage.

This image of the boat, the captain and the crew on a sea sometimes calm, sometimes rough, is very familiar to each one of us. What I did not know well enough, like the majority of us, is that the spirit which must animate a good voyage is the spirit of love. I believed also — as we all do — that I knew this spirit of love. We speak of it a lot, too much, without success. The love of which we speak is made up of a succession of immature feelings, self-love in fact, transposed into feelings and actions favourable to our desires and painted in pastel shades. That sort of love is the very first forerunner which frees us from the animal. But we must go a long way beyond it.

This love of myself was provided with a thick layer of make-up intended to assure me that it was spread over two or three faces at the same time like the make-up that smears over the faces of two lovers in an embrace.

Where was real love? It was there — bound, hidden behind the idea of possession, hidden behind the idea of conserving my identity whatever the cost, forgotten behind the concepts of entities created for the convenience of the being — partner, children, self — and the directives associated with them. Forgotten also behind the directives of the captain engrossed in his authority and the fluctuations of the weather and the sea, absorbed in the pitiless mechanical routine of assuring the material safety of the crew and the boat.

Naturally this combination of forces united only by their material nature and a moral routine ended by breaking up under the pressures of the separation of the entities, blind obstinacy, confusion, frustration and aggression. I tried to make these five elements disappear by the exhausting so-called dictatorship of the head of the family, to the point of exhausting all my resources — physical, logical and psychic. It was not simple, but at this point, I understood that a faulty understanding of love could lead to a catastrophe. That was the realisation which came to me in the heart of the family.

Marriage has finally given me a practical key, which, previously had only been intellectual: detachment from my identity. From this stems all happiness in the family.

I have learnt to accept my wife’s identity, to integrate it, and to forget the false frontiers and illusory consistency of my own identity.

I have learnt that, in order to evolve in this way, there is only one practice to adopt: set an example as much as you can, know your own limits with humility because you can give only what you have. But I have also learnt that, with this spirit, you receive so much that you can give more and more. In order to set an example there is only one solution: seek yourself. By that I mean seek continually the infinite in yourself (and also in all around you), live it ninety percent of the time, one hundred percent of the time if possible, in all your thoughts and actions, from the most humble to those supposed to be the highest. (We distinguish between “humble” and “high” because of the illusory aspect of our society which likes to create differences and judgements; in fact there are only acts and thoughts.)

At a given moment there is no longer any difference, only an immense state of the soul called love: one does one’s duty joyfully, accomplishing that which must be done without discrimination or obligation to be charitable or kind. The charity or kindness between members of the family comes into existence of its own accord without need for a reason.

But this process is not accomplished without suffering, because the ego is always there in revolt, exalted by the criticism, the friction, the unsatisfied desires coming from oneself as from others.

However, while following this path, the mind fixed on the infinite, you will become aware of the force of love growing and the convulsions of the the ego weakening. Because there is only one force which can act on the “I”, and that is love.

Marriage, the ultimate social experience, has taught me — and is still teaching me because I am newly embarked on this long road — patience, detachment, adaptation and unmotivated giving. I have learnt to receive the example of others: humility and love, for love can be learned.

At first sight, in my family’s eyes, my appearance, actions and words do not very often seem to coincide with the spirit which has revealed itself to me. But I want to see in this a test of my discoveries and a trap set for my ego. Only the profound belief in love — that interior force — and detachment, in the face of irritation, mockery, doubt, criticism and aggression attempting to give birth to an egocentric entity, can develop a spiritual state strong enough to assure the happiness and development of the members of the family.

And so I find in my family a spiritual lesson and a direct, profound training which guides both it and me.

This is education in common, a test in common which, when undergone consciously, can bring a common spiritual realisation. I know that a slow fusion is taking place at every instant in the heart of the family.

I believe in the infinite detachment which guides this fusion-teaching.

I feel growing in me the beneficial force of love.

I feel infinitely grateful to my family for this profound teaching I had been unaware of and had lost in my intellectual research.

My questions remained without answers because love does not reply to the ego.

Forget oneself and know how to accept.

About the Author

Andre Sollier photo

Andre Sollier (1922–2007) was born in France and lived and worked in Australia from 1970. He was a renowned water colourist and sumi-e artist (some of his works are held in the National Gallery of Victoria). He studied Kyudo archery, Ikebana and Karate in Japan, and was director of “Satsuma Dojo” Zen archery and Zen meditation centre in Melbourne and a writer and lecturer on Zen philosophy and related arts. In 1982 Andre illustrated the book “Love As A Way”, by the founder of The School of Total Education, Vijayadev Yogendra.

This article was originally published in the Journal of the Helen Vale Foundation, Volume 2, Number 1, 1978. (Published on web site: June 2013)