Book Review: Buddhism for Couples by Sarah Napthali

June, 2015

Buddhism for Couples

By: Sarah Napthali

Paperback: 248 pages (tentative)

Publisher: Jeremy P. Tarcher / Penguin (June 2015)

buddhism for couples cover

In The Miracle of Mindfulness, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh tells the story of a father who struggled to balance his Buddhist practice with his daily responsibilities of being a father and a husband. After the finite hours of his day were divided between work, wife, daughter, and son, there was barely any time left for himself. It was only when he changed his idea of “free time” or “his time” to include running after his children and shopping with his wife that his days opened up and he found he had all the time he needed.

This anecdote remains with me over the years, because it beautifully illustrates the Buddhist approach to life’s problems. Buddhism puts the responsibility of our reactions and emotions strictly on ourselves, not whatever circumstance we tend to blame at the time. The First Noble Truth acknowledges dissatisfaction and suffering as an integral part of life, and the Second Noble Truth sets the cause of this on ourselves, our perception of ourselves, and the yearning that fills the void between how we want things to be and how they really are. We can do something impossible, like making more time, simply by changing our perspective toward the mundane and routine.

It is this uncompromising simplicity of the Buddhist teaching that is so hard to put into practice. The middle way between humility and being a pushover, honesty and being critical, it is wavering at the best of times, let alone with the strong emotions of relationships. Practicing Buddhist compassion toward strangers is so much easier than where it really counts. At home, our insecurities easily manifest in the little frustrations that we either handle badly or sweep away only to pile up in the corners. There they build into ghosts of dissatisfaction, secret tallies of unfairness cataloging who contributes more to the household, thoughts of what other peoples’ marriages are like, and whether whether we were not heard or just ignored.

It is in this context that Sarah Napthali explores Buddhist practice in her new book coming out this June. Using frequent anecdotes and drawing heavily on research in psychology, sociology, Buddhist authorities and relationship gurus, Napthali explores how Buddhist teaching can explain the troubled waters of our relationships and how to use Buddha’s teachings on non-attachment with those we are most attached to. Time and again her honesty in confronting her own shortcomings lets us drop our guard and opens us to see our own failings. Many times she uses humor to show the ridiculousness of our own habitual responses. In the chapter on anger, for instance, she asks us to imagine a book on relationships offering the following advice:

  • If you really want your message to sink in, raise your voice a few decibels.
  • Talking through gritted teeth helps to convey how strongly you feel and should achieve your goals.
  • Expressing contempt is a powerful tool.
  • An angry look can work a treat.
  • Give sulking a try.

In one moment she has simultaneously made us laugh and confront what each of us has done on many occasion.

Buddhism for Couples is highly readable. The tone is easy, almost conversational, peppered with anecdotes and quotations throughout, and the short chapters conform easily to the morning commute and the opportunistic reading of a hectic schedule. Each chapter is closed by a “homework” list of Things to Consider and Things to Do, which I found especially helpful and apropos. In her references, she draws heavily on experts in psychology and sociology, Buddhism and relationship gurus across the board. Ms. Napthali has also avoided two of my pet peeves – lax research and poor citations. A full reference section is included at the back of the book and, although missing from my evaluation copy, it looks like an index might be included in the finished edition as well, which is always a bonus.

Despite the Buddhist theme, the book’s advice is practical and honest enough to ring true for anyone open to the presentation. It also does not require both partners (or either partner for that matter) to be Buddhist. Buddhism for Couples a great book to explore both the dynamic of relationships in the West and the difficulties of the practical, daily spiritual path. Being a man, not having children, and not having any major marital issues of ones own, I felt I was not the target audience of many parts of the book. Indeed, I found myself glossing over chapters on housework or sex, which (naturally) were written from a more female perspective. Even so, I found myself enjoying the book and getting a lot out of it – a new perspective on familiar issues.

Spiritual Seeker

August, 2013

If you ask a group of Pagans why they left the religion they were brought up in, I’m willing to bet that a majority of them will cite restrictive rules as at least one of the reasons. And yet, when you get down to it, aren’t rules part of the reason we turn to a religion? Don’t Wiccans have rules just as complex and important as the those of Catholics? Isn’t the Rede really the same thing as the Golden Rule? Pagans, if we are honest, love rules just as much as any other religion.

This past month I’ve been studying two religions at once. The first is Buddhism, but through an agnostic point of view, with the book by Stephen Batchelor. I’ve also been reading about Judaism thanks to Rabbi Ted Falcon and David Blatner and their book Judaism for Dummies. (Don’t knock the Dummies book. This one weighs in at over 400 pages, and is packed full of information.)

Both religions really seem to thrive on lists of rules. Judaism has its list of 613 mitzvot. These are mandatory rules scattered throughout the Jewish bible; the number that can still be followed in the modern world, by Jews not living in Israel, is around 400. In Buddhism there is the Eight-Fold Path, the Five Precepts, and so many other lists, that, when you get down to it, function as rules. Parallels can be drawn to Paganism as well. I’m most familiar with Wicca, and I can think of several traditions off the top of my head who have pages and pages of rules and lists of responsibilities. These rules shape their respective faiths, giving them their unique form and provide followers with touchstones and measuring sticks for their practices. A religion lacking in rules really isn’t much of a religion.

It can be argued that some religions have harmful rules or rules that don’t make sense in today’s world (although, you’ll find in most cases that these so called “rules” aren’t in the holy text, but are rather derived from a religious leader’s interpretation of the text or even fabricated completely). And this is where critical thinking comes into play. We need to be wise enough to decide which rules we have to follow to still be a legitimate member of a religion, but at the same time stay true to what we believe is morally or socially correct. Sometimes, we need to admit to ourselves that we have to leave a faith (or not become a follower in the first place) because the rules don’t make sense to us. There is bending the rules, and then there is breaking them. For example, I could never convert to Judaism no matter how much I respect the teachings because, to me, important dietary and idolatry rules make no sense. On the other hand, I really respect many of the rules dealing with charity, the poor, and business practices.

My biggest take away this month is that when it comes to faith and religion, more is needed than just believing in a deity. To be a member of a faith, you need to also believe in and support the rules that have grown up around the faith. Giving them lip service isn’t enough, because the rules are, in many ways, as important as the deity. After all, that is who they are said to have descended from.

A Simple Path: Journey of a Hedgewitch

May, 2009

*The Hedgewitch lives in the space between the Village and the Forest. Between the mundane and the magical. S/He lives with a foot in both worlds.
This column is dedicated to the Hedgewitches of the planet earth.

May In the Hedge: Be The Mountain

In my study of yoga, I found some underlying principles which are generally Buddhist in nature, that  fascinated me, ever since.

There are 4 basic principles:
1. Love
2. Joy
3. Compassion
4. Equinamity

Now, these first 3, I have them licked! I love love in all its many forms. I have no trouble incorporating love into my life, whatsoever.
Joy! What a wonderful gift and blessing, and I engage in active joy all the time.
Compassion- I am empathetic, so comapssion, a no brainer for me.
But when I got to equinamity… I didn’t even know what the word meant.

After looking it up, I wasn’t sure I really knew what it meant, either.

equa·nim·ity (ek’w? nim’? te)

the quality of remaining calm and undisturbed; evenness of mind or temper; composure
(as copied from

This is not the same as being in a peaceful place. This is calmness and deep composure, despite the circumstances. No matter what.

The Buddhist description of this state of consciousness is Being the Mountain.
On the mountain, the winds blow fiercely, and the snow falls, sometimes covering the peak for months at a time.
But the mountain never responds, because it knows that all that is meant to be simply is.
The mountain doesn’t complain, or become afraid, even while glaciers might scrape its face away.
The mountain just is, regardless of the conditions.
The mountain enjoys a state of non-sentient equinamity.

Now, as a sentient being, I have considerably more trouble with this concept of equinamity.
I am rather reactive, it turns out.
I tend to fret and to become enflamed and to respond outwardly, as a rule.
So, the idea of being able to truly Be The Mountain is one so alien to my consciousness.

Yet, I am curious about it, and even sense a growing desire to be the mountian.
I have elected to actively explore this concept in my own life, and to use “Be the mountain” as a mantra when things become emotional for me. It is such an easy and basic visualization. Just Be the Mountain.

In my life, I have recently become aware of some serious problems with the folks I hold dear, and the opportunities to practice equinamity have been abundant. Organ transplants, Cancer, and serious addicition have come to call just as the winds and snow call on the mountain. This is my time to practice.

In my case, the ‘winds’ are always accompanied by a physical sensation. A tightening of the chest. An unconscious holding of the breath. My muscles tighten and seem to be bracing for something.
As I become aware of the stress building in my body, I am reminded to recognize the sensation, and underlying emotions and then release them through the breath.
In this way, I give myself permission to notice my thoughts and feelings, and then allow the sensations of response to pass from me.
I am not holding my stress in parts of my body which then suffer physically for it.

To practice equinamity is not to be unaware, or in denial, about the conditions. It is to acknowledge the conditions and then to allow the response to them flow out again, like the tide.
I am, clearly, no expert, and am just barely even aware of the full impact of what equinamity can do for a life if applied mindfully. However, I do know that equinamity has come to me as a tool to utilize in my personal practice, as I begin to understand it.

I know many of us have issues in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones which can stress us out to the point of madness. I pray that the gift of equinamity can help to bring about a deep calm in your lives, as you work through them.
Just keeping the visual of the mountain in mind can help remind us to breathe and release, when stress begins to mount in us.

If there are those who have walked a Path that has allowed them to master equinamity, I would love to hear from you, as I am always excited to learn from the experience of others.

Brightest May Blessings to you all!

Buddhism – Friends

July, 2006

Buddhism – Friends

The Four Foundations of Awareness:

Which Four?

Only if & when the Noble Friend remains regarding any Body -own or other-

simply as a heaped up group, just as a transient, compounded & complex

collection, only as a fragile, accumulated & alien assemblage, while being

alert, aware & clearly comprehending, then will he thereby effectively

remove all urge & frustration from this world…!!!

Only if & when a Noble Friend dwells observing any Feeling –from within or

from without – simply as an affective reaction, just as an assigned response,

only as a fleeting sensation, while being keen, fully conscious & continuously

attentive, then will he thereby consequently eliminate all desire & discontent

within this world…!!!

Only if & when a Noble Friend abides viewing any Thought –present or remote-

simply as a fancy mood, just as a made up mentality, only as a conscious moment,

while being ready, actively investigating & deliberately discriminating, then will

he thereby naturally eradicate all longing & sadness inherent in this world…!!!

Only if & when a Noble Friend lives interpreting any Phenomenon –internal or external –

simply as a passing mental state, just as a mentally created & conditioned construct,

only as an experienced appearance, merely as an imaginary reflected impression,

while being acutely awake, mindful & carefully understanding, then will he thereby

overcome all attraction & repulsion rooted in this world…!!!

Direct Hit:

Without any even single exception:

Whoever in the distant & ancient past has Awakened to full Enlightenment;

Whoever in the present, right now is Awakening to complete Enlightenment;

Whoever in the near & far future will Awaken to perfect Enlightenment;

All those have been freed, is being freed, will be freed through & by:

Initiating, Cultivating, Refining, Perfecting & thoroughly Establishing these

Four Foundations of Awareness… !!!! The sole Cause of really Being Present…!!!

Friendship is the Greatest !


author bio:

Bhikkhu Samahita, Sri Lanka.

Dhamma-Questions sent to my email are quite Welcome

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