Waking Up Together: Intimate Partnership on the Spiritual Path

Author: Ellen and Charles Birx

Publisher: Boston: Wisdom Publications. 

Publication date: 2005

Number of pages:

Reviewed by: Jeremy Woodcock


This beautifully written and easily read book is deceptively simple, and yet at its beating heart is a grasp of Zen and the spiritual path that is very profound. Ellen and Charles Birx reflect on their own experience as a couple, and write with deep integrity about life together. One of the most important and central messages of the book is that Zen invites us into greater intimacy with ourselves and others; that the spiritual path is misconceived if our practice takes us away from our partner, children, family and friends. In their understanding the heart of Zen is not about time away on retreat, although retreats are important; the fruit of Zen is that enables us to be more open and compassionate to ourselves in a fullness, which includes the grumpy, irritable, hard-hearted parts of us, as well as our more agreeable natures. Furthermore, that this openness and compassion to ourselves opens into a compassion for others, that enlivens our most intimate relationships.
The richness of their wisdom is belied in the way that they manage to combine a comfortable homey feel for the couple relationship with an absolutely profound experience of Zen. Theirs is a Zen that is distinctively pure in its understanding yet it is grounded in Western experience, and it is the gift of Zen that the book offers that is its most profound fruit. This is not only a book for couples, it is also a book for anyone who is into Zen and serious about how to live out relationships with children, lovers, friends, colleagues and community. This is not a self-help book: they do not set out to offer expert advice on troubled relationships. Clearly, they regard Zen as good for one’s well-being but they also know that Zen is not primarily about well-being, it is about a profound opening to one’s true nature. For the troubled they suggest couple therapy and psychotherapy can be helpful and supportive interventions on the spiritual path. Yet, they are not afraid of the shadow: theirs is a Zen that is vibrantly alive to our humanness as it is lived out in relationship.