When Jason Kurtz was in his late 20s, he was single, lonely, broke, listless, and living with his parents.
Then he followed an urge to travel to India, and he told himself that he would not come home until he knew what he wanted to do with his life. During the many-month adventure, Kurtz was ripped off by cab drivers, conned by begging children, and forced to confront his aversion to everything from filth to lack of personal space.
His recently released memoir about the experience is gripping, and every page is full of spiritual lessons. When I finished Follow the Joy, I wanted to know more. Obviously, the journey had helped Kurtz find happiness. But did it also eventually help him find love? And did what he learned during that trip prepare him for his career as a psychotherapist?
I gave him a call. "In many ways the book is the story of how I became the man who could find and marry my wife," Kurtz told me. Here are 7 spiritual laws that helped him do just that. Read them so you can form and keep successful relationships, too.
1. Wear Your Feelings on Your Lips
Before he traveled to India, Kurtz often kept his feelings and opinions to himself. During the trip, however, he learned to speak his truth rather than merely say what he thought others wanted to hear, what he thought would please them, or what he thought would make others like him.
"People want others to know how they feel, but they think they should just know," Kurtz says. In reality, love isn't one of the building blocks of ESP. If you want others to know how you feel, you must put it out there, he says. Great phrases to use: This matters to me… I wish you would do this … This is important for me…
If you say what you want and voice how you feel, you'll be a lot more likely to get the response you need, he says. "If you put what you want out into the world, there's a good chance that it will happen," Kurtz says. On the other hand, "our secrets often remain secrets."
2. Know Your Worth
Kurtz used to care for everyone around him at the expense of his own energy, time, mood, and needs. "Before I went to India, the women I dated were people I could take care of. I found hurt women who needed a lot of care, and I was eager to do that. I didn't like being the martyr, but I didn't see why anyone would want to be with me unless I was caring for them," he said.
Oh, can I relate. Can you?
Over and over again, others forced Kurtz to allow them to help him and care for him. At a Buddhist monastery, for instance, the residents insisted on washing his clothes, despite Kurtz's protests. "It made me aware that I had a lot to offer, that I was a special person, that people really wanted to care for me, and that I was worth being taken care of," he says. Soon after the trip, he met his lovely wife, Dayna, and the two married.
3. Receive What You Give
One day, as Kurtz volunteered at a Calcutta hospice established by Mother Theresa, he experienced a rare period of free time. He spent it offering massages to the sick and dying residents. While massaging the man's misshapen foot, Kurtz treated the man as if he were a God. "I am not massaging the club foot of a stranger, but the broken body of God itself," wrote Kurtz in Follow the Joy. "In return, he worships me as his guru, submitting to my ministering touch by passing energy to me. We're enveloped in an unbroken circuit of care where I gently comfort him and he graces me with gratitude."
Each person's gratitude blessed Kurtz's mind, making him feel more peaceful and happy. "It was a mutual experience. I wasn't just giving to him, he was also giving to me, too," Kurtz says.
4. Let the Person Who Has More to Gain Win
Kurtz's first few cab rides were stress-filled encounters full of haggling, hard sells, and disappointment. Every time he got into a cab, he felt the driver was ripping him off - charging him overinflated prices because he was a foreigner who didn't know any better. By the end of the trip, however, Kurtz realized that he had a choice. He could see the inflated fares as a rip off and the cabbies as con artists. Or he could see that paying what amounted to 25 more cents could make an Indian cab driver very happy while affecting his own savings very little. "From the cab driver's point of view, I could easily afford it. For them, it's a lot of money, whereas, for me, it's not," Kurtz says. Rather than fighting over the inflated fairs, Kurtz came to see it as a gift that he could give to someone who needed that money more than he did.
Marital arguments sometimes follow the same logic, he says. Ask yourself: Why is he/she fighting over this? Why does he/she need this so much? Maybe the thing your spouse wants is worth 25 cents to you in terms of importance, but worth 100 dollars to your spouse. "It can become something you want to give your spouse, and you can both be happier for it," Kurtz says.
5. Know What Is Worth Fighting For
The opposite of the previous spiritual law holds true as well, says Kurtz. Some things are very important to you and worth one hundred dollars to you, whereas they might only be worth a quarter to your spouse. Those are the things worth standing for, he says.
6. See Past the Fear
One day at a home for aging displaced Tibetans, Kurtz watched as four elderly men - all residents in the home - carried an infirm elderly woman up a flight of stairs. The woman was bed-ridden, but the men wanted her to continue to enjoy life. So they carried her to a chair so she could enjoy the view. Considering the men were all infirm as well, the effort had been a dangerous one. "I guess love can be dangerous," one of the monks remarked at the time. "But it sure makes life worth living."
In relationships, "People are often afraid to ask for what they want, but love requires us to take risks," Kurtz says. The downside is that, if you ask for what you want, your partner might say "no." The upside: "Amazing things can happen." Plus, once you face what you fear rather than avoid it, you'll probably find that it's not as scary as you think, he says.
7. Rededicate Yourself to What Matters
Every morning as he set out to volunteer at a hospice in Calcutta, Kurtz tried to do better than he had the day before. "I remember that in my relationship, especially the things my wife values and that attract her to me. I can be an amazing listener, but sometimes it's easy to come home and watch a game rather than ask her questions and listen. So I go home with the idea in my mind that listening is important and that I want to do it." Think of all the behaviors and tasks that are important for your marriage, and consider reminding yourself of their importance daily.