“Lovers are those for whom no minute is like any other, people between whom nothing habitual takes place, just what is new, unprecedented, unexpected. In such connections there exists an almost unbearable happiness. When we understand our lives correctly, we can slowly grow into such happiness by preparing ourselves for it. When we love, we must not forget that we are beginners, bunglers of life, apprentices in love. We must learn love and that takes calm, patience, and composure.”
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote these words nearly 100 years ago and they are as true today. They represent the most eloquent expressions of the essence of what is unquestionably one of the most difficult to describe experiences known to humanity. Rilke reminds us that “we must learn love.” This may sound strange coming from a poet known for his mystical writings. And yet for those of us who have traversed the territory to which he refers, his words serve as striking reminders of the inner qualities required of those of us who have committed ourselves to this path of the heart.
It is a great mystery that a process as natural and universal as loving should be as difficult as it so frequently can be. In fact, it seems that more often than not, the art of learning to love well is one of the most demanding challenges we take on in our lives. Many people, having made a number of painful or unsuccessful attempts to develop sustained, loving relationships, conclude that they’re just not “up for” what it takes, or that perhaps they’re just not the type to settle down with one person. They choose instead to forego their dream rather than risk the prospect of continued pain, frustration, and disappointment.
Why is it that loving relationships can be so difficult for us to create and sustain? Is it true that there really are very few good candidates out there who are willing and able to relate honestly and authentically? Is it possible for us to unlearn defensive patterns that may have served us in childhood but now cause us to feel frustration and isolation?
These and many other questions inevitably arise once we make the decision to embark upon the path of love. The further along we find ourselves, the more formidable are the concerns that we encounter. Many people believe that the opposite should be true; that is, that the deeper the connection we develop with someone, the easier it should be and that if it’s not getting easier it’s because something is wrong—wrong with them, wrong with me, or wrong with us.
Deep relatedness can bring out the worst as well as the best in us—our deepest fears and our greatest hopes, our selflessness as well as our possessiveness, our kindness and our insensitivity, our generosity and our self-centeredness. In working consciously with these emotions and impulses, we find ourselves feeling more trusting and open with each other and gradually begin to let down the defenses that shield and protect us from emotional distress.
Great love, great sex, and great intimacy are the hallmarks of great relationships. Like the pursuit of happiness, great relationships don’t happen by seeking them directly; rather, they are a byproduct of living life in a way that creates the conditions that will support the fulfillment of our intention. Getting clear about the kind of relationship that we want and the kind of person that we want to share it with are undoubtedly important steps in the realization of our dreams. But the most important aspect of creating an optimal relationship has less to do with finding the person of our dreams than with being the person of our dreams. It’s about who we become in the process.
When we identify the qualities that we seek to strengthen within ourselves, the likelihood of attracting the right person increases exponentially. Being a great lover has less to do with technique than with our quality of being. As we cultivate qualities like presence, generosity, compassion, commitment, and trustworthiness, and integrate practices that embody those qualities into our lives, the quality of our relationships will naturally, effortlessly become enhanced.
There is truly no limit to what is possible when two people are partnered in an agreement to support each other in the quest to discover all that is possible on this journey. Yes, it does take effort, time, and energy, but as anyone who has stayed on the path for a while will tell you, the result is worth every ounce of energy that it takes to do the work, and more. More, even, than you can imagine.