Expanding Your Capacity to Love and Be Loved
If you want to learn to love, then you must start the process of finding out what it is, what qualities make up a loving person and how these are developed. Each person has the potential for love. But potential is never realized without work. —Leo Buscaglia
One reason so many of us do not have the love we are longing for is that we’ve not yet become the people we will need to be in order to attract and sustain that kind of love. Most of us have dramatically elevated our standards of what we expect from a romantic partner far beyond what our parents or grandparents ever expected from their relationships. Yet we may not have evolved our level of wellness and maturity to the point where we can manifest and maintain the love that we are hoping to create.
Romantic relationships today are a tentative and uncertain thing. In our postmodern world, where serial monogamy is the new norm and more people over fifty are divorced than widowed, no longer is getting married the safe and secure way to go. Whereas once upon a time people tended to stay together for the long haul no matter what, and perhaps even married out of economic and social necessity, we now seek to form long-term unions in an attempt to create authentically soulful and deeply meaningful lives. Yet, much of the time, falling in love means that we end up standing by helplessly as we watch it all slip through our fingers. Why can’t we seem to hold on to the glorious transcendence of love? Why can’t we seem to harness passion, root it down, and make a home of it?
Some would say that romantic love is an illusion. A trick of nature meant to entice us into procreation. In the aftermath of a devastating breakup, we find ourselves asking, Was he or was he not my soul mate? Was it or was it not real love? The most beautiful moments of our lives become reduced to their lowest common denominator: hormones, lust, and those most dreaded of words—
“It was just infatuation.”
Yet many understand, if only intuitively, that romantic love holds a promise that we have yet to fulfill. Instinctively, we know it holds a key to our expansion. Because romantic love has such a profound capacity to bring out the best—and the worst—in us, many of us have identified it as our newest frontier for spiritual growth and development. Rather than calling us into seclusion, the spiritual path now beckons us deeper into the quality of our connections. This premise is the very crux of the relatively new term “spiritual partnership,” which describes the relationship that most of us aspire to. What exactly is this new kind of union, and how does it differ from the old paradigm of marriage that our parents and grandparents were looking for? A study was done back in the sixties, where young women attending college were asked, “If you met a man who met all of your criteria for a husband yet you did not love him, would you marry him?” More than 70 percent said yes, they would. In other words, as long as the guy came from a good family, had a job, smelled good, and didn’t drink too much, then he must be “The One!” Apparently, the main objectives of the old paradigm were economic stability and morally sanctified sex. Yet what most of us care about today is finding someone who can help us become who we came here to be, and realize the fulfillment of our potential in all areas. Spiritual partnership implies the goal of inspiring and supporting the unfolding of each other’s souls in this journey through life.
An intimate relationship today means allowing ourselves to become immersed in knowing and being known fully by another human being, with all of our brilliance, beauty, failures, and flaws. It means learning the terrain and the language of love through a shared commitment to mutual growth and awakening. It means opening our hearts fully and learning how to love in ways that are vulnerable, authentic, and undefended, while at the same time remaining independent and autonomous in ways that would allow us to live 100 percent true to ourselves. It means going beyond the pervasive ideas of our parents’ generation that romantic union was about martyrdom and sacrifice, and moving into an experience of romantic love as an invitation to creatively expand by generating inclusive win-win solutions that take everyone’s needs, feelings, and desires into account. It means discovering how to be completely responsible for your own feelings and needs by understanding the lens through which you are interpreting, then responding to whatever’s happening between yourself and others. It means honoring your own needs and perspectives while being open to hearing those that are completely the opposite of your own, without needing to make one of you right and one of you wrong. It means holding people accountable for treating you with respect, in ways that are respectful of them. In other words, those who still believe that romantic love and spiritual love are two different things understand little about the direction that either has taken.
This is not a book for those who wish to hide out. This is a book for those who aren’t afraid of a challenge. It is designed to help you get from who you are today to who you will need to be in order to call in the best possible partner for you in this lifetime, and create deep happiness and health in your relationship with that person. That means that the journey must begin with an interest in how one might become a more loving person.
Years ago, long before he became a friend of mine, I heard Jack Canfield, co-editor of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, tell a moving story of a woman who’d had a near-death experience. She’d had an accident and was pronounced dead soon after. While dead, she saw the tunnel of light we so often hear about. She followed the light and soon came upon an Angelic Being who was radiating an enormous amount of love. The Being told her that it was not yet her time to die. However, before she was sent back into her body, she was asked two questions. The first was: “What wisdom have you gained in this lifetime?” and the second was: “How have you expanded your capacity to love?”
If you want to be ready to bring “The One” into your life, then you must be willing to grow yourself beyond the person you know yourself to be. Because the person you are today is the same person who’s created the experiences you’ve already had. As they say in the twelve-step programs, “Our best thinking got us here.” As such, your task is to grow yourself healthier and more mature in order to create a space for a remarkable love to take root in your life. As long as we are acting out the wounds of our childhood and in reaction to the disappointments of our past, we will most likely remain frustrated and unfulfilled in our attempts to find true love. However, once we’ve done the work to heal and transform, it then becomes possible for us to bring the best of who we are to others. In return, we will draw in those who are willing and able to bring the best of who they are to us. At the very least, we will be able to distinguish early on those who can’t or won’t do this, knowing that, although this person might have “great potential,” he or she is no one to open our hearts to.
In the orchard and rose garden
I long to see your face.
In the taste of Sweetness
I long to kiss your lips.
In the shadows of passion
I long for your love.
In order to attract an extraordinary love, and sustain relationships that are characterized by authenticity, kindness, and respect, then we must outgrow our tendencies to unconsciously duplicate the relational traumas of our past, and replay over and over again our deepest disappointments in love. Instead, we must consciously evolve our capacity to experience authentic, adult love with a heart that is strong enough to love, even when confronted with all that is not love. Until we do, we will likely either have difficult creating loving relationships, or sustaining the love that life sends our way.
I invite you therefore to give yourself fully to the pathway of happy, healthy relatedness. Build your life upon the wise decision to grow your ability to love and be loved. To expand your capacity to have love, to grow in love, to live in the essence of love. For in order to have a great love, one must begin by becoming a greater lover.
I was there in the beginning and I was the spirit of love. —Rumi
It’s important to realize that you do not need to be with a partner to open your heart and begin expanding your ability to give and receive love. You simply need the willingness to start by opening yourself to the opportunities to love and be loved that surround you today.