Read an Excerpt
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms or books that are written in a foreign tongue. The point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live your way some distant day into the answers.
R. M. RILKE
NEVER BEFORE have intimate relationships called on us to face ourselves and each other with so much honesty and awareness. Maintaining an alive connection with an intimate partner today challenges us to free ourselves from old habits and blind spots and to develop the full range of our powers, sensitivities, and depths as human beings. In former times, if people wanted to explore the deeper mysteries of life, they would often enter the seclusion of a monastery or hermitage. For many of us today, however, intimate relationships have become the new wilderness that brings us face to face with all our gods and demons.
Since relationships can no longer be counted on as a predictable source of comfort or security, they bring us to a new crossroads, where we face a pivotal choice. We can struggle to hold on to wishful fantasies and old, outdated formulas, even though they neither match reality nor provide any useful directions. Or instead, we can learn to use the difficulties in our relationships as opportunities-to awaken and bring forth our finest human qualities, such as awareness, compassion, humor, wisdom, and a fearless dedication to truth. If we choose this approach, relationship becomes a path that can deepen our connection with ourselves and those we love and expand our sense of who weare.
THE LARGER PICTURE
In previous eras, family and society dictated the form and function of the man/woman relationship. Parents chose a child's marriage partner on the basis of family interests rather than the child's personal wishes. Since marriage was designed mainly to serve family and society, the quality of the personal relationship between husband and wife was of secondary importance. If a marriage was unhappy, community pressure would hold it together.
Only in the last few generations has this situation changed. Now that couples are increasingly removed from family, community, and widely shared values, there are few convincing extrinsic reasons for a man and a woman to sustain a life's journey together. Only the intrinsic quality of their personal connection can keep them going. Now, for the first time in history, every couple is on their own-to discover how to build a healthy relationship, and to forge their own vision of how and why to be together. It is important to appreciate just how new this situation is. We are all pioneers in this unexplored territory
So rather than becoming discouraged, we could appreciate that we are trying to do something unique, which few societies have ever attempted, much less succeeded at-namely, to join romantic love, sexual passion, and a marriage of equals in a single, enduring relationship. Since men and women have rarely looked at each other eye to eye, as whole human beings, apart from roles, stereotypes, and inherited prescriptions, most couples through the ages have lived together without developing much personal intimacy. Nowadays, however, many of us seek a fuller kind of relatedness-mental, emotional, sexual, even spiritual-with our life partner. This means developing a whole new level of intimacy-by exploring and cultivating unrealized parts of ourselves in and through our connection with someone we love.
Developing this new level of intimacy in our relationships is both a personal and a collective imperative. It is an important step in healing the age-old rift between male and female and bringing together the two halves of our humanity. Centuries of imbalance between the masculine and feminine ways of being have left a deep wound in the human psyche. No one can escape the effects of this wound-which pervade both our inner and outer lives. Inwardly we experience it as a split between heart and mind, feeling and thinking, vulnerability and power; outwardly it manifests itself in the war between the sexes and in the ruthless exploitation of the earth that is endangering our whole planet. Until human consciousness can transform the ancient antagonism between masculine and feminine into a creative alliance, we will remain fragmented and at war with ourselves, as individuals, as couples, as societies, and as a race.
Our personal struggles to develop a deeper level of intimacy are a primary vehicle for this critical move forward that humanity needs to make. As we begin to move in this direction, the man/woman relationship takes on a larger purpose, beyond just survival or security: It becomes an instrument for the evolution of human consciousness. When we look at our personal difficulties with relationships in this light, they no longer seem so bewildering or overwhelming. For every evolutionary advance involves considerable trial and error before something new can emerge. If enough of us can rise to the current challenges of the man/woman relationship, using them as opportunities to peel away illusions, tap our deepest powers, and expand our sense of who we are, we can begin to develop the wisdom our age is lacking. We can give birth to a new vision of love and community that can help enlighten us as individuals and shape a new world in the process.1
Traditional marriage, based on social duty, and modern marriage, based more on hopes for perpetual romance and happiness, have both led to certain dead ends. What new ground can we find, beyond both hope and duty, to nourish and sustain a deeper, more satisfying love between men and women?
We can begin to cultivate a new spirit of engagement between the sexes by recognizing and welcoming the powerful opportunity that intimate relationships provide-to awaken to our deeper nature. Yet this also presents a tremendous challenge, for it means undertaking a journey in search of who we really are. Our connection with someone we love is one of the best vehicles for this journey. When we invite love to awaken us to the deeper powers of life, then working with its challenges becomes part of an ongoing adventure. Intimacy becomes a path an unfolding process of discovery and revelation. And relationship becomes, for the first time, conscious.