In a recent blog, I wrote about feeling intimacy with the world around us and was asked about human, loving relationships. And why is intimacy often so difficult? I was at first reluctant to answer. It is such a personal subject, and no one has it all together. There are psychological and ethical guidelines but no mapquest.
Yes, we often use the word ‘intimate’ as a synonym for sex, as if “I was intimate with so and so” meant, “I had sex with so and so.” As if the sex was the most important part of the relation. But that often obscures the reality.
And I say this not just because I am an older man who thinks of sex very differently than I used to. I didn’t always realize that the desire for sex can mask a desire for something more than pleasure, for a way to get close or stay close, to pull down the separation we often feel and just be there with another person. To let go. To see into another life. Because being totally with another being so we see how they see and feel even a little bit what they feel is better than good sex. Or maybe it is the heart of good sex. Or maybe it’s the heart, period. A type of, or aspect of, love. It is what makes long term relationships not only work but be exciting.
In this sense, sex can even be a roadblock. It can be so intensely focused on our physical pleasure that we lose sight of this deeper desire we have, the deeper fulfillment we can experience.
If intimacy is “what we truly desire,” is it so difficult to create because it is unusual? Do we have a fear of getting what we truly desire? Or a fear of what being intimate might lead to? Or of how intimacy might change our sense of ourselves? Or has our trust been shattered by some violation in the past so we can’t risk such a moment ever happening again?
To pull down the walls and end the sense of separation we often feel means allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and to notice and feel even the smallest emotional movements in another person. Clearly, vulnerability can be scary. We can be hurt. To truly know another, to feel our way into another person’s sense of life is best accomplished when we allow ourselves to also be known.
It is to let go of our images of who we are. This is the most complicated part. We often need a meditative practice or a guide to help with this. We often think of a self as having permanent characteristics that distinguish us from others; and think of what distinguishes us as what separates us. We are here, they are there. Never the two shall meet. So, if the two never shall meet, intimacy is impossible. Trust is difficult. So is real joy. Life becomes a continual pretense or acting a part. We act the part of whatever we imagine the self is or someone else wants or needs. And we feel fake or ungrounded.
This is, in fact, what too much of society teaches us. We are judged, graded almost from birth, told how we should dress, what we are capable of, often portrayed as smaller than who we could be, or as something app-sized as if our humanity could be measured or mechanized. This not only inhibits personal relationships but community, society.
Carl Jung thought that what creates the sense of deep attraction, that almost irresistible compulsion toward another person, is the feeling, the projection that this other person somehow completes us, has some aspect of ourselves we have denied. We run to this other being with all the passion of finding what we have long searched for. But we eventually realize this person is not our lost self at all but is instead not only other than but more than our projection, more than any image we hold of them or our desire for them.
And we, too are larger than what we imagine. In fact, we are a mystery to ourselves, in the sense that so much of what we say about ourselves can be contradicted by its opposite. Everything about us changes. We are constantly learning. Even our memories evolve.
Not only are we not the child we once were, but our memory of what we once were has changed. And when we study our mind and memories regularly, mindfully aware of our thoughts, we realize how unsure we can be about who we are or even what words will emerge from our mouths.
Intimacy is a mystery meeting a mystery. This is why it is both difficult and rewarding ⎼ and natural. It is, in fact, our natural self. It is even revolutionary because intimacy requires we stop identifying ourselves in the manner our society often pressures us to be, as in competition with, and separated from, others and our world. Instead, we recognize our mutual responsibility, recognize how we co-create our lives together. The Buddhist activist and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh calls it interbeing.
We step forward willing to take a chance, to change and allow others to change, to have no script, to be honest, aware, present. Thus, we see more clearly. We trust as much as we can this other person as well as the totality of what we’ve been and are now. We become kinder. We bring more strength to whatever we do. What strength is there in such intimacy!
It requires attention to do this, a continual reminding to ourselves. We could put post-it notes around the house saying things like “take a breath and look deeply at whomever you look at.” We could have fun with this.
But when we can be with someone like this on an ongoing basis, in a committed relationship, it changes how we relate to the whole of life. And nothing is as beautiful. Nothing is as sweet and nourishing.
This post is republished on Medium.