Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Free Spirit

Religious folk will talk about the longing to touch God or to feel God. The longing for me since as far as I can remember is to experience reciprocated emotional intimacy on a depth that I am certain I have never experienced in a relationship. And like an untouchable mystic spirit tucked away out of reach -- it’s the Holy Grail of romantic life.

Married, single, or somewhere in-between, here is the paradigm: Those who fear intimacy are the ones who long for it. Those who fear it most likely have no idea what it actually is. Those who don’t know what it is, would really like to know.

I’ll go out on a divine limb here and try to describe it myself:

"Emotional intimacy is a process of opening and softening to the life that’s here, without shutting it down. It’s the desire to be known and to know. It’s exposing the deepest parts of ourselves to another person and allowing the deepest parts of another person to be shown to us. It’s an energetic power that gives us strength to reveal ourselves without fearing the consequences."

Intimacy is deeply interwoven with shame and vulnerability -- three pieces of the same puzzle.

Despite the closeness we had with others growing up, most of us have been shut down by peers and family in some way as a means of keeping us in line. This taught us very gradually and systematically that intimacy is risky business.

As parents to our own children, we learn that emotional intimacy can only go so deep because we must protect them from knowing our darkest fears, our anxieties, our failures. Those barriers are what keep them safe. 

The Fear

Despite the gift I have for connecting and bonding easily with others, I would have to agree with Baggage Reclaimer Natalie Lue* that relationships that have “a connection” and "so much in common", even shared pain, admiration, offspring, experiences, attraction, hobbies, interests, and orgasms does not necessarily equal intimacy. An authentic, emotionally honest, loving and caring relationship means very little on the depth scale if we fundamentally are afraid of the consequences of closeness.

We all have some fear of closeness, be us single or attached, and it can feel like this: that being you; vulnerable, emotionally available, with all your quirks, your mess, your horrid past, your personality -- will result in another person leaving, disappointing, criticizing, fighting with, or rejecting you. Therefore we either don’t even bother, or we shift the blame on the other person’s shortcomings, or we build walls, and limitations (or choose insecurely-attached people) that cocoon us from deep experiences ever happening.

The History of Intimacy

Intimacy isn’t typically pitched to us as a basic human right. It’s a luxury. And it's still taboo. Traditionally marriages were set up with the expectation for sexual intimacy, living out gender roles which didn’t deviate, the woman’s sexual needs likely didn’t matter, anything relating to the woman’s sexual reproduction was kept private, and when the man felt burdened by the pressure to provide for his family, he had to “man up” -- channeling the stress into hard labour, sports, or war. Marriages were (and still are) setup to guarantee reproductive success, to optimize quality of life, to increase our chances of survival, and to carry on the family name.

Historically, intimacy was encouraged through God and through prayer, but not necessarily with your spouse.

So how do we build intimacy?
My short answer is this: In order to start exploring a new process we first need to be aware of what it is we are missing out on -- and what patterns we take on that block us from experiencing life and love from a deeper place. The answer to building intimacy is, as Rumi suggests:

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

Intimacy versus Autonomy

Intimacy can feel like it’s at war with our autonomy. Countless studies have examined the inquiry I admit has been my recent personal struggle: Will the desire for intimacy with another person get in the way of my independent personal fulfillment

It’s like the child learning to take those thrilling first steps away from their mother, and then when she falls and gets hurt, throws herself back in the comfort and solace of her mother’s arms.

But in truth, autonomy thrives when paired with intimacy; the more we have those safe harbours, those secure attachments to fall into -- without shame, without inhibitions, without doubt of a loving response -- the easier it is to explore, thrive and take risks.

For most of the Western world depending on your culture, in this day and age, we have complete opportunity to choose how much intimacy we want, and who with, and for how long. This denotes to pure freedom, but can feel like pure chaos. We are living in a time in history where we have the most romantic/sexual power, yet are completely ill-equipped with the value systems we need in place to survive this climate.

Intimacy is blocked by Self-Aversion

Self-aversion is a desire to avoid or turn away from the parts of ourselves we don’t like. Let’s face it -- being with another person is like having a giant mirror held up to our flaws; we are constantly tested, provoked and exposed, in good times and in bad.

Makes you wonder why so many single people have pets. Pets provide the company and unconditional love but without the judgement. 

We Meet our Match

We choose what we are. We find our mirror.

We don’t want to talk about our feelings so we find someone who also doesn’t. We don’t value our orgasm so we find someone who doesn’t either. We don’t like revealing much about our past so we find someone who doesn’t do a lot of probing.

If you’ve chosen a person who frequently shuts down intimacy that could be a strong indication that it reflected your fear of being intimate at the time you met. And not to crush anyone’s spirit here, but now you may feel you’re stuck with the consequences.

That’s not to say you need to throw the baby out with the holy bathwater. When both partners have a desire to explore intimacy and recognize the patterns that have been blocking it, keep the faith that love can continue surviving -- and thriving. 

However, when a person is unwilling to know or touch intimacy in any way, there is no amount of date nights, eye-contact, candles, tickle-fights, new sex positions, or nagging that can solve that problem. The person has to tap into an awareness and go to that place willingly, and in most cases that requires professional help.

Behaviour patterns that block intimacy are: Shame about our bodies and/or our mental health, lying, faking, picking fights, being secretive, having lots of rules, holding back emotions or opinions, casual dating, faking orgasms, substance abuse, cheating, withholding sex and/or affection, avoiding conflict to “keep the peace”, proximity without closeness, separate lives, being “busy”, small talk, physical/emotional abuse.

Are any of these your patterns? Your partner’s?


God Willing

Of course, along the path there will be people who just don’t want intimacy or who are hard-wired to loath it. Intimacy does not need to happen in every relationship if it is not worthy of it. 

Intimacy is a slow process of time and safety. It requires mutual vulnerability, trust, and most importantly -- shared values. The operative word being “mutual”. It requires a transparency and openness that is received first and then reciprocated; and that becomes the trickiness (and the fun) of it all. It does not happen immediately or all at once but it can happen in many different relationship structures. What’s most important is that we take ownership of our exploration and awareness.

Before finding intimacy in a partner, first learn how to be an intimate partner.

Practice peace and acceptance for our own selves and the circumstances in our present life, and the desire to share our whole body and soul with another human will send a light to the worthy ones. We also have to take a few leaps of faith.

There's a simple question we can ask ourselves when we feel heaven might be knocking on our door:

How does it feel to reveal? 

Well then, keep doing it.

Well then, keep doing it too.

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