Genuine intimacy can be a terrifying thing. Something so scary that our ego structures can sound an alarm for danger before our conscious awareness has even perceived a threat. The kind of imagined threat that rests in a lack of trust in our selves to remain safe and protected in the face of fear and vulnerability. I’m not referring to physical intimacy. I’m referring to the close personal contact of our ego and soul selves. The kind of relationship that brings vulnerability into the light of trust and surrender. Not just a surrender to allowing ourselves to open with honesty and love. Genuine intimacy includes the messy emotions of our fears and doubts as well as joy and light.
In her book The Places That Scare You, Pema Chödrön talks about compassion. She talks about how compassion involves a willingness to feel pain and learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently toward what scares us. Compassion is allowing ourselves to stay open and bear witness to another’s pain and suffering. When we cultivate compassion, we create space for our entire experience – our suffering, our empathy, and our cruelty and terror. I mention this reference because I think the same applies to intimacy. If we are to fully open ourselves to an authentic relationship with our own selves and in turn with another, we need to allow for the good and bad, the enjoyable and unpleasant, for safety and fear, for respect and disregard. The reality is that we are all human, and human beings embody a tremendously wide range of feelings and individual personality traits as well as shared humanity. If we desire compassionate relationships – with our own self and others – we must allow for differences and similarities, for safety and fear. We can only bear witness to that which we are willing to face in our own selves. The depths of compassion and intimacy that we can shine and foster with others will be shaped by how much we face our own darkness. Otherwise, the darkness of another will be perceived as a threat in which our ego needs to defend against. We will not be genuinely present, and our inability to bear witness to another’s suffering will feed our own suffering in turn.
There is no magic wand that can create an environment of safety. Our ego selves may trick us into thinking that if we feel safe, then we can openly share ourselves with another. We may foster the illusion that another is responsible for our feeling safe and whether we can trust. For a long time, my ego self thought that sharing common ground created a safe space for intimacy. The trick with that perspective is that it can be very easy to bend ourselves to meet another’s way of being. In order to feel loved and accepted, we may take on the desires of another as our own and vice versa. The illusion is that we are the “same”, so we seek to nurture that sense of similarity through false intimacy. The danger is that we can convince ourselves that a relationship is responsible for our sense of well-being as opposed to taking ownership for our inner lives and authenticity. In contrast, when we look within for safety, we can start to find refuge and protection with a leap of faith. Faith in our ability to trust our soul self.
A genuinely intimate relationship encourages and supports authentic and open communication. Sometimes this can be painful, and often suffering seems to be more easily created than loving kindness. Certainly, it can feel threatening to embrace our vulnerability in the presence of another. Yet, in order to truly foster an intimate relationship, we must do just that. Just as we benefit from bearing witness to one another, we heal our souls and lives by bearing witness to our entire self. For if we do not allow for our own failings, misgivings, mistrust, and fears, we will resist and defend against the same in another. Avoiding pain can easily translate into closing down, checking out, and avoiding love.
Intimacy is not some magical thing that translates into safety, acceptance, and an avoidance of facing our fears. Intimacy is a wonderful gift and opportunity to experience and share compassion, patience, tolerance, empathy, and love with our own selves and in turn with another. In order for a relationship to support intimacy, we must create space for differences in order to truly find common ground. A shared foundation that can be a source of strength that is born from acceptance of individuality and soul expression. Intimacy can then be home to joy, love, support, and a safe haven to share fears, desires, and humanity. Take a leap, and you may find that your wings were there all along. All you need to do is spread them and fly. And as you take flight, look around, and you will see that you are not alone.