Thursday, October 31, 2013

Intimacy and Health

When we think about intimacy, too often our frame of reference is far too narrow: as something that only is part of a "romantic" relationship. While intimacy is often one of the things we savor when it is available in a romantic relationship, it is a quality of "human communion," as author Agapi Stassinopoulos notes in an article called "Why Intimacy is the Secret Key to Health" in the Huffington Post. Being with another person, even for a series of moments, where you feel that you have their full attention, that you really matter, and that deeper levels of your heart and soul and theirs can be exposed, shared and appreciated is a very sacred experience. And it is something our souls crave in relationship to other human beings to be healthy and vital, Do you have a friend who knows just how to respond to you when you are scared or sad? Do you have a friend who knows it is better to just be present and listen rather than give advice when you are struggling? Is there someone in your life who knows your favorite kind of tea or the kind of gesture that makes you feel loved when you are having a bad day--or hard life passage? When someone truly knows and sees you for who you are, and responds to you with a sense of sacred respect and knowledge of what matters to you, intimacy is created. Stassinopoulos notes that when intimacy is created, we are so fully present with another person that the outside world may disappear, and both people might feel they "are in the presence of something almost sacred." This kind of space is one where we are not distracted, and the person we are listening to or talking with might get the sense that they are "the only person in the universe" to us at that very moment. Stassinopoulos reflects that our fast-paced world does not promote the kind of slowing down needed to both open to and experience this deeper sense of connection. If we focus on what is "next," we may very well miss the opportunity available to us in the moment. When we are always focused on what's next, we can live with a sense of anxiety that puts up protective walls to survive, rather than taking down protection to help us take in the moment for what it is. If we go too fast, always focus on what needs to be done, and in the process, forget to look one another in the eye, or extend a helping hand, we start to shut down and numb out--like the frogs in the pot of boiling water. When intimacy is rare, no matter how much we need it deep down inside, we often do numb out in order to survive without such a basic food group for the soul. We need to find ways to make ourselves feel emotionally safe, to slow down and create the kind of moments where we can truly look into one another's eyes and see who is with us in the here and now. If we come to another person with "an authentic unconditional caring," their walls and defenses start to melt, know we can be truly safe and loved. If a person connects with you and responds in the spirit of "I have all the time in the world for you," we are far more inclined to open up, take risks and be vulnerable. Knowing we really ARE emotionally safe, the other person really DOES want to hear what we have to say, and feeling care through a glance, a touch or a hug, melt our defenses and free up life energy. Stassinopoulos invites us to inquire how our world would be different if we consciously initiated and sustained more intimate experiences with one another. My mentor Stan Dale used to say intimacy meant "in-to-me-I see." When another person can offer a grounded, loving, pure and clear mirror, our defense melt and we can feel seen and heard. The soul thrives on being authentic, and it celebrates when it encounters other people who encourage us to be who we really are. If we offer deep caring, patience, a willingness to learn and understand...and bring love and goodwill to one another without strings, not only will our emotional and spiritual health improve, but also our physical health. Intimacy really IS a food group for the soul. And we need our recommended daily allowances.