3 Ideas about relating–about exploring the depth–about intimacy
The greatest error in relationship-building comes from the idea that your partner can “make you whole,” or will “make you happy.” Here are 3 riffs on relating!
Riff the First — The black hole
I look at my core, the center of my being. I push deep down with my fist to find a calmness I can take outside myself and spread on my arms and legs and face. But when I get there, it’s like an earthquake. There is no calm center, no big teddy bear at the core of my soul. It’s all fragmented and shattered and quaking. And as soon as I recognize it, I give it permission to come out and shake the rest of me. And it does.— Kelly Stern, THESE ARE MY BONES, Dissertation, The Graduate Faculty of The University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1997
A client, last week, said, “I just realized that, for all of my life, I’ve been looking for someone to fill up this black hole I feel inside. I now know that no one can do that for me.” I hastened to add that he couldn’t do it for himself, either. The black hole is real, always present, and its feeling is anxiety.
Its source is our fear of non-being – our fear of death.
We need to understand that all of us are anxious, all of us feel the black hole, and most of us have been conditioned to either deny the feeling, or blame it on external circumstances. Many of us have forged relationships for exactly the reason he states – to have someone else in our lives to make it all better.”
Our death fear blinds us the the truth that no one, including ourselves, can fill in the black hole. There is no certainty to life, beyond the final one – death.
“Life, as a purposeless drift, is a series of accommodations an organism makes as it moves through a medium. By definition, every accommodation is successful, except the last.” Language Structure & Change, pg. 47)
So, we can sit down and feel sorry for ourselves, or we can get up and engage with the present moment. Right now–is Now.
Riff the Second — shining light into the hole
I’ve spend a lot of time encouraging my clients to go out and have a conversation with someone they find interesting. I invite them to make contact—eye to eye and knee to knee. I ask them to go and listen to someone else; to find out what another person thinks life is all about. They don’t have to buy into what the other person is saying, or change in any way. I want them to learn to reach out, to listen and to share.
Why? Because life is a purposeless drift – but not a meaningless one.
In the context of life and living, purpose implies following a “path of purpose” imposed from the outside. Meaning describes the explanation I give to my life.
Meaning is personal.
I love working with couples, many years married, who finally talk to each other from their depths, intimately, softly, with care and compassion. And almost universally, one or the other will look at the other with wonder and exclaim, “Oh my God, you mean you’re scared too? I thought it was just me!”
Riff the third—Meaning becomes meaning-full through intimacy.
As I inter-act with Dar, I remember that she has been listening to “me do me” since 1984. When I come up with some new version of me, which may be so overwhelmingly interesting to me that I just swallow it whole, Dar can offer the perspective of long association, and ask me to come off of my cloud and test what I’m saying.
And I can do the same for her.
This is NOT about Dar making me whole. It’s not about finding someone to complete me. No one can. But me.
Relationship, for me, is a place where I feel free to share who I am. My goal is to learn about me, accept, joyfully, my being in the face of my non-being, and to share myself with at least one other person, deeply and intimately. And then to sit back and watch and listen to Dar doing the same with me.
A Primer on Intimacy Projects
This is a Haven term for an exercise in self-revelation. The important part is that there are parameters for the project. I’ve been lately proposing three levels, and told several clients I’d post it here:
- dialogue — this is the minimum requirement–that there be open, honest, and intimate dialogue. We propose following the basic communication model to do so, (see here for the Haven Communication Model) with the goal of digging deeply and learning more of both “self” and “partner.” This project can be done with pretty much anyone, but definitely not with everyone.
- physical contact — after the above is established, one or both might propose levels of physical contact (i.e. touch, hand-holding, hugging, kissing, massage, etc.) It’s essential to create flexible boundaries in this area, and to immediately discuss areas of confusion / discomfort.
- sexual contact — after the above two have been established, one or both might propose the addition of sexual contact, again, at the various levels possible. Intimacy projects do not requite sexual expression (despite the mis-use of the word intimacy…) and most actually do not involve it.
If you want to explore sexuality, having the other two levels in place first means that the experience has the greatest potential to be positive.
With intimacy, anything is possible. We have the chance to trust, to open, to be vulnerable, and especially, to explore our own darkness, in the presence of someone who is curious and chooses to acts as a mirror.
In the depth of our darkness we reach out and enter into a dialogue. And in that reaching out and making contact – in the touch – there is light.