In fact, the insightful comments sparked my deeper consideration of the subject of intimacy and I suppose I could say that I found myself becoming more intimate with the concept of ‘intimacy' (if, in fact, one can get intimate with a concept, but I'll leave that to another post).
However, something else brought me closer to the experience of intimacy this past week:
Now, I'm not one to expose my dirty laundry over the tubes of the internet, however, this whole situation was so uniquely representative of my last post on intimacy, that I thought I might get a little intimate throughout the blogosphere with a more personal picture.
I've been married for about 14 years and we have twin daughters, age 13. Even though my wife and I are both licensed psychotherapists (masters level, NOT Ph. D.) and specialize in family and marriage therapy, we have the same typical, tired, old conflicts that all couples experience surrounding children, sex, money, time-scheduling, etc, etc. (not so much ‘money' since there isn't much there to fight about). Yet, our work makes conflict more difficult because we are well aware of our own self-centered, ego dynamics. Nevertheless, awareness does not necessarily aid in the ability to cease and desist, particularly when two stubborn rams lock horns. Our chief area of conflict, in terms of perennial or perpetual conflict patterns, is children and the parenting thereof.
Last Sunday, (to set the stage), I was attempting to go into the bathroom, of which, at present, we only have one (that in itself is a major problem for me, as minority sex, but unfortunately it also ties in with the current lack of money). I thought my daughter was in the shower, since I had heard the water running for some time. Problem is, she wasn't IN the shower and, in fact, was still dressed and gazing longing at her adolescent self in the mirror. I then shut the door in response to her complaints, but I immediately began to reprimand her for the waste of water (particularly hot water, which again connects with the money issue). The problem was that my wife, who was in the next room, began to chastise me for reprimanding our daughter. This immediately resulted in my anger based on an interpretation (and past history) of this being another example of my wife's pattern of "undermining dad's parental authority" (marital theme that I adhere to righteously).
I'm just providing a general outline of the precipitating conflict since the ‘why' is not as important as the ‘thereafter.' From this episode, our usual resulting style of conflict then ensued full force. "Alienation-as-punishment" is something we both childishly engage in when doing battle. The mutual consensus is, "I'm not reaching out ‘till he/she does." (do these themes sound familiar to the reader?).
During this period, we are not particularly adverse to one another, we're just not particularly positive or supportive either. In fact, we tend to banish each other, theoretically and physically, from each others "sovereignty-of-self," and reciprocal recognition is unavailable even though we may both be sitting in the same room.
As a result, after several days of what many refer to conventionally as "the silent treatment," this then usually culminates in one or the other of us broaching the question, "so how long are YOU going to punish ME!"
If you read my previous post on ‘intimacy' you'll see that the first definition of intimacy according to Dictionary.com (and American Heritage) is listed as "(1) a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, period of history, etc.: an intimacy with Japan."
Notice how this concrete and concise definition is applied only to objective and empirical, places, subjects or time periods and NOT necessarily to relationships or people. The dictionary defines ‘intimacy' between people as the typical: "(2) a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group" and finally, of course, "(3) sexual intercourse."
The problem with the second (2) definition, as applied to relationships, is that to understand intimacy from that perspective one must first define the abstract, interior concepts of "close," "familiar," and "loving." This then leaves us with the objective and exterior (3) "sexual intercourse" and we all know that one real well. Of course, my point was that this knowledge is problematic since "sexual intercourse" is the usual conventional way we realize intimacy and because of this we all tend to overly-sacralize, albeit unconsciously, "sexual intercourse" as exemplifying or epitomizing intimacy. Whereas, from my previous psot (as well as many other brighter minds), it essentially distracts and dissociates from intimacy or "deep understanding."
As we all know, "sexual intercourse" does not require intimacy or "deep understanding" and can be engaged in at the drop of a hat, and nature attests to this.
So what does all this have to do with the conflict episode between my wife and I? Well, it has been our pattern to sporadically (a couple times a year. I should probably attempt to measure time spans) have these intense conflicts. However, from these conflicts we then sit down and engage in a long cathartic conversation which clearly results in a greater intimacy or a DEEPER UNDERSTANDING of one another. Thereby, minimizing future conflict until this understanding dissolves or gradually evaporates.
This is exactly what happened today as the interior stress of our exterior alienation of one another culminated in seeking a reduction to that stress, or an increase of interior peace, through an attempt at adjusting exterior circumstances. This type of adjustment usually involves persuading the other of his/her error, thereby reinforcing 'righteousness' through victimization.
This was initially manifest in our arguing about the "bathroom episode" through a thick cloud of all our self-centered righteous condemnation of one another, which always seem to include unrelated past indictments (funny how past and present become blurred in the conflict of committed couples). Needless to say, a few times it became rather heated because, as you all may have supposed, I was right and she was wrong (HA!) .
Yet, alas, as is usually the case, after the fire and from the ashes of despair, the phoenix was lifted in flight.
To be more succinct, as is usually the case we attained a "deeper understanding" of each other as we felt safer to reveal or expose and share our interior experiences of one another. From a stanza of Peter Gabriel's, "Come Talk to Me" lyrics:
"I can imagine the momentWe slowly realized through a deeper understanding that our motives (deep-seated) were not of attack and more related to present and past 'hurts.' Trust and safety was again realized simply through the revealing and intimate nature of the communication and our desire to attain a "deeper understanding" which demands that righteousness be discarded (but not without a battle).
Breaking out through the silence
All the things that we both might say
And the heart it will not be denied
'Til we're both on the same damn side
All the barriers blown away"
As I see it, it is a lack of trust in relationships that grows over time as judgments are made from a lack of intimacy or understanding. When my wife and I have not connected over a long period of time, the dialogue remains mired in the ‘everyday'. We then fail to correspond and share our ‘depths' and we become distant and increasingly more ‘separate-together'. Unfortunately, our pattern demonstrates that we can maintain this 'separate-togetherness' for only so long before the stress of such a solitary experience or 'being-in-aloneness' presses against us and results in mis-communication and conflict. In those moments there is no closeness or love or even familiarity (as in definition 2) and this is simply because, over time, we have actually lost the deep understanding (definition 1) of one another that tends to displace and diminish conflict.
Over time we inadvertently exile one another to become strangers in a strange and absurd 'world.' This can be frightening or disconcerting because the world has nothing we need and there is nothing IN the world that can help us reach our 'depths' or attain an intimacy with the 'self.' Depth can only be accessed through each other. Only intimacy through other selves will give us our "self" as we need be.
The world can give us nothing, yet, it does seem apparent that the world can give us everything - TOGETHER. But only if the experience of ‘world' is shared deeply TOGETHER. This does not require sexual intercourse or bodily involvement of any kind, however, it does not necessarily exclude that part from the whole.
Now that the conflict is over, like a "turd blossom," it has helped us grow and regain the intimate depths. However, the more important issue is - will this growth continue?
Why continue to rely on this or other patterns of conflict, unconscious or denied, to finally reach intimacy or a deeper understanding? Why is it necessary to bottom-out before we can see the need for recovery and healing? Why do we not maintain the trust and safety of intimacy through a consistent desire to know and to deeply understand one another? Why do we watch loved ones drift away and fail to close the distance?
It seems to me the problem is the 'world.' The world, or reality in general, does not serve the purpose of intimacy or deeper understanding and like a vacuum it sucks up and absorbs our attention and demands we seek to comply with its values. We have created a world to distract us from ourselves and our depths (and possibly this "creating" is as much a phenomenon of consciousness as it is a physical one). This idea is not new and many brighter minds than I, have said as much.
We expect the world to help us understand who we are, even though we look at it with incredulity over the degree of absurdity that we clearly see all around us. Do we feel we have no choice but to subordinate the values of intimacy and deep understanding to the values of an empirical world? Is this what it means to be trapped IN the ego, when in fact the ego feels trapped IN the world?
Or is it that intimacy or a deep understanding of others is so intense as to exhaust us and this makes adherence to the world's values so much more easy and seemingly effortless?
But although it seems easier, don't we often feel that adhering to the world's values is unnatural and at times even obscene? And when we finally do encounter an instance of intimacy or deep understanding with another, do we realize it as one of the most incredibly natural experiences we have ever encountered or does our continued conformity to the world's values stifle our awareness of what actually took place?
Or do we simply fear seeing our "self" in the other, in realization that this is the only way we can ever gain that deepest of understanding about our "self"?
Many have heard and often resist the idea that intimate relationships require work. Why is that? Why is cooperating with the world's values so much easier than cooperating with the immeasurable value of intimacy? Why would we choose to NOT understand, even though that failure to deeply understand causes us so much pain and suffering?
One thing I am gradually learning as true (at least, it seems entirely true from my perspective). God is NOT in the world, separate from an intimacy with that world and the only way we can encounter intimacy with the world is through a deeper understanding of one another. In other words, full and joyous engagement with the world can only be experienced through intimacy with the world and that can only be had through others.
The idea that God is ‘in-everything' seems logical to all spiritual inclined people, including myself. But to experience God ‘in everything' is only possible through the deep understanding of ‘everything' that only intimacy with everything can provide and this is non-dualism. More importantly, to engage intimately with the world requires intimate engagement or a deep understanding with the ‘others' that also experience the world, since the world was created from that collective ‘experience.'
This seems to point to that 'Oneness' we often hear talked about, but resign to the category of platitudes. Personally, I have given up the idea or concept of personal enlightenment or that the "truth' will come to me if I engage in specific esoteric and austere practices (although, I agree that this may aid in increased intimacy and may serve as 'invitation').
Currently, I'm exploring communion through deeper understanding or intimacy with others. Of course, this starts with those closest to me, but I sense there may be a branching out from there, which would one day include the 'world.' How it manifests is not particularly concerning to me, since I imagine as long as I can remain with the experience it will build upon itself of its own accord. This seems to me to be the definition of "enlightenment."
"You will see your value through each other's eyes and as each one is released as he beholds his savior IN PLACE of the attacker who he THOUGHT was there. Through this releasing is the world released. This is your part in bringing peace." (ACIM UrText)