Breaking the barriers to reveal true intimacy is a challenging process that involves self-reflection
“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.” -- Rumi
As a practitioner of meditation and inquiry for four decades, one of the things that I have found challenging in my spiritual understanding has been how to be in a healthy relationship; that is, how to share in a deep loving connection with another human being. Of course, I am not alone in this. From my experience, this is one of the most difficult challenges of our lives as human beings.
I think of myself as a “curable romantic.” I believe relationships are our best opportunity to experience “heaven on earth.” So I’d like to do a little inquiry here into what gets in the way of our having a truly loving relationship, and also what it takes to have one. Many books have been written about this, so I can only suggest pointers to what we can look at/for in our relationships to create what we really want.
First, because ego (the identities, self-images, and beliefs we cherish and feel we need to protect at all costs) creates a gap between ourselves and others, it is helpful to bring into consciousness and to continually be aware of whom we are taking ourselves and the other to be – what our self-image is, and whom we project onto the other person which prevents us from seeing them for who they are-in-the-moment.
Secondly, we have all been hurt in relationships, and we all carry some fear of being hurt again. If this fear is not made conscious and dealt with, it will sabotage the relationship. For there to be real intimacy in relationship, we need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We have this one choice to make: to be willing to be open to being hurt and thereby open to love, or to stay emotionally closed to hurt and love alike. The only way to be truly invulnerable is to be totally vulnerable.
The problem with this – and the main reason why most people choose not to take this path – is that to get from where one is to 100% vulnerable, one has to go through 80%, 90%, 95%, 99%, 99.5%, and 99.9%.... With each increased degree of vulnerability, one feels that increased degree of pain. And we don’t really like pain!
Being vulnerable means being open to feeling not only pain, but also fear, anger, sadness, joy (yes, joy!), desire, need, etc. In the current culture, many people have been taught to deny these feelings, and so cannot have a truly intimate emotional connection. Feelings need to be allowed to flow freely, but this doesn’t mean one needs to become an emotional mess. It just means one needs to feel what one feels. In this emotionally suppressive culture, we need to go from suppression to expression to what I call impression – to simply being with intense emotions without needing to express them. In this way, the feeling can be assimilated and metabolized, which opens the possibility of real compassion and understanding.
Need is a particularly distasteful feeling to most people – both our own need and the other person’s. But, to be a real person in a real and intimate relationship, we need to allow the feeling of neediness or we can’t allow love to be received. As an example, in my professional work as a psychotherapist, I do what I call “personal intensives.” I live with an individual, couple, or adult family unit for up to 10 days, working with them 16 hours a day. Once, when working with a couple in a “spiritual partnership,” I saw clearly that their - and perhaps all - conflicts in relationship were a collision of unconscious and/or unexpressed needs. And so I created, on the spot, one of the “Relationship Transformer” tools I teach to clients called “THE Relationship Formula.”
It is very simple (but not necessarily easy!): First, ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” When you know what you’re feeling, ask yourself, “What do I need?” or “What does this feeling need?” Then, if it is at all possible for the other person to meet this need, ask for what you need. Finally, deal with the consequences of asking for what you need, which often takes one back up to step one. Sometimes, getting what we need is more difficult to deal with than not getting what we ask for, because our belief that we don’t deserve to be loved gets challenged. One of the good things about this tool is that it can be used after you’ve “blown it” to go back and look together, from the same side (a key to having a successful relationship) at what happened.
I have a great deal of faith in the “Relationship Transformers,” having seen their effectiveness over many years. I make a guarantee to couples I work with that these tools can get them through anything their relationship may encounter. The only reason they don’t work is that one or both partners may hit a wall of fear or pain and choose not to go through it. The only way out is through!
One reason they do work is that they call on each person in the relationship to be impeccably honest. Impeccable honesty is vital to relationship. Honesty means knowing what you’re thinking and feeling, and not withholding from your partner any truth that would create any distance between the two of you. Tah-Weh-Dah-Qui, a Tuscarora medicine man, has said that of all the spiritual practices he has undertaken (including a 21-day mid-winter vision quest; three sun dances; being buried alive, et al.) the most difficult, by far, was honesty! Without honesty, there is no trust. And without trust, one cannot have true intimacy.
(One cautionary word about honesty: My old friend, Lawson Sachter, liked to say, “When someone tells me they’re going to be brutally honest with me, I expect