Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Yoga of Intimacy

It is no secret that relationship-yoga is, for many, the royal road to profound (and often excruciating) revelation about where we really are in our lives, to illuminating exploration of our emotional/somatic world, and to uncovering the unconscious forces that are at least in part running the show. Intimacy has a unique way of showing us very quickly where we’re caught, where we’re holding on, how we’re closing to immediate experience, and the intricacies of how we defend and guard against the unyielding realities of the heart. We really don’t want to be too exposed. Maybe a little bit here or there, on weekends or vacations, or when we’re sure that even in the face of intimate exposure, things are likely to remain relatively safe and predictable. 

People often ask: you’ve met and worked with so many teachers and authors behind the scenes, in their most vulnerable, unscripted moments. Who are the ones that are really, truly awake; and who are the ones that maybe aren’t quite as awake as they come off in their public roles? I find myself simultaneously enjoying and cringing in the wake of these sorts of questions. Perhaps playfully, but also in a more serious way, I usually offer a response along the lines of: if you really want to know how awakened someone is, don’t ask them. Don’t ask their students or disciples. Don’t read their books. Don’t watch them on stage responding to questions from devotees. Ask their intimate partners. This is often met with a bit of awkward silence. 

We have so many ideas about relationship that we’ve picked up from our families of origin, teachers of all kinds, the media, books, television, and movies. One idea in particular that I’ve been really aware of lately is the idea that a conscious, intimate relationship is one where both partners feel profoundly connected at all times. And that if this feeling of connection is missing, then something must inherently be wrong; and must be fixed. Connection is one very fundamental quality of a relationship, yes. But what about the times when we feel disconnected from our partners, our friends, our children, our parents, our co-workers? Where has the “relationship” gone? 

What is relationship, anyway? Is it a feeling? A sense of security? A warmness in the heart? A content knowing that there is someone to share the journey with? Is relationship, like love, a vast enough field to contain aliveness, flatness, waves of joy, feelings of irritation, sensations of disturbance? Can we sit in the fire of intimate relationship knowing that all of our fears, fantasies, anxieties, scary parts, and vulnerability will likely never ever be resolved into some neat little relationship package? That there is something perhaps about intimacy that by definition is ultimately unresolvable? And that is in fact why it is so transformative? Can we find a way to be in relationship where we do not limit the mystery of love’s expression, and resist the temptation to have the fire of love conform to our endless requirements? Perhaps there will always be surges of uncontainable grief, sadness, fear, anger, and irritation that arise in the intersubjective field of lovers. We are all painfully aware of the seemingly miraculous power of our partners to touch our sore spots and to elicit the most unexplainable reactions within us. 

One question I find especially important to explore at the deepest levels, conscious and unconscious, is: can we allow the other matter to us? Are we willing to take the risk to let another all the way inside, to really see and touch us – to open ourselves so profoundly that we stand completely naked, vulnerable, and fully exposed to very unsafe waters of a radical love, knowing that we could be broken open at any instant? Many of our childhood biographies, in one way or another, present a very unstable situation, a groundless reality where it was not safe to let another become too important, where we spent much of our time and energy learning what to say and how to act in order to receive love. These early adaptive strategies were expressions of intelligence and creativity, you could even say special forms of grace, that were put in play to ensure our own survival and the flowering of our precious hearts and nervous systems. As innocent little ones, we very naturally allow others to deeply matter; it is part of who we are. This sort of exposure, as we all know, though, is tremendously risky; and we can learn very quickly the danger involved in letting someone matter, usually the hard way. But as little ones we can’t really help it, we’re wired to connect. 

Often in the challenges inherent in intimate relationship, for example, we become convinced that it is our partner who is causing us to feel so bad. The evidence is so clear… isn’t it? They don’t respect us, they speak unkindly to us, they don’t understand us, they’re never there when we really need them, they just can’t quite connect with who we are at the deepest levels – and the big one – they just don’t meet our needs. And of course there is likely some relative truth in these things and they are worth exploring, of course. But we might also come to see that just by being in relationship, we will be forced in a certain way to feel feelings that we really don’t want to feel. To allow in those sensations which have previously been lodged in the body can be terrifying. Maybe it’s best to go take a walk, listen to some music, write another rambling facebook post, or do some meditation. It’s not so much that our partner is doing something to us, but rather when we open ourselves to love, there are previously unmet emotions and sensations there, lurking in the unconscious, seeking the light of day. If we look closely, perhaps we can see how we organize our lives around not having to feel certain feelings. To see this can be quite illuminating – and often very confusing. It is easy to then start to become unkind to ourselves, falling into spiritual superegoic judgment, self-hatred, and shame.

Alternatively, we can commit to practicing the yoga of love, of grace, of holding ourselves in an enormous space of kindness. We can be so grateful for seeing clearly the ways we organize our experience and how all of our neurosis and our strategies were our best efforts at the time to take care of ourselves. What grace that we’re able to see this now, as adults, with the support to dismantle everything for love.

Intimate relationship is a yoga because it cuts into this organization. Perhaps we’re able to avoid certain feelings, certain thoughts, certain bodily sensations, certain emotions, in our busy lives or even in our spiritual lives with all of our beliefs and practices and worshipping the guru from afar. But in intimate relationship, alas, we’re not so lucky. The so-called “other” in intimate relationship will always push against that which is unresolved within us. How fortunate! (and painful) 

Let us all love those we’re in relationship with, including ourselves, by committing to taking love’s journey with them, knowing nothing about the route or the destination. Let us be kind to ourselves and our partners if we decide to truly take up the yoga of intimacy, knowing that it will take everything we have and are to navigate, as it offers fruits beyond this world.