“Real intimacy is a sacred experience. It never exposes its secret trust and belonging to the voyeuristic eye of a neon culture. Real intimacy is of the soul, and the soul is reserved.” John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
What does intimacy mean to you? Do you experience intimacy in all your relationships? Is it important to you?
Many Types of Intimacy
Like empathy, I feel that intimacy is an important part of relationships, and we can experience it with friends or lovers because it can be experienced physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Intimacy is an aspect of relationship that comes from one’s deepest nature. It is personal and private and based on trust.
The Intimacy of Friendship
A couple months ago, I sat in a café on a cold, blustery day with a close friend who had been out of town for a couple of months. As I sat sipping my coffee, I felt warm all over, not so much from the coffee as from the pleasure of being with this person to whom I can tell my deepest secrets without ever fearing she will share them inappropriately. I trust her completely because she is truly a loving and empathetic person and treats relationships as sacred.
The Challenges of Emotional Intimacy
It is also possible for a person to be intimate in one aspect, but not in another. I once dated a man whose intellect was amazing. Having a conversation with him was like making love with words, for the passion of our ideas and the way they intertwined was so exciting. I could always say what I thought without fearing that he would criticize me. Even if he disagreed, he did it with respect and admired my intellectual ability.
Unfortunately, our relationship didn’t last because I couldn’t trust him emotionally. When there was emotional conflict, he often responded angrily and shut off all possibility of discussing the issue. His ego was so fragile. He would say hurtful things to assert his power. Although I loved him, being emotionally intimate with him was impossible, and without that, the physical intimacy was not satisfying.
As John O’Donohue says, “Real intimacy is of the soul.” This suggests that in order to experience real intimacy, we must connect at the soul level, and that requires us to share what is deepest within us. We must find the courage to share our feelings, to express our love, to show empathy when our friend or lover is in distress. We have to learn to listen, and if we are to be trusted, we must demonstrate in the relationship that we will always make loving choices and respect each other.
But in any relationship, the way we communicate has a powerful impact on the intimacy level of the relationship. I have had the pleasure of experiencing Imago Relationship Therapy which is based on the idea that we draw to us people who bring our deepest childhood wounds to the surface so that together we can heal those wounds. Developed by Harville Hendricks, who has written many wonderful books on relationships, the process involves learning to communicate so that one can listen and respond with compassion. Without this, a relationship has little chance of developing intimacy.
The Intimacy of Making Love
A physical relationship without an emotional connection is merely having sex. While the touching and closeness provides us with pleasure, it involves only physical intimacy. When we make love, we are relating in a deeper way, and intimacy, an aspect of love, is present. It may take on another whole dimension of experience that enhances the emotional aspect of a relationship, for it is about giving pleasure to each other, not just pleasuring oneself.
The reason we are so drawn to a sexual experience is that it takes us beyond this earthly realm. It is ironic to me that some religions see sex as unspiritual because an organism is an ecstatic experience that blots out ego and time. After I balance my chakras, I integrate the work by drawing energy from the base of my spine, up the spine and over my head. It feels virtually like an orgasm. This loss of time and space is also typical of Tantric practices.
Ecstatic Spiritual Intimacy
There are many examples of religious ecstasy that reflect the same experience. In Rumi’s poetry, he speaks of his relationship with God as a lover’s relationship. In the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Christian mystic, her experiences of religious ecstasy seem to reflect this same lost of ego and time.
And so this aspect of intimacy and the spiritual intimacy we experience in meditation, take us to a deeper relationship with Spirit. The experience of Oneness transcends the earthly and connects us with all that is. On earth, there is no greater and satisfying relationship than one that encompasses the emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual aspects of intimacy. Challenging to create—oh, yes it is, but in the end it is worth it even if we only manage some aspects of the intimacy. Even that is far superior to a relationship that lacks them all, for when no intimacy is present in a relationship, it can serve only a superficial purpose.
How important do you think intimacy is in a relationship?
© 2013 Georganne Spruce ZQT4PQ5ZN7F5