The Challenge of Intimacy

There are three terms that we will be speaking about. These are love, intimacy, and marriage.

Let’s start with Love. To fully love, one has to actually be in the space of I-Am- ness, which naturally creates a space of independent existence for the other. Love is the perception that allows you to see the inner beauty of the other. Love is the perception that allows you to create the space for the other to be their raw, naked authenticity. Love allows us to be seen in the unique truth of who we are. The process of love creates a space for people to, in essence, manifest for each other their wild female and wild male. Love can be experienced as a quality of the erotic perception. We are talking about Eros by contrast to sexuality. Eros is the subtle play and the experience of the cosmic Shakti on the physical plane. Love in that way is a subtle romantic polarity of the male and female essences where they are both polar and one. Love is a little different in that it doesn’t require intimacy or marriage. Love is a state of being in which you experience your own non-causal love and sharing it with the other; however, this is not necessarily limited to the context of an intimate relationship.

Intimacy, on the other hand, is a commitment over time to a durable, safe, passionate, openhearted relationship as a spiritual path. Here again the male and female energies become one and are complementary. The key to intimacy is “enduring over time” and creating a safe space for people to move into the unknown and, in essence, to face their angels and demons in the process of relationship. Love is more general and cosmic. Intimacy is about the mystery of relationship.

The third category is marriage. There are subtle differences between marriage and intimacy. Marriage is a contract. In the Jewish tradition we call the wedding a Ketubah, which means marriage contract; this is more formal. I have advised for years that couples do not get a state marriage license. Why is this? Because marriage has nothing to do with the government. Traditionally, government is not part of marriage. Anyone can make a covenant or a contract with each other. One limits the relationship if you need the state to okay it. Marriage, as a spiritual path, is outside the realm and control of the government. In addition to it being a relationship contract, in most cases, it also involves an indirect contract for procreation if the couple is marrying in their fertile years. Marriage is also about creating a family as part of the spiritual path. Marriage at it’s optimal includes both love and intimacy but, despite common use of these words, they are really not one and the same.

With intimacy we are talking about tuning into the truth of who we are. This is not something easy. The challenge of intimacy is the final frontier. We have the purifying opportunity to examine our family of origin issues and our personal psychological issues and spiritual issues that come up in the process. This is why there is a natural resistance to intimacy and why intimacy may be part of marriage, but can exist separate from it. The art of intimacy is the art of how to overcome the resistance to intimacy.

We’ve heard people say that love is overcoming fear, however this is not really the case. What we are talking about it that love empowers you to live with your fear, so that you can move beyond it. Intimacy is about creating a safe space so that you and the beloved other can blossom in spite of the fear. This also means that intimacy also has bottom lines rather than the notion that anything goes, as in “unconditional”. Intimacy requires safety, which gives the space to blossom into your sacred unique expression of Self. Safety requires bottom lines that you agree not to cross, so that people can feel safe. It is also an enduring, passionate open-heartedness. Intimacy means keeping your heart open no matter what; that creates a safe space as well as a certain amount of consciousness. The path of intimate love is a great spiritual path. It is a path of liberation that is tantric. This approach differs from how Tantra is used in America, as sophisticated sexual practices. In the deeper Tantra that we know in Kashmir Shaivism the sexual practices are actually only a very small part of a bigger picture. It is more the Eros of how you are in relationship with the Divine, which is not necessarily sexual. In is more about passionate Eros in the broader sense and about the play of the complementary with the polarity.

There is a need for some polarity in a relationship otherwise there is no art, no passion, and no Eros. Eros is different than sexuality. It is a subtler divine energetic concept. For a relationship to be a long-term, enduring, loving relationship there needs to be an arc of polarity, which is Eros-activating. The other aspect of that polarity is the mystical teaching in Genesis 1:27, where the Adam became the he-Adam and the she- Adam. They became separate, and then there is a divine merging back into the oneness. We have this polarity and intimacy creates an alchemical container where the two may fuse back into the one. We also see this polarity in the Yogic tradition with the models of Shiva and Shakti and with Krishna and Rhadha. In many traditions we see this male and female divine dynamic. There is no court of law that can alter these cosmic principles, even in light of popular trends. This male-female dynamic can also be present in a gay or lesbian relationship. Intimacy is not exclusive to a heterosexual relationship. We are talking about intimacy at cosmic levels.

Intimacy is the biggest resistance in relationship. Everyone wants intimacy and yet there is in resistance to it. There are fears of family of origin experiences; one’s intra- psychic issues; as well as past life experiences. We often don’t want to go back into negative experiences, whether we are conscious of this or unconscious of this. The willingness to surrender takes a higher level of consciousness. People are often very addicted to their own egos. Intimacy takes us to surrendering to each other and to the alchemical oneness. If we are too attached to the ego, we cannot really have much intimacy. In our society today, intimacy is not really emphasized. In our movies and television programs we see people having sex on the first date, so to speak. What does this tell us? There is no value placed on romantic, enduring intimacy. This value is being lost. This is a sad commentary on the ability to be in relationship. The ability to be truly intimate requires the maturity to be in relationship. This is very similar to how not everyone is at the place of maturity where there is readiness to have a spiritual teacher. The teacher-student relationship also requires a certain level of surrender and interplay. Another fear is that of loosing yourself, or being swallowed up. This is also about having healthy boundaries. It is not about being rigid but about being in control of when you let go into the oneness.

How do we move through the resistance to intimacy? How do we get unstuck and keep the energy flowing? One way is by staying present rather than bringing up things from the past. By keeping the other in the past, we are not allowing them or ourselves to grow. We are keeping them in a preconceived mold. You’ve got to be open and to forgive and to let go. Bringing in humor and having fun is a good way to change a situation. Many people do not want to invest the time that long-term relationship takes. We live in a culture where everything is quick and disposable, including relationships. This does not build depth, character, or intimacy. You don’t get to really grow because you are in avoidance. It bears repeating that in order to stop avoiding the issues and to really grow, we do need to be in a relationship where there is emotional safety. You need to know that you can share who you are without being attacked. It is important to see and to be seen – to know the spark of the Divine within.

To have this quality of relationship, you have to schedule time to be together. Just as you schedule time for everything else, date night needs to be scheduled as well. Otherwise, the world will take it. In relationship you need time, energy, and space for intimacy to unfold. You need to make sure that you are not both working so hard that when you do have not both exhausted and do not have energy for one another. Setting aside the space, includes having a babysitter for the children if you are parents. If you don’t make time for the relationship, it will fall apart. People often use time, energy, and space in the other way, which is to avoid each other. Consciously or unconsciously managing time, space, and energy can be an anti-intimacy or pro-intimacy strategy. Time, space, and energy create the space to give meaning, value, love, and spirit to the relationship. You need a balance of time to yourself, time with each other, and family time.

This is really a new paradigm. In the past we had the goddess/matriarch culture then we moved into a patriarch paradigm. This is the time for the male and the female to come together into the complementary oneness. It is the time to move out of division and for the two to share their complementary gifts.

In summary, positive strategies of intimacy include:

  1. Seeing the face of God within the other and keeping your mind on that; this means holding of a positive view of the other.
  2. Forgiveness – not holding on to things. When there is a lack of forgiveness a person is keeping the separation going and binding the relationship to the past.
  3. Holding the bigger picture that intimacy is a spiritual path. This gives us the perspective that whatever comes up is a part of the spiritual process together. We know what we are doing here. We have an overview. Within this we know our own oneness. When you don’t know this, it is very easy to have a codependent relationship. For healthy interdependence you have to be in touch with your own essence and clarity for intimacy to really work.

One clarification that is important to make is the difference between non- attachment and detachment. One can think they are practicing non-attachment when they are really detached. Detachment is separation. What I am talking about is seeing the face of God in the other, and celebrating and honoring that face. One does that equally. This is equal vision. The key is maintaining that equal vision, seeing the face of God in all people, and certainly within your partner. Remembering this at all times, and even in the difficult times, is a challenging key to sustaining intimacy. This does take some work. People often don’t put the necessary work in and yet wonder what the problem is. A thoughtful, consistent, spiritual effort is needed to maintain and evolve a relationship. It doesn’t happen by itself.

May everyone who chooses this spiritual path be successful.

Rabbi Gabriel Cousens, MD, MD(H), DD