Popular culture sees intimacy as exclusive to romantic relationships. But anyone who’s done deep human work knows intimacy can happen between any two people, even strangers -- and even with yourself.
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “into-me-see,” referring to how, when we share intimacy with another, we can see into that person’s inner landscape, and they can see into us. Being with someone where they’re at -- not where you wish they would be -- creates intimacy, closeness, a deeper bond.
Sounds great, I’ll take it! Right?
Ha! But there’s this. When someone asks, “Where do you work?” you’re likely to answer with what you do for income, your paid job, your career work.
Yet, as a lifelong student of what “makes life tick” for human fulfillment, I would assert that “work” is most appropriately tied to the deepest, most essential work: the work of intimacy, the work of relationships.
This is The Work. It is far from easy. It is work.
Last week I asked friends for insights about their experiences with intimacy. A handful of the wisest women I know responded. Here are some jewels from the conversation. I asked:
For those who have high levels of intimacy with your closest friends, peers, immediate family members and spouse/partner... What is your secret? How would you point others to find this same depth and richness in life?
“Being vulnerable with others and being curious about them.” Straightforward wisdom from former schoolteacher, outdoor enthusiast and supermama, Meno Reiner, who’s been a friend of mine for 19 blessed years. Her words pretty much sum it up!
Remembering whose shoulders she stands on, "grain-to-glass spirits" entrepreneur, former bike racer & schoolteacher, and supermama Jenny Daly Griffo said, “I feel that somehow finding a genuine interest in people drives a lot of my intimacy. I try so hard to emulate my grandpa who formed rich relationships everywhere he went. What I saw in him, was a genuine belief that people were interesting (beautiful humility) and a desire to hear their stories. Such a high bar!”
Even after years of developing intimacy and communication skills, I notice many women share the experience of still being challenged, and most challenged, by intimacy with oneself.
Lisa Kiehn, Supermama Extraordinaire of five children, massage therapist, psychic healer and birth doula, has been dedicated to intimacy development for many years. She says, “As I looked at my own issues of communication and a desire to hide or be shy, I pushed myself to come forward more because I desire intimacy. It was difficult in the early years but I would force myself to stay put, open myself to bravery and focus on their eyes. Honestly, this has been a lifelong journey. It takes bravery and a willingness to accept all that is present in the moment or many moments. I am willing to share, I am willing to be present, and my latest piece these many years is being open to receive myself.”
One of my “big sister” mentors of many years echoed this challenge with the Self.
She said, “The edge I've been exploring in intimacy this past year is with myself. Some aspects of my own experience are more difficult for me to be with. For example, I've spent an entire lifetime not-allowing myself to feel jealous or insecure or needy. I've been unwilling to love those experiences or the aspects of me who have them and have been extending myself this past year more courageously toward my own most hurting parts. Intimacy with me means loving all of me, being brave enough and compassionate enough to sit still and stay present for all of it, not just the fun and interesting parts. This is way easier for me to do with others than with myself.”
Does that resonate for anyone else? Easier to love other people where they are, with all their human “imperfections” than it is to love yourself in this way?
As the jewels of wisdom streamed in from these women, I was curious to hear from a man, too. So on one of our weekly collaboration calls, I stepped into Beginner’s Mind and got curious with my coach of 12 years, who is now my collaborator, Master Relationship Coach Charles Zook, CPCC. He’s coached 1,000s of couples and is considered a wizard in the world of relationship coaching.
Here’s what Charles had to say: “The word intimacy is not code for sex, it’s not code for a Hallmark card kind of moment -- a candlelit dinner -- it’s not code for holding hands walking on the beach.
"The definition we’re working with (in Leaning into Light’s Relationship Series workshops) is not those cultural connotations of intimacy.
"Intimacy means sharing human experience. If my partner is gone at work today, and I’m looking forward to having a fun, sexy evening with her after she gets home tonight, if I want to be intimate with her, I’m gonna have to be intimate with the experience she is having. There is no ‘fun, sexy’ that’s available right now.
"If I want to be intimate with her I have to meet her where she is, because that’s really the only place to be with her. In a Yoda kind of way, it’s the only place to be with someone: where they’re at.”
In other words, if you really want intimacy, you’re gonna have to be here now, as the famous Ram Dass book is titled. And that’s not easy; we’re culturally trained to want to be somewhere else, to want something else, and to just-wish for things rather than step up to create them.
“Rather than intimacy being a unicorn that we seek and wish for,” Charles continued, “participants in our next workshop will learn practical tools to generate intimacy and connection with others in your life.” Join me and Charles on Sunday April 24th for our phone workshop, Deepening Connection in Intimate Partnership (10:00-11:30AM PDT). That is, if you’re up for the work, and the rewards, of intimacy.
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about us humans it’s that we benefit greatly from reminder, reminders, reminders. We don’t make change until we’re ready -- no one can force this kind of choice upon us -- and especially when it comes to life's biggies, we need 100s of reminders before we are ready.
The benefits of being ready?
One is being seen in the light of day. Dabbling chef and mother of two, Juniper Rose shared, “I feel I have deeply intimate relationships. It takes courage to be wholly myself in any given situation as well as openness to growth. Being truly intimate means all those little pieces we hide from ourselves and others will eventually be brought to light.”
Sometimes, perhaps until we’re totally awake and can make decisions from a place of total self-love, as a benefit for All of Life, it can be motivating to know how our actions impact the whole world. If we truly care about life, we can step more fully into it simply because we know our actions affect the whole.
“Intimacy is an investment in our world as a whole,” says Lisa Kiehn. “I believe that once we become intimate and understand the way of intimacy, we will continue to be so with all aspects of our experience. Intimacy is a profound healer. It is proof of life.”
And in case you're wondering, why, YES! All of my mama friends are Supermamas.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a writer, mother, coach and big fan of Sesame Street. Her lifelong art is letter writing. This deeply personal blog and our recorded workshops are devoted to one of her great passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.