When I meet my friend on the street we hug, and he makes sure to pound me on the back. I feel like a baby being burped. Sometimes I wonder how it would be if we simply melted heart to heart and let ourselves surrender to the tender camaraderie of human spirit. Would people think us gay? Would it be too intimate? Would that be so terrible?
For me, intimacy means into-me-you-see, opening myself to see and be seen as deeply and personally as I dare. It takes practice. Intimacy requires that I be vulnerable, that I expose myself to the possibility of being hurt; and so most of the tools I’ve grown up with concerning intimacy are defenses.
Some of us learn to build walls and look for safety in isolation, restricting our love and tenderness to private places with a select few, wrinkling our nose at couples who kiss in public, giggling and joking to quell our heartstrings. These tools keep us safe in a way, but of course limit rather than expand our ability to love and be loved.
Others of us are taught that we’re not really worthy; the way to get love is to be good and obedient. We give ourselves away at the first hint of kindness, seeking an elusive validation, betraying our safe boundaries to wind up abused and discarded.
I grew up in a relatively normal household and still was confronted by a confusing mélange of contradictory mores in a futile search for unconditional love.
Love, a cornerstone of intimate relationships is the natural state of life. Being out of love stultifies life. In the early years of the 20th century hospital workers came to the realization that babies will die without touch. It had been believed that handling babies would spread disease. But the mortality rate decreased dramatically when nurses started cuddling babies in their arms on a regular schedule
Yet so often what we’re taught about love limits us from living in it. We're taught that love can be measured in finite amounts, that love is rare. We are often taught to see the world as an unloving place, our best chance at happiness to find a little alcove of life to express and receive love. Distrust makes our space of safety smaller.
What is really meant by love? Is it a feeling, a relationship, an energy, all these things? People tend to make distinctions among sexual love, family love, platonic love, etc. The distinctions might fade if we come at love from a different direction. I think of love as a space, a room perhaps. When I enter someone's room of love I am literally ‘in’ love with them. Being intimate and ‘in’ love requires that I create an emotional and behavioural space of safety and trust so that I and those of us in the room of love can be ourselves.
The question then becomes how do we create safety and still stay vulnerable.
Workshop: Love is a Miracle
For many years I’ve been attending workshops presented by the Human Awareness Institute (HAI), which look at skills to help develop and expand our room of love, to strengthen our self love as well as our ability to safely trust and be trusted. It stands to reason that the richer we can cultivate trust in our environment, the safer, freer, and more ‘in’ love we can be.
This first level of the workshop series is called “Love is a Miracle”. Although love is fundamental to being human, what we often don't realize is that our very notions of love, intimacy, and sexuality may prevent us from fully expressing and receiving love. In Level 1, we are supported in discovering and shedding the fears, judgments, beliefs and behaviors that keep us separate from others.
The workshops are like laboratories where we are offered various experiences and situations through which we can explore how we communicate, and look at ways to make our relationships more deeply satisfying, safe and nourishing.
In this laboratory the emphasis is on me. It is I who decide what intimacy and love mean to me. The workshop philosophy puts forward very little dogma. It is not designed to teach people what to believe, but rather to offer skills and an opportunity to explore who we are and that we’re ok.
To accomplish the safety of the room there are exercises aimed at familiarizing ourselves with each other, creating confidentiality, and practicing choice. The facilitators emphasize that we are always at choice, that there are no expectations, nor will participants be manipulated to take part. Yet how often do we relinquish our choice and do "what is expected of us" anyway? There are exercises aimed at helping us examine our relationship to choice, and how we may expand our choices in our day-to-day lives.
Sometimes in groups and sometimes in pairs we look at what goes into creating a cooperative, respectful space to share thoughts and feelings, both positive and negative. The focus is on active listening, responding without fixing, sharing time, taking responsibility for ourselves and distinguishing between which responsibilities are ours and which belong to others.
What are we saying when we hug? What is the person saying who is hugging us? Can we share ways to appreciate each other through touch and be free of a sexual agenda? The exercises explore how to make a space for people to express themselves through touch, and how to state our boundaries in respectful, non-threatening ways.
To learn more about the workshop, check out www.hai.org. Through the spring I'll be giving free two hour introductions to intimacy, which offer a taste of what the workshop is about. To find out about them click here
I'm ecstatic that on the weekend of September 30 - October 2, 2011 The Human Awareness Institute (HAI) will be holding its Level One personal growth workshop.
Since 1968, over 100,000 people have attended the Love, Intimacy, and Sexuality Workshops. Many say it is the most profound experience of love they have ever had. I've done the workshops many times and I've had epiphanies of personal growth. But perhaps more to the point, I've taken away many practical communication skills that enable me to expand on my room of love, and be intimate in a space of safety.