What Does Intimacy Have to Do with Spirituality?
Embracing Our Deepest Longing
Posted Jan 15, 2017
Being human means experiencing a soulful longing for an intimate connection. But have you considered how this longing stems from the very same impulse that moves us toward a spiritual life?
A vital spirituality is not about the ideas in our head, which are fingers pointing toward the moon. It’s about opening to the experience toward which the fingers point. It's about the love in our heart. It’s about our capacity to open to something larger than ourselves--emerging into direct contact with the quiet pulse of life that flows through us and between us. Spirituality is synonymous with being intimate with the life that flows within us and outside us.
Consider the words of Zen teacher, Aitken Rōshi,
“In Zen Buddhism, intimacy is a very important word. In the early Chinese literature of Zen … it was used as a synonym for the … breakthrough that’s more commonly called realization or enlightenment. When you are intimate, you are one with. When you are not intimate, you are in your head.”
Transpersonal Psychology is the study of life beyond ego. Embracing the wisdom traditions of the world, it recognizes a larger intelligence that we are a part of. The “trans” in Transpersonal not only means “beyond” but also “to cross.” Crossing through the barriers that separate us opens us to a new world of intimacy--direct contact with unfolding life.
Being intimate means opening to the life that happens between us. In this way, intimate relationships are transpersonal by their very nature. They coax us beyond the rigid boundaries that isolate us. As the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber wrote, “When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.”
The quiet impulse that draws us toward being intimate with others is the same impulse that invites us toward a spiritual life. We long to move beyond the boundaries of our own skin. Being human is a remarkable miracle. We have an inborn capacity to delight in the mystery and pleasure of deep, intimate relating.
Spiritual life and intimate relationships require that we engage wisely with the instinctual fight, flight, freeze response, which can preoccupy us with a vigilant alertness to danger, whether real or imagined. Something in us needs to relax and become still if we are to tap into the larger spiritual ground of being.
Similarly, a sweet and stable intimate relationship requires that we find some peace within ourselves as a foundation for connecting with another person. We need to develop the ability to self-soothe when things don’t go our way or when there are disruptions of trust, which happen in even the best relationship. Bringing loving-kindness toward ourselves is an essential aspect of spiritual practice. It forges a foundation that allows us to extend love toward others.
Practices such as meditation, tai chi, yoga, and prayer have been devised to cultivate inner peace and harmony. A more poignant intimacy becomes possible as two people dwell in a deep and rich stillness cultivated by these and other practices. Conversely, intimate relationships can nourish and settle us in ways that make it easier to find inner peace.
As expressed in Dancing with Fire:
“Our spiritual quest receives its grounding through intimate connections, and at the same time, the fertile stream of spiritual practice nourishes our relationships. A spiritual path invites attention to our inner life in a way that inevitably connects us to what lives and breathes outside of ourselves.”
Martin Buber reminds us that the spiritual path does not mean that we transcend our humanity. Just the opposite. As he puts it, “A person cannot approach the divine by reaching beyond the human. To become human is what this individual person has been created for.”
The yearning to connect with something beyond yourself is a spiritual impulse. Being alert to the varied possibilities of intimacy during your day is a spiritual practice, whether or not you consider yourself to be a spiritual person. Just do your best to hold this yearning lightly and not become lost in it. It is also a spiritual practice to cultivate a loving connection with yourself when contact with others is not forthcoming.
A spiritual life and a path toward intimacy also mean connecting with the beauty that is all around us. Being in nature can be very soothing, keeping us balanced and connected with the mystery and beauty of our human and spiritual nature.
© John Amodeo
John Amodeo, Ph.D., MFT is author of the award-winning book, Dancing with Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships. His other books include The Authentic Heart and . He has been a licensed marriage and family therapist for over 35 years in the San Francisco Bay area and has lectured and conducted workshops internationally.