How would you define it? What is it for you?
Lately, in conversation with others, I have been saying that intimacy is a practice. And, apparently, according to one friend, I said something to the effect that real relationships can change us.
When I looked online, I found these two definitions for “intimacy”:
a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group.
a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, period of history, etc.: an intimacy with Japan.
I think the two definitions are complementary; they belong together. Or, at least they seem to, when I consider my relationship with myself, with others and with God. Then I can’t see them as separate.
If I am close with another person, there is not only affection; there is also knowledge and understanding. In fact, there is a desire to know them; to understand them in a “detailed” or “deep” way. Not an analytical way, mind you. That’s for their therapist or perhaps their spiritual director. Alongside that desire, is my desire to be known by them; to be understood.
Or, at least, to be accepted, even if not understood.
Or, at the very least, to be heard.
In “The Flight From Conversation” (New York Times, April 21, 2012), Sherry Turkle writes:
“During the years I have spent researching people and their relationships with technology, I have often heard the sentiment “No one is listening to me.”
How often, when listening to another, am I silently preparing my response? Or, evaluating what they say, or how they say it? Or, wondering how I will make it to my next (fill in the blank) on time if I stay here?
I heard a wonderful recounting this morning. A friend shared that she was asked to witness on another’s behalf. As it turned out, she was not required to say anything. She recalled, however, that her physical presence alone was significant.
As John Milton wrote, “They also serve, who only stand and wait.” Or, in my book, who only stand and listen. Really listen. Which, I think, is another form of witnessing.
Later in that same article, Turkle writes:
“In conversation we tend to one another. (The word itself is kinetic; it’s derived from words that mean to move, together.) We can attend to tone and nuance. In conversation, we are called upon to see things from another’s point of view.”
I love her choice of words – “we tend to one another”.
It evokes gardening.
A sense of nurture.
Not to mention “tendency”, which can be described as…
“a gradual, but steady progress, development, or shift (of opinion) in a particular direction”
We literally lean toward each other to show we are listening. And, that gesture can echo outside what the inner self is doing – having a more intimate encounter. As I listen to you, I can indeed “tend” to you – both in the sense of nurturing, and in the sense of an inward shifting toward you.
How often am I afraid that this shift will mean a real change for me?
A change of heart or mind…
A softening of self-righteousness…
A willingness to apologize.
Later on in the same article, Turkle writes…
“We think constant connection (via technology) will make us feel less lonely. The opposite is true. If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to be lonely. If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will know only how to be lonely.”
Intimacy with ourselves, which I think is foundational for all our relationships, is no easy task. If Turkle is right, we now have technology to lean on in our solitary unease, lest we experience ourselves for who we are in those moments.
Oh, the world is full of distractions to salve my solitary unease. And how well do mindfulness and acceptance and non-attachment serve me when I am willing to practice them. They are much more formative than plugging in and updating my FB status.
I recalled, as I was just staring out the window today (while taking a break from my own technology) that as a child I did a lot of “useless” staring. Not, I hope, the socially awkward kind. I remember staring at ants. At trees. Clouds. Flowers. I recall (and, as we know, memory is treacherous) being quite enthralled at those times.
I have also experienced this while gardening, and during particular activities at work. Some would call it “flow” – when we are immersed and un-self-conscious, such that there is no sense of ordinary time.
Then, we are in a time beyond time. Which, for me, seems rather a bit like eternity. Where God dwells.
“I (Allah) was a hidden treasure, and I wished to be known, so I created a creation (mankind), then made Myself known to them.”
From the Hadith Qudsi