“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.”
– Aitken Rōshi, The Ground We Share
Most of us experience a deep 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 spiritual life is different than clinging to high-minded religious ideas. Spirituality is synonymous with being intimate with our world. It’s not about the ideas in our head; it’s about the love in our heart. It’s about our capacity to open to something larger than ourselves. We come into direct contact with the quiet pulse of life that flows through us and between us.
Transpersonal Psychology is the study of life beyond ego. Embracing the wisdom traditions of the world, it recognizes a larger intelligence that we participate in and are a part of.
For “Transpersonal Psychology” above:
The “trans” in Transpersonal not only means “beyond” but also “to cross.” Intimacy means that we cross through the barriers that often separate us. 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 impulse in us 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 rigid boundaries of our own skin. Being human is a remarkable thing. We have an inborn capacity to delight in the mystery and pleasure of deep human relating.
Spiritual life and intimate relationships require that we work 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 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 mark every relationship. Bringing loving-kindness toward ourselves is an important part of spiritual practice, while also creating a foundation that allows us to extend love toward others.
Just as in spiritual practice where we cultivate inner peace, we experience a more poignant intimacy during those moments when we’re both dwelling in a deep and rich stillness. Cultivating a mindfulness practice can help foster such intimacy with ourselves and others. Conversely, intimate relationships can nourish us in ways that make it easier to be mindful.
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.”
If you are a person who longs for intimacy and is alert to such possibilities during your day, I would suggest that you are on a spiritual path, whether you realize it or not. Honoring your yearning to connect with someone or something beyond yourself is a spiritual impulse. Just be careful not to lose yourself in this yearning, but rather cultivate a loving connection with yourself when connecting 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 soothe something inside us, keep us balanced, and connect us with the mystery and beauty of being alive.