Why Is It So Hard to Develop Intimate Relationships? A Mystery Meeting A Mystery

In a recent blog, I wrote about feeling intimacy with the world around us and was asked about human, loving relationships. And why is intimacy often so difficult? I was at first reluctant to answer. It is such a personal subject, and no one has it all together. There are psychological and ethical guidelines but no mapquest.

 

Yes, we often use the word ‘intimate’ as a synonym for sex, as if “I was intimate with so and so” meant, “I had sex with so and so.” As if the sex was the most important part of the relation. But that often obscures the reality.

 

And I say this not just because I am an older man who thinks of sex very differently than I used to. I didn’t always realize that the desire for sex can mask a desire for something more than pleasure, for a way to get close or stay close, to pull down the separation we often feel and just be there with another person. To let go. To see into another life. Because being totally with another being so we see how they see and feel even a little bit what they feel is better than good sex. Or maybe it is the heart of good sex. Or maybe it’s the heart, period. A type of, or aspect of, love. It is what makes long term relationships not only work but be exciting.

 

In this sense, sex can even be a roadblock. It can be so intensely focused on our physical pleasure that we lose sight of this deeper desire we have, the deeper fulfillment we can experience.

 

If intimacy is “what we truly desire,” is it so difficult to create because it is unusual? Do we have a fear of getting what we truly desire? Or a fear of what being intimate might lead to? Or of how intimacy might change our sense of ourselves? Or has our trust been shattered by some violation in the past so we can’t risk such a moment ever happening again?

 

To pull down the walls and end the sense of separation we often feel means allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and to notice and feel even the smallest emotional movements in another person. Clearly, vulnerability can be scary. We can be hurt. To truly know another, to feel our way into another person’s sense of life is best accomplished when we allow ourselves to also be known.

 

It is to let go of our images of who we are. This is the most complicated part. We often need a meditative practice or a guide to help with this. We often think of a self as having permanent characteristics that distinguish us from others; and think of what distinguishes us as what separates us. We are here, they are there. Never the two shall meet. So, if the two never shall meet, intimacy is impossible. Trust is difficult. So is real joy. Life becomes a continual pretense or acting a part. We act the part of whatever we imagine the self is or someone else wants or needs. And we feel fake or ungrounded….

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

 

Amidst the Rubble, Flowers Grow

When we’re quarantined with one person, together day in and day out, what happens or can happen between us?

 

The pandemic, magnified by the negligence and mismanagement by the DT administration, has led to isolation and anxiety; it has cost almost one-half a million American lives and over 10 million jobs. It has upset the entire way millions of people live. And losing jobs, losing homes, losing in-person in-school instruction, for example, is not just an inconvenience. It is an unquestioned loss, of stability, of hope, and of income.

 

But can we, at least with our loved ones, re-imagine our time together? Many of us have already begun to do so. Our lives have been simplified. I’m retired and live with just my wife and pets and this is clearly true for me. Are we “stuck” together while quarantined from others? Or are we privileged? If we have less to do and fewer distractions, maybe we can get closer to those we live with instead of taking our fear out on each other. Frightening as it has often been, maybe we can learn to see ourselves and each other more directly and kindly.

 

D. E. Harding, in his book, On Having No Head: Zen and the Re-Discovery of the Obvious, proposes ways to directly encounter our true self. Many of us imagine we are our memories, habits, a self with a head and body standing at a distance and separate from what we see. But one day Harding saw himself differently. He was actually walking in the Himalayas, the sky and air absolutely clear, and suddenly “all mental chatter died down.” Just looking around was completely absorbing. He forgot who he was. Past and future disappeared.

 

And when he looked internally, where he thought his head should be, he instead saw the clear blue sky, the outward scene where his eyes were pointed. He realized he “had lost a head and gained a world.” Or where a head should be situated, he carried the mountains and sky.

 

Imagine looking through a tube, one eye on one end, and our spouse, best friend, lover looking in the other. Eye to eye. This is a startling way to lose a head and gain an intimacy. (The exercise was inspired by Harding but created by Richard Lang, who led workshops worldwide on Harding’s teachings. See the article in the Spring 2021 Tricycle Magazine by Michael Haederle.)

 

There are similar meditation exercises. In sitting position, face another person, eyes to eyes. Breathe in. Breathe out. Together.

 

What do we see when we look in the tube or we face another person directly?

 

Every morning when I get up, after I put on my pants, I go downstairs to look for my wife. 90% of the time she is up before me. I find her in the kitchen or den. And I greet her cheerfully. It’s a promise I make to myself. No matter how well or poorly I sleep I am happy to see her. “Good morning. How are you? How did you sleep? What a day this is!” Being happy with her, I am happy with myself.

 

It’s almost a ritual, or a song we sing to make our house a home. No matter who any of us live with ⎼ children, parents, friends ⎼ or we’re alone, we can adapt the lyrics to fit the situation. But as best we can, make the tune loving, so we wake up to what’s most important ⎼ the nourishment love and kindness give us…..

 

To read the whole post, please go to The Good Men Project.

Thanksgiving: Giving Thanks Not Only for the Food and the Friendship but the Peaceful Transition of Power

We can celebrate. Yes! Ok, maybe there are restrictions and shadows, big ones at that. But we can do it. Smile. Dance. Step #2 towards a revived future and a revived nation has been taken.

 

Step #1 was the election day⎼ or days. In some states, early voting started a month before November 3rd, and then counting went on, in some places, until this Monday. Actually, there are a few states still counting. And it is clear Biden won, or clear to anyone not wearing DT colored or white (nationalist) colored glasses. Biden won by 5.3 million popular votes and 74 electoral votes, 306 to DT’s 232.

 

Step #2 came 16 days after election day when Emily Murphy, head of the General Services Administration, a DT appointee, declared President-elect Joe Biden the “apparent” President-elect. DT managed to freeze, incite chaos and anxiety, try to blatantly undermine or cancel the election, for almost a month. Then, on November 23rd Murphy contacted the White House and sent a personal letter to Biden. Resources as well as information and access, will now be granted to the President-elect. He can officially start the huge effort to take control of the executive branch of the government and begin planning how to safeguard this nation.

 

An adult with the inclination and ability to care about the well-being of others is now President. We can celebrate. November 23rd should have been declared a holiday. It might be the day that saved our nation from the Civil War that our present and soon-to-be past President drove us toward.

 

Step #3 will be January 6th, when the Electoral College will officially meet and certify the winner of the election. Step #4 will be January 20th, Inauguration Day. Step #5 will be when the tough process of executive actions and legislation to end the pandemic, improve health care and the economic position of millions of Americans, and create democracy is clearly underway.

 

DT was the first shadow on the holiday. COVID-19 is the second. This year, Thanksgiving needs to be masked and social distanced and attendance limited.

 

For 42 of the last 43 years, my wife and I had Thanksgiving with the same group of friends despite living in 3 different areas, all in driving distance of each other. Three of us went to college together, were on the same floor of the same freshman dormitory at the University of Michigan. We became close friends. Two of us shared an apartment for the last 2 years of college. We had almost no classes together, but many discussions, protests, social events. And the friendship has continued after we left Michigan. Others have joined us, most notably and joyfully our wives.

 

I looked forward each year to our time together. Looking forward to Thanksgiving gave me life and breath over many years of working long hours. But this year it can’t happen.

 

Instead, we invited 2 friends, a couple, former co-workers of my wife who live near to us, to join us. Actually, the invite was more synergistic than one couple inviting another. Although it took planning, it also took checking the weather report so it would be warm enough to leave windows open. We had to think about what would be safe. We brought out 2 leaves for our kitchen table to make it so we could sit more than 6 feet apart.

 

So, I wish us all, everyone, a wonderful holiday. I wish us all not only wonderful food but wonderful discussions. For those who can’t do it this year due to the necessary health restrictions or for whatever reason⎼ I wish that our new President, with our help, will not only end the coronavirus pandemic but the pandemic of hate and economic injustice. So we, more of us than ever, can share such a holiday in the future.

 

Happy Thanksgiving to us all. And may the transition of power be even less anxious and more peaceful and constitutional than it’s been.

What Do We Do When It All is Getting to Us? The Value of a Good Honest Conversation

What do we do when we feel it is all getting to us? When the outrage and depression over the killing of George Floyd and so many other African-Americans by police, combines with the sadness and anger over the rising numbers of those sick and dying from the coronavirus, combines with the actions by DT to cut off the information from reaching us that we need to protect ourselves? And all this is augmented by anxiety over our economic situation or uncertainty over the future and, of course, fear of getting sick?

 

My mind went through a change over the past weekend. Every time we leave home to go to a public, indoor location⎼ shop for food, get our car fixed, what used to be normal activities⎼ a new waiting period can begin. Since the incubation period for the virus can be two weeks, if we do this more than once during that time, we never stop being on edge, monitoring for symptoms. A chest pain, a cough, a tickle in the throat can cause us to isolate ourselves further in worry.

 

I turned on the tv and there was an ad for a local Public Television program, Behind the Woman, which shared personal stories of women leaders from diverse backgrounds. In this time of different pandemics, those of racism, DT, and the coronavirus, the program reminded me of what a sense of community can be like, with shared concerns and a demand for change.

 

Then I heard news about protests over the police killing of George Floyd, in Portland, Oregon, being met by militarized Federal agents sent there by DT. These camouflage-wearing agents have been stomping on the people’s right to protest and on the legitimate local authorities and the rule of law, creating chaos to serve DT’s own selfish political purposes. And on Sunday, they  were met by a wall of Moms chanting “Moms are here, Feds stay clear.” I felt a silly sort of joy, a shared interest and feeling, with these women, and with these protestors. Until I heard about the teargas and arrests and the joy was replaced with outrage and fear.

 

Hearing about the protests, I somehow felt less alone. When we hear about other people in pain, we want to do something to end that suffering. We want to help. Even babies, when they hear other babies crying, join in. And when we hear about people taking action, we can feel more powerful ourselves and ready to act….

 

To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

 

Speaking with the Medicine Buddha

I was reading an article by David Michie, in a September, 2018 “Lion’s Roar” magazine, about “How to Invoke the Medicine Buddha,” and I immediately did the practice. In this time of threat and anxiety, it was just what I needed.  It reminded me of healing visualizations and meditations I had done in the past and found helpful and enjoyable.

 

And afterwards, I wanted to invoke this Buddha for all of us. I wanted to stand before him and talk directly with him ⎼ or allow him to speak directly through me. I wanted the Medicine Buddha to speak to our nation, to help us all heal, heal our neighbors, this country, this world. We need so much medicine nowadays, medical supplies, an anti-coronavirus vaccine. An anti-ignorance vaccine. A pro-compassion vaccine.

 

Today we are seeing what society looks like when the whole is greatly stressed. I remember looking at paintings of the plague in the Middle Ages. And I look around me. The sky is still the sky. The birds still call. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes the sun shines. It doesn’t look like the plague. Unless, maybe, you go to some city hospitals and see the freezer trucks they are using to store the dead. Not quite a horse driven wagon full of bodies, not the “Black Death,” thanks to modern science, but there are comparisons.

 

But as each level of our society is stressed, it is the small things that hold us together. It certainly isn’t our deluded leader, not the supposed head of the Federal government. Many state or local leaders are being helpful, and certainly first responders, doctors and nurses are risking their lives for others. Retired and other health care workers are volunteering to work in overstressed hospitals to care for patients. Cashiers and the people who stock the shelves in the grocery store. Individual people as well as the systems they maintain. It is our families and friends. Relationships. Even though we are all isolated, or maybe because of it, we are more sensitive to relationships…..

 

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.

The Question We Ask Each Morning

The poet, Mary Oliver, wrote:

“Every morning

The world is created…

 

The heaped

ashes of the night

turn into leaves again

 

and fasten themselves to the high branches…”

 

It’s night and the world outside my window is so dark. There is no moon that I can see, and my house is surrounded by woods with no streetlights. But inside, I am lucky. There is another sort of light. My three cats sleep on the bed with me. Two are siblings. Tara, the female, sleeps with her head tucked in her brother’s belly. My wife is changing into sleep clothes.

 

Such trust is here, such vulnerability to each other, that I almost can’t believe it. We do more than keep each other company. We provide the most meaningful light. Together, we release the day and all tensions and questions. We let go of everything except for this moment that we share together. And with great extravagance, we will hopefully let go and sleep.

 

And in the morning… Even though it is still winter, and snow covers the ground, I am awakened early by bird calls. So many species of birds are calling at different volumes and qualities of sound that I feel the earth itself is speaking. Blue jays and crows cry the loudest. But there are also chickadees, woodpeckers, mourning doves, and cardinals. My wife is dressed. One cat is still sleeping. The other two are sitting by the picture window looking out. The light shines so brightly it almost hurts my eyes, until clouds pass overhead and dull it.

 

Each morning asks us the same question, whether we listen or not: what kind of world will we create today?…

 

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.

Creativity and Our Love for Others Can Save Us

This morning, like almost every morning, underneath the rush to run off to do this or that, or to lie in bed and watch the day begin, there is a yearning to create something beautiful and meaningful. Or maybe it’s a desire to write something exciting, to write myself into a revelation of the depths of life, something utterly true, unseen, new, about life, relationships, myself.

 

Then I hear the news ⎼ lawyers for the President, instead of trying to prove his innocence, they try to justify on the Senate floor the subversion of the constitution and the establishment of one-man rule, and I lose all concern for depth. Fear sucks away the creativity.

 

Or I hear John Bolton say DT directed him to pressure the President of Ukraine to announce an investigation into Joe Biden. Or Lev Parnas revealing the tape he has of the President giving the order to “get rid of” Ambassador Yovanovitch is only one of the many tapes he has. Parnas says everyone, including Mike Pompeo and Vice President Pence, “was in the loop” on DT’s Ukraine scheme.

 

And I get excited. I want this to be heard. I want it to shake the depths of our political system. I imagine the dark cloud of the Presidency will be lifted and this threat to humanity removed. I get caught up in hopes and fears and lose touch with beauty and depth.

 

And I fall asleep again because I didn’t sleep that well and a dream comes to me. I am walking on a beach. Several people are around me. It’s awesome. And in the distance, I see waves heading to the shore. And suddenly I notice a wave, a huge wave, getting bigger and bigger coming towards the beach. I yell to the people in the water and those around me, and start running uphill, away from the beach. And from the other side, the hill gets washed out. The land has become water, water to the right, water to the left…

 

And I wake up.

 

The act of creating, whether it is by writing, painting, dancing, cooking, carpentry, film-making, playing music or whatever gives us a sense of strength and meaning. It is an affirmation.

 

I want to write so I can harness the flood. I want to write so the writing itself is a meditation, a door opening into soul territory. I want to write so I remember there’s more to life than anger, regret, and fear. That the possibility to act and affect the world exists.

 

So when we come home from work or school or after hearing the news, after the fact check, we can write to our local newspaper or on social media, speak out, paint a sign to hold aloft in a demonstration.

 

And we can look closely at those we love, listen to them, as if how we relate to them were also an act of creation. As if the sincerity and depth of our caring would somehow strike some politician with sanity.

 

Even fear and nightmares can be the siblings of the urge to create and to live deeply, meaningfully ⎼ and in a nation that listens to and respects our rights and viewpoint. And of our care for and relationships with others. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t fear.

 

And it is this yearning to create and this love that we have for others that can save us. We have to keep this yearning and care in mind and let it inspire us to also take care of ourselves, as we speak out, keep informed, make political action part of our loving, and hug our friends and family deeply.

 

 

This blog was syndicated by The Good Men Project.

 

The Better Rebels of Our Nature: Friends Can Help Us Remember to “Be the Change We Want in the World”

Three close friends and I recently had a reunion. We visited Ann Arbor, Michigan, where we went to school in the 1960s and rented a house together for a long weekend. When we are together anything can come up for conversation and does. At dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant, we discussed everything from free will to selling out, from politics to Ancient Sumeria, to the music of Dylan, Cohen, and Ramstein, and Michigan football.

 

My friends were not shy about bringing others, who happened to wander by or be standing around us, into our conversation. We were debating if we had free will or if it mattered if we believed that we did, and soon our waiter was involved in the conversation. He and I basically agreed. One of my friends said since our actions were purposeful and the motivation for those purposes were largely unconscious and thus beyond our control, how can we claim to be free? We are more like machines than we like to think.

 

I disagreed. Yes, our actions derive from many unconscious determining factors.  But included in those determining factors is the whole universe, in which we are a part. I brought up the Chinese Taoist concept of Wu Wei, which can be defined as “effortless action” or “acting without acting.” Our actions arise as part of the whole universe moving interdependently together. We can never step out of the universe to view all the consequences of, or influences on, our actions. However, we, meaning our body, memory, intention, and way of thinking participate in determining what we do, along with everyone and everything else in and around us. We all act together.

 

One of my friends asked the waiter about his own life. It turns out he had been a doctoral candidate in ancient middle eastern religions and was studying Akkadian, Sumerian, and other languages as a required part of his study. Then he got bored with learning these dead languages, quit the program, and got a job as a waiter. We wound up discussing Gilgamesh, the first written extended story or epic poem and one of the earliest takes on male friendship.

 

One of my friends then asked, Did I sell out? Have I given up the ideals I fought for in my youth and has my life become merely the pursuit of money and power? Is what I am doing worthwhile and should I continue doing it?

 

We discussed the important successes he had achieved in his life. The question arose how did the world, or the state of U. S. politics, get so bad ⎼ and were we responsible for T?

 

This turn in the conversation reminded me of one I had had in the gym earlier in the week. After greeting me, a man who was more than an acquaintance but not yet a friend asked what I was doing with my life. I mentioned house repairs, teaching martial arts twice a week, and writing. I asked him the same question. He replied by switching topics and stating that all the people from the 1960s who dropped out of society to “go back to the land” (implying that I was one of those people) were responsible for the awful state of our nation today. We should have stayed in society, he said, become CEOs and reformed the corporate world.

 

Although I could understand his argument, I was incredulous. He seemed to be following a meme inspired by conservatives of blaming the 60’s for almost anything. I agreed that if conscientious people do nothing, they therefore leave the world in the hands of those who think only of their own power and money. But making people aware of this was what the 1960s rebellions were about.

 

I don’t think anybody who knows me would say I had dropped out or given up. In the early 70s I did move to a rural location to build a house with my then girlfriend and now wife. We moved with a group of people involved in creating a free school, not-for-profit businesses, and a community development fund. We were intent on changing the economy and the values that drove this society.

 

Going back to the land was not a running away from responsibility but a refusal to live by materialistic values. It was a way to educate ourselves in how to live in a more sustainable and less destructive way. If we had joined the corporate world and tried to change it from within, how long would we have been able to sustain that motivation if we hadn’t, first, learned how to live without all the material rewards of corporate wealth?

 

The 1960s rebellions warned us about the dangers we face today, of narcissistic leaders, of politicians lying to the people, and of alienated men and women who refused to look at the state of our world and the dark side of technological advances. The 1960s, or people like Martin Luther King, Jr., the Berrigan brothers, so many writers, artists, musicians, and activists, taught us that poverty, racism, sexism and the lust for power do not just hurt the people immediately affected by these blights on humanity, but undermine the whole society.

 

There were also people like G. Gordon Liddy, one of President Nixon’s “plumbers” who organized the break-in at the Watergate Hotel and illustrated just how far alienated men could go. His autobiography, Will, described a man whose hero was Adolf Hitler and whose primary motivation was to become as powerful as possible. Besides admiring Hitler, he envied and tried to create in himself the power and emotionlessness of machines. Here was a man who had not just accepted the simplified metaphor that humans were machines, but glorified the possibility.

 

The argument by the man in the gym was akin to blaming the victim. The people responsible for putting profit before people ⎼ and personal power before the health of our world ⎼ were primarily responsible for making working for the common good and democracy impossible.

 

But, since we are all interdependent, every one of us is part of us, part of all that is happening. Because we can be affected, we can affect others. Our true power and freedom lie not in escaping emotion and our responsibility for what happens in the world, but in becoming more aware of it. Only by increasing our mindful awareness of the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that affect our behavior can we have any conscious power to direct that behavior.

 

For example, our theories and beliefs about reality tell us how much power and choice we have in affecting that reality. If we think we are machines with no free will, then we are more likely to abdicate responsibility for our actions and allow ourselves to act mechanically.

 

Our fault in the 1960s was not in our building communal groups and rebelling against jobs and politics as we knew them.  It was in not understanding how complex the struggle would be. It was in focusing so much on our own righteous need to achieve our goals that we couldn’t compromise or adapt and believed we could and had to change the world in a few months or years. The result was that when the revolution didn’t happen, many gave up the struggle.

 

Even though we children of the 60s embraced a sentiment later attributed to Gandhi about being the change we wanted to see in the world, or about living the revolution, we didn’t know how to do it. And we are still learning this. Learning how to be the change is what life is about. And our deepest friendships can help remind us of this, and how to be the better rebels of our nature.

 

This post was syndicated by The Good Men Project.

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Those Who Taught Us to Love

This past April 17th, on my Dad’s birthday, exactly one and a half years since he had died, I started having dreams as well as daytime images of him and the places he had lived. I’d see the drive south on Atlantic Avenue toward his home on Berkley Square, Atlantic City, or see the view of the ocean out of the window of his condo. I’d see his living room in Virginia or the front of the house where we lived in N. Y. I’d see him walking bent down and forward over his walker or hear his voice clearly as if he was calling me on the phone.

 

Some think that after a loved one dies, we should just get over it as soon as we can. Think of other things. Do whatever we can to make the pain go away so we can return to whatever state it is that we call normal or comfortable. We humans love homeostasis as much as we love those who have helped us achieve that state in the past.

 

And, of course, to some degree we have to do that. There are other people in our lives, and other responsibilities. We have to go to work or school and feed ourselves. A new phase of our life has begun, and we have to let go of the old one.

 

But the people we love are, by that fact, part of us. They are an essential element of who we are. Forgetting them is forgetting ourselves.

 

We have to internalize, take on for ourselves much of what the other person gave us. When a parent dies, the child has to grow up. Sigmund Freud said (approximately) it is only after a parent’s death that a child knows what it means to grow up. I think I agree with him.

 

Although I was 70 years old when my father died, I realized I must now take on whatever I had emotionally and otherwise left for my father to do. When I was a teenager, I did what most teenagers do in this country ⎼ I fought with him almost daily. It was part of the psychological mechanism through which I learned who I was and how to become an independent person. Later on, I was able to reconcile with him.

 

Somehow, even though I only saw him 5 or 6 times a year (and talked weekly), just knowing he was there for me gave me a sense of safety and security. He gave me an ancestral home. When he died, he could no longer provide that. I had to, I still have to, learn how to provide that home for myself. He could no longer advise me about finances or argue with me about politics or encourage me to maintain contact with my relatives. Family was so important to him. I now have to learn to do these things for myself…..

 

To read the whole blog, please go to the Good Men Project, which published the piece.

#Me-Too Can Awaken Us to the Humanity of Others

We need a better education, in this country, in how to face our own inner reality, to know ourselves with honesty, and to know the role other people and our world play in knowing ourselves.  For example, we might grow up thinking our happiness lies primarily with what we own or how much money we have, so we are never satisfied with what we have. Or we think true power results from control over others, so we never feel in control of ourselves. We look externally to satisfy what requires us to look internally.

 

I hope I’m not simply projecting, but I think #Me-Too is now being taken by more men I know not as an attack on them, but as a way of waking us up to the reality of the women we relate to. By awakening to the reality of others, we wake to the reality of ourselves. As long as we men see women primarily in terms of our own needs and projections, we will always be dissatisfied with our relationships with women. As long as we try to feel strong, or create a secure, satisfying relationship by controlling our partner, whomever she or he is, we will never feel strong, secure or satisfied.

 

As long as we think of those we love, instead of our own inner emotional nature, is the source of our love and excitement, we will always feel somewhat controlled by the other, and powerless. And some kind of dissatisfaction, even resentment or anger, will develop and undermine our loving….

 

We might think that by destroying the power of others we increase our own power. But by doing so we develop an addiction. We think we are so weak that we can only feel powerful when others are powerless. We grow dependent on weakness. So we need stronger and stronger hits of the drug of weakness and delusion. We grow more and more incapable of looking at the world directly or clearly….

 

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.