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.

 

Happiness and Questioning: Replacing Malignance with Loving, Greed with Compassion, Ignorance with Insight

How can we have any sense of happiness in ourselves during a pandemic, when so many are sick, and we fear getting sick ourselves? And the nation, for another 47 days or so, is still led by someone most of us recognize as malignant, ignorant of the very idea of caring for the lives and well-being of others. When a nation is led by a person who speaks and acts as DT does, every day is an assault on our lives and our humanity⎼ on our sense of compassion, love, and beauty.

 

Or every day asks us how can we create, right now, a sense of strength and caring amidst the chaos and sickness? How can we, knowing what we know, find happiness in our lives? What can we do to liberate our heart instead of allowing a would-be oppressor to subvert it? What is the payoff and what is the price for not asking or answering such questions? There is a letting go, a release needed here that I haven’t yet found.

 

In the Winter 2020 Issue of Buddhadharma, the Practitioner’s Quarterly, Akincano Weber, a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist, talks about “Radical Attention,” the attention needed to touch the earth in a specific place, or a specific person or situation, and discern in it a universal truth. He talks about approaches, “life-hacks” that can help us do this, one of which is skillful questioning.

 

Think about questions. Did a question ever stick in your mind and you couldn’t let go of it? They can act as hypnotic suggestions. Ask the right question and you receive what? Attention. Your mind is directed, not just to some place, but possibly to the act of searching itself. Questions can focus the mind very narrowly, on one place, or on every place, the tree or the forest.

 

To answer a question we must leave behind any exclusive focus on self-concern or we never get to the object of concern itself. We must immerse ourselves in wherever the question takes us, live there so we can feel what that place is like, think from that perspective, and then move on. Such questioning can open us up to other practices which help us keep in our mind and heart the larger whole from which we are never separate.

 

Love, obviously, can also do this, switch us from “me” to “you,” self to other. I am sitting now with two of my cats and watch them sleeping. One of them, Milo, turns over, exposing his belly, and puts his front paws over his eyes. This gesture of his just floors me every time. The cats lie there, trusting me enough to be vulnerable. They want to be with me. Suddenly, I feel totally different. Because I love them, I feel loved in return. They mirror back to me my own feeling. Because I am open to them, they reveal myself to me….

 

To read the whole post, please click on this link to The Good Men Project, where it was published.

Embracing the Whirlwind, Finding Depths in Ourselves We Didn’t Know Existed

The next 2 or 3 days might be a whirlwind, a hurricane of historic proportions. Who knows what will go on. Hopefully, on Wednesday or Thursday, we as individuals as well as we the people of this nation, will still have a mind and a voice left, after watching and listening to the news storm through our hearts. Hopefully, the physical world will still be intact. COVID might still be raging in our communities but the rage that DT embodies, his emptiness of care for others, his lies and hate will have been exposed and, at least politically, for now, defeated. Our efforts to form a “more perfect union” advanced. But if not, if even more is needed, we will continue the fight. We can discover depths we didn’t know existed in us. We will be the people we want to see in the world, the friends and neighbors, creating the world we need and dream about.

 

So, be alert and safe. I will be, in mind and body, air hugging all those I love and care about. Hoping everyone I know has or will vote. If you see me wandering around with my arms out, don’t be alarmed. It is just hope and love trying to embrace the world, wishing for myself and all of us that we soon have something wonderful to celebrate.

The Dynamic Relationship of Joy and Fear

It can be so difficult these days to think about joy. Joy is such a short and simple word, yet it means something both basic and profound. It can be of such benefit yet many of us create obstacles to it in our lives or have had obstacles created for us. What is joy? What happens inside us when we’re joyful? How does joy affect our outlook and ability to think and act?

 

Sometimes joy can be like discovering a secret that you can’t wait to share. Sometimes your hands want to rise up, your body wants to dance, your face to smile, as if you were embracing the world, and yourself.

 

I remember such moments. I remember receiving an email from my agent that my book was going to be published. I could barely believe it. Excitement and ordinariness both arose in me. Here was an email—I had received thousands of emails over the years, but none like this one. It was as if I had been hoping for this moment for my entire life. As if all prior emails had this one buried within them as a possibility. Likewise, when good friends came to visit, I felt joy. Or when I was a student, on snow days, or at least when I first heard the announcement of a snow day. Or when a burden was lifted. Or something feared was ended.

 

Joy can be what pushes back against fear; fear can dissolve joy. All emotion has this dynamic quality to it. No emotion is just one emotion. When one emotion surfaces, others arise on the periphery. For example, love can carry fear as well as joy. Why is there fear with love? Maybe because love is allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Part of the ecstasy of love is the affirmation and sense of strength that comes from believing in yourself enough to know you can be vulnerable, you can feel this, even though pain might result from it.

 

Meditation on Joy

 

One way to understand joy and feel it more often and more powerfully is provided by meditation or simply letting yourself remember a moment of joy and what it felt like. Meditation can assist mental clarity and the letting go of internal impediments.

 

To read the whole post, please go to 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.

My Favorite Dance Music

My wife was watching Sleepless in Seattle. Such a classic scene, at the end, when the two destined lovers finally, after so many twists and turns, let go of their own resistance and embraced their lives and each other. Jimmy Durante provided the musical background.

 

Make someone happy

Make just one someone happy

And you will be happy too.

 

And I pulled my wife up from the couch. She laughed, and we danced around the room. Milo, our cat, was sleeping in a chair and I stopped dancing and sang to him and he started purring.

 

And then, a new moment. My wife went to the bathroom to brush her teeth and I went upstairs to the bedroom with a book of poems, Cold Mountain, written by the Chinese hermit, Hanshan.

 

Such moments, ordinary and yet not, make a life full.

 

Cold Mountain says, Seeing the empty sky, things grow even more still. And I realized stillness and dancing arise from the same root.

 

Dancing with my wife

The cat purrs.

 

The moon in the window

So still, so full, so empty.

When the spirit is right,

The cat and the moonlight

Provide the perfect dance music.

 

To read the whole post, please go to this link to the Good Men Project where it was published.

By Finding The Courage to Look At Yourself, You Discover the Courage to Defend the World

Right now, take a moment to simply breathe in, and then out.  Listen to your own body and what is happening inside by resting your awareness wherever it is called.  Maybe you’ll feel a bar of tension in your jaw or mouth or shoulders. Maybe you’ll feel an expansion in your belly as you breathe in, or a relaxation, letting go as you breathe out. Simply feel it.

 

If a thought or judgment arises, if you think, “I shouldn’t have thought that” or “why can’t I concentrate better,” just notice whatever occurs as you breathe in. And as you breathe out, return your attention to your awareness of feeling. Instead of letting your awareness be captured by self-judgments, simply observe, learn, and be kind to yourself. In this way, mind and body become one. You live in your own body and mind. Your sense of time slows to the pace of your attention.

 

The more you maintain focus on whatever arises, the more you feel a timeless awareness.

 

Slowing time is a beautiful remedy for stress and anxiety, and for the emotional harm this GOP administration is trying to impose on us all. Most, if not all of us, know what happens inside ourselves when we see his face or hear his voice—attacking Democrats as the enemy, attacking those seeking asylum at our borders as invaders or criminals, attacking reporters who question him as  “the enemy of the people,” attacking even his own cabinet.

 

When hate hits our bodies, we react. We tense. We don’t want to hear it—or most of us don’t.  How we respond depends a great deal on our past, on how we think about our own strength, or what theories or stories we tell ourselves about how the world works. These stories determine whether we respond by closing our ears, shield ourselves with hate, or whether we oppose it.

 

His attacks are meant to spread fear. We often think of fear as warning us to flee. But as we flee and hide, fear can increase. We stop acknowledging what we feel, stop being aware of what is happening inside. And thus we give him this power over us. We feel powerless. We allow him to turn off our interoception or inner knowing. This allows the inner tension to escalate.

 

Or we feel anger. But how do we direct and interpret that anger? Anger is an emotion of awakening. It awakens our sense of threat or danger and can prepare us to act. But if we don’t have clarity of mind and feeling to direct it, anger becomes self-destructive. We can feel angry that we’re angry. Or when we feel anger in response to fear, we treat it like a savior, a weapon of safety, and we can’t stop wielding it. We become our anger. We lose control. We lose ourselves.

 

When we look directly at our own anger, when we feel what it does inside us, we might notice the pain it causes. And behind that pain is an enormous realm, of caring about what happens to others, our world, and ourselves. When we perceive what is behind our anger, it yields to clarity. We focus on a larger reality.

 

We need to honor and respect our own inner world, feel what we feel and hear what we say. This way we let go of things more easily and live more fully. There is no inner warfare, no constant rumination, and no unnecessary conflict with others. We can think with every part of ourselves without fear and so we feel free to allow every part of others to be acknowledged.

 

Almost every act of this American political administration tries to teach the opposite. It tries to create in all of us a sense of inner chaos, disharmony, war, so we will war against whomever or wherever they direct us. They try to dehumanize us so we will do the same to others.

 

So by listening to and caring better for ourselves, we resist this administration. By honoring our humanity, we realize and cherish the humanity of others. We see ourselves with clarity and thus see the world with more clarity. Then we can act politically and socially with determination, kindness, and insight. Then we preserve our freedom.

 

When we have the courage to look directly at ourselves, we find the courage to act with clarity to defend our world.

 

 

Here is an exercise (based on a Buddhist compassion practice) to help you find both calm and understanding when you need it, or when the mindfulness practice above is not enough:

 

Close your eyes and take a calm and deep breath in, then a slow, long breath out. Simply sit, quietly. With your next breath, imagine feeling care, love, a parental sort of love, toward a young pet, or a young person. Just allow the image of a young animal or person to come to your mind, or the words care, love, child. Where in yourself do you feel this care or love? What does love feel like?

 

Then imagine a friend. Imagine this person, too, feels a similar feeling.

 

Then imagine someone you don’t know, someone you saw on the street, or in a store. Or imagine someone you disagree with. Imagine she or he feeling love, care, just like you do. They are different from you in so many ways, yet they, too, share this capacity with you. They, too, can love.

 

This is a simple thing. Yet it is so often lost. Sit for another moment, and find the feeling of love inside yourself. Find the recognition that those around you—no matter how different in some ways, they, too, want to find and feel this love. They share this with you.

 

*This post was syndicated by The Good Men Project.

 

Democracy, In Some Ways, Is Like A Love Relationship

There was a time just a few years ago when people in the US felt the world was relatively set and would continue largely as it was. People found meaning in their careers, not through political action. It was easy to be complacent. If you had a home, enough to eat, owned a TV and watched it,  and were absorbed by social and other digital media, it was easy to think any apparent crisis was just that—apparent, not real, more like a commercial interrupting the important stuff.

 

I read an article yesterday in the Intelligencer by Rachel Bashien, Zak Cheney-Rice, Amelia Schonbek and Emma Whitford entitled: “12 Young People on Why They Probably Won’t Vote.” These young people were clearly responding not only to the reality developing when they were growing up but to the election of T. “2016 was such a disillusioning experience.” They were disheartened by the election results. They saw their ideals shot down. And now many of them have trouble motivating themselves to take action. Only an inspirational leader could motivate them to act, but the Democrats are just not inspirational.

 

Other sources say our young adults are more likely to vote then in previous years. According to MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle and Ali Velshi, an NBC News poll of GenForward Millenials found that 31% are planning to vote, 26% probably will vote. That doesn’t sound very good, but it’s up from 19% in 2014.

 

Let’s examine the implications of the way of thinking spelled out in the article. They, we, didn’t get what we wanted, so why act now? We failed once; why try again? It would be better, more fun, to go back to TV, entertainment, and to social media and forget about the world outside our imagination.

 

This way of thinking robs us of power. It places the responsibility for what happens inside us on something or someone external to us. I wrote a blog just a month ago about how people in a love relationship can attribute their own feelings of love to the loved one, and thus make themselves feel powerless. Or they think, when they feel anger, the person they are angry at will suffer from their anger. They therefore let their belief blind them to the reality of how they suffer from their own anger.

 

Likewise, instead of learning how to participate more effectively in politics, we let ourselves feel powerless about effectively influencing the political reality. We mistakenly think we need someone else to inspire us, and that we ourselves are not strong enough to do so. …

 

So, on Tuesday, let us vote. Let us vote not just to win (and we must do everything we can that is humane and effective so we do win), but also to learn how to be even more humane and effective next time.

 

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

 

To Keep Love Alive, Know How Love Is Born

We all want to be loved, so it is no surprise that so many blogs, so much art, so many movies, plays and novels have been written or created about it. And no surprise that so many of us want to understand how to have a good relationship or keep love alive. When someone says to us, “I love you” or we say it to someone else, it is a pivotal moment in our lives.

 

When we feel loved, we can feel we have “made it.” We might feel not only that “life is good” but “I am good.” What we yearned for has been found. We feel whole.

 

But to keep love alive it’s important to know how love is born. When we look within our self and study how the emotion is constructed, we see that love, like any emotion, is not just one overwhelming entity. It involves so much of who we are. It is feeling and sensation mixed with memory, thoughts and how we view the world and ourselves.

 

For example, when we fall for someone, we usually think it is the other person who fulfills us or makes us feel so alive and complete. But it is not the other person who completes us. It is our loving that completes us. It is the way we relate to another person, by caring so deeply that we feel open, vulnerable, and yet strong enough to take whatever occurs. It is our ability to recognize another person is not the same as us, yet part of us, which completes us.

 

If we think of the other person as the source of our love, all kinds of craziness can ensue. We can think our happiness lies in someone else’s hands and we are powerless—or that this other being exists entirely for us. We can feel so overwhelmed by our attraction for the other person that there is little room left for the reality of that person.

 

This is why love can turn to anger, possessiveness, even violence. We come to see the other only in terms of how he or she fulfills our image of whom they should be, and we never see who they are….

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

 

 

In Today’s World, Reading Books and Caring for Others are Acts of Defiance

One of the biggest threats of this administration is to your sense of who you are as a human being. It is difficult to believe in mutual love and caring when faced with the actions and words of Roy Moore or Steve Bannon, or compassion when faced with the actions and words of Paul Ryan, or beauty when faced with Mitch McConnell. It is difficult to believe courage is possible when many Republicans, who once criticized the president’s racism or spoke out for health care for children, now support his agenda and this tax bill. It is difficult to believe learning, clear thinking, and scientific research is possible when faced with Betsy DeVos or Mr. T. In today’s world, reading books on topics such as (but not limited to) science, philosophy, anthropology, history or poetry is an act of defiance.

 

So, as a new year draws close, dedicate yourself to rebel not only against the abuses of this administration, but for the possibilities of human nature this administration seeks to squash. Seek to understand the actions of people like Mnuchin, Pruit, Sessions, and Flynn, but also Elizabeth Warren, Doug Jones, and the courage of women who spoke out against abuse by Moore, Mr. T, and others.

 

Rebel not only out of understanding how destructive this administration is to our health care, environment, democracy, and national security—but for love, compassion, and a desire for beauty.

 

When you come home from work tired, tired of long hours of work. Or you return from a protest or from completing phone calls to congress and you feel you have lost the sense of what hope is, read Rubin Alves’ poem Tomorrow’s Child. Or if you need to quiet the noise inside and aren’t able to meditate, or walk along a seashore, read Pablo Neruda on Keeping Quiet. Or you don’t know if you should take a chance on your dreams, read about what happens to a Dream Deferred, by Langston Hughes.

 

When you feel taking action or even listening to the news is too difficult, or “When despair for the world grows in me,” read Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things. Or when you feel you are catching the illness of fear and selfishness, or that you have no power, read about the power of Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye— “…it is only kindness that makes sense anymore.”

 

When you feel alone in the struggle even though most Americans, most people in the world, agree with you, read The Low Road by Marge Piercy:

“…it starts when you care

to act, it starts when you do

it again after they said no,

it starts when you say We

and know who you mean, and each

day you mean one more.”

 

And, along with Mary Oliver and her poem What I Have Learned So Far, “Be ignited, or be gone.”

 

Do not forget that love is a possibility in every life. (I don’t know about psychopaths.) We all share more than we differ. But for some, love is a possession and a wall. They hold tightly onto the few as if to possess them, and wall away all others. And in doing so, they wall away themselves. But for many, love is a second skin. It is a boundary allowing you to feel life, to feel yourself, more intensely, and to contact, open to others, more securely.

 

Yes, do what you can to find the power in yourself not only to take action and rebel against injustice and ignorance, but to make joy, kindness, education and care for others the central point of what life and even politics is about. This is the greatest gift you can give anyone, including your self, in this or any season.