No one has ever said on their deathbed, "Gee, I wish I'd spent more time at the office." At their moment of reckoning, the top regrets that people share are about wishing they lived the life they'd really wanted to live, wishing they hadn't worked so hard, wishing they'd had the courage to express their true feelings, wishing they'd had deeper connections with people and wishing they'd let themselves be happier.
I don't want to have those regrets at the end of my life. And I'm pretty sure that you don't either.
Yet, living out loud, finding time to relax, expressing my true feelings, fostering meaningful relationships and letting myself be happy? Well, that's actually pretty hard. It takes a certain brand of fierceness to live life in this way, something that the French philosopher, Camus, called living to the point of tears.
Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor - the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant "To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart."
Intimacy is when two people choose to share themselves with one another.
Courageous Intimacy is the sharing of all of one's heart with one another. And I'm not talking about sharing the pretty parts - like love and joy - with each other (although that's great and I encourage you to do so). I mean sharing all of you: the good, the bad and the ugly. Sharing what you're really feeling. Sharing who you really are. Sharing what you really think. Sharing, period. Meaning: to speak out loud, to communicate what's going on inside. Which is a practice of unending vulnerability.
I am, by no means, a master of this practice. This might be my work forever. Yet, through my practice, I've found six steps to help me move toward a fiercer and deeper way of connecting with those that I love.
1. Know what you want. This step probably sounds like it has nothing to do with intimacy. I'll admit, this is a downright self-centered step. Yet, it's a crucial step to intimacy and connection. If you're not coming from the center of your own self, you won't be connecting in any real or lasting way. Knowing what you want, means knowing what you want in your relationship, knowing what you're looking for, knowing your requests and knowing your responsibility. It means that you're focused on where the relationship is going rather than complaining about where the relationship has gone wrong. It means that you know what to ask for, rather than passively waiting around for magic to happen. (PS. This is hard. I struggle with this even in a massage, never mind my closest relationships.)
2. Communicate what you want. If Step 1 was hard, Step 2 is like double-black-diamond hard because this step actually requires you to speak out loud. To say specifically what you want to the person that you're building courageous intimacy with. This means that you specifically request that the person helps you. And then you specifically ask how you can help them help you.
3. Work through the resistance. Keep in mind that this is scary stuff. This is like out-on-a-limb-totally-naked-vulnerability kind of stuff. So, there's going to be resistance. Your mind is going to tell you that you don't have time for this, or that you shouldn't have to do all the work, or something to the effect of he should just know. The best way to deal with resistance is to just see it for what it is: the force that wants to keep the status quo. This is also the force that wants to keep you from changing and growing. This is also the force that wants to keep you stuck. Know this and invite resistance along for the ride. Just know it's going to be a passenger and also know that true intimacy and meaningful connections are more important than listening to the voice of resistance.
4. You don't need permission - you're allowed to have wants and needs. Most of us have been socialized into believing that we shouldn't have wants or needs. Even further, we've been taught that stating our wants and needs makes us appear selfish, self-indulgent or greedy. The truth is that you need to claim your right to have your own wants and needs. You do not need permission from society, your family, your husband or your friends. If you do not take responsibility for honoring this right, it makes you susceptible to placing the responsibility on others. Which is a fancy name for blame. And blaming others, or holding others responsible for your needs and wants... is the opposite of intimacy.
5. Be willing to be rejected and disappointed. I know: ouch. This is why I steer clear of even having the conversation with myself in the first place, let alone taking the time to ask another human being for what I want. The truth is: many times we won't get what we're asking for. And yes, that hurts. And sometimes intimacy hurts. Intimacy isn't always some version of The Notebook-style Allie + Noah romance. Intimacy means to share the truth. And sometimes the truth is rejection. And sometimes the truth is disappointment. Yet, from that place, at least you now know where you stand. And once you know, you can't un-know -- there's no going back to denial and pretending. Instead, it's an invitation to get real with yourself and your loved one.
6. Be willing to risk yourself (and the relationship). Like every day. Like every minute of every day. This means that you speak up even when you know that it will create a conflict. It means that you have the difficult conversation, even though it's Friday night and it might ruin the date. It means that you turn around and ask the difficult question instead of leaving to go to work. It means that you continue to courageously stay present even when it's uncomfortable. When you're not willing to risk your relationship, the connection steadily atrophies. This diluted and stale shell of a relationship might represent something that you once had, but if you're not willing take a risk, it will eventually shatter.
"To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences." ~David Whyte