“When we are willing to explore our own experiences, we open the doorway to deeper connection and intimacy.” ― Sharon Salzberg
Red roses, Hallmark cards, boxes of chocolates, and candle lit dinners: the classic symbols of “love” ubiquitous with Valentine’s Day are equally adored and despised by the Americans who celebrate this holiday. I myself cringe at the very mention of Valentine’s Day—it’s cheesy and commercial and doesn’t feel at all to me like what love is supposed to be. But since I moved in with my now-husband, I’ve been celebrating this ridiculous holiday in the sweetest way I know possible—cooking a full meal, together.
Cooking together is not something we do often. My husband is an excellent cook, but I typically prefer to be in the kitchen alone as part of my own meditative process—it’s a place where I can cautiously explore my creativity while remaining in control of my environment. Still, we decided that every February 14th we would put together a special menu with cocktails and dessert and wing it together in our little kitchen.
When we listen to this fear, we allow it to be a barrier to intimacy, as we avoid the pain of being seen or ‘found out’.
The first year was absolutely terrible. At the very beginning, I spilled the ingredients for the drinks all over the floor, and then we argued, for various reasons, throughout the duration of the evening. I wallowed in frustration and disappointment that night, which I later realized had nothing to do with cooking or even Valentine’s Day. In working together on projects outside of our norm, our truest personalities are exposed: mine, a mix of meticulous and controlling with a dash of impatience, while my husband is more relaxed and easygoing, mixing flavors and colors to his heart’s desire. My need to control the kitchen—the space that I felt was ‘mine’— became a direct conflict to his desire to play and have fun. As I became more anxious, I grew petulant and defensive as a way to hide my insecurities about letting go of control.
It can take a deep sense of self-intimacy to explore why ordinary experiences can cause suffering. I see now that the challenge of our Valentine’s Day ritual was not about equal access to the oven or perfecting a cocktail recipe, but rather overcoming my resistance to intimacy in the space that I reserved for myself and always controlled. I struggled with opening this space up and letting someone else be a part of it, even someone I loved very much. Ultimately, it was the process of understanding and accepting myself that allowed for intimacy with another to blossom without giving up my own needs and desires. Though it continues to test me, we still honor this tradition, and it has felt better and easier with each passing year.
Every month at ENDPAIN, we explore a new theme, unraveling the complexities of it, attempting to understanding it from many different perspectives. For the month of February, despite its obvious cliches, we chose Intimacy. While defined in the dictionary as “a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group,” intimacy is much more than that.
Through this month’s Vox Pop, we learned from our community that true intimacy is the unguarded expression of the self. That may sound simple, but letting our guard down is a vulnerable and potentially painful process, one often coupled with fear and shame. When we listen to this fear, we allow it to be a barrier to intimacy, as we avoid the pain of being seen or ‘found out’. This is beautifully summed up by author and physician, Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, who says, “In avoiding all pain and seeking comfort at all costs, we may be left without intimacy or compassion... In denying our suffering we may never know our strength or our greatness.” So, when we allow ourselves to be unguarded with someone, we become vulnerable to their gaze and while this might be painful, it can also lead to closeness, or intimacy, with ourselves. We can then say that self-intimacy and intimacy with others are symbiotic experiences, and even that intimacy with another requires intimacy with the self. In moving through the frustration and challenges of my Valentine’s Dinner, my husband and I learned more about each other and how to reconcile our differences. In other words, we became more intimate and were able to honor the true nature of our strength as a couple.
It can take a deep sense of self-intimacy to explore why ordinary experiences can cause suffering.
This February, we hope to reach a greater understanding of intimacy as we share concepts and ideas about what it means to be intimate through the words and experiences of others. We want to understand how intimacy feels, not just in romantic relationships, but in friendships, among family, between the caretaker and the patient, between mentor and mentee. We want to explore the connection between intimacy and healing, while honoring the challenges some face when cultivating intimacy with the people around them. Our greatest hope is that by the end of February, you will have reached not only a deeper connection with the people you love the most, but a deeper connection with yourself.
“Only intimacy with the self will bring about true healing.” ―Deepak Chopra