We continue our discussion from last week regarding human intimacy …
There are many “arenas of intimacy.” Intimacy with the nature, for example, is the conscious and intentional ways we realize our dependence on air, water, soil, and the animals, the way we celebrate and enjoy participating in creation, helping things live and grow. Religious folks talk about intimacy with God. There is the intimacy of family, friends, and mates.
But success in any intimate journey presupposes (and eventually will demand) the willingness to forge intimacy with self. It’s cosmic law. There is no way I can get close to you, unless I’m willing to get close to me. Same goes for you.
We watch ourselves. Oh how we do watch ourselves! And modern media monitors what we watch, so that we can watch ourselves watch ourselves! It’s only a matter of time before there’s a news story about the number of people who regularly search YouTube for the most watched videos. In which case we’ll be watching ourselves watching ourselves watch ourselves.
And then the universe will split in two. If I was God, it would be then that I would consider my little experiment with human beings a wash.
Nope; just because we watch ourselves does not guarantee we will know ourselves. Intimacy with self is not the same as rapt narcissism. Nor is intimacy with self to be confused with ever-alert, painful self-consciousness. Intimacy with self is a journey, a joy, an encounter, and, sooner or later, a holy terror. Because not all aspects of the human personality are as noble as others. There is a humbling humanity alongside the divine light in us. Primitive, powerful instincts and too-often destructive desires. There are dark places in every human heart.
To live whole and happy, all instincts, all desires, and all feelings are acknowledged – not judged – so that these same instincts, desires, and feelings can be managed, integrated, and ultimately employed in the service of a satisfying and meaningful life. A sure sign that we’re growing up is that we consciously possess our instincts, desires, and feelings, rather than be possessed by them.
I’m not being dramatic. A human being possessed by a self who he/she does not know (and is unwilling to know) is at best directionless, often chaotic, frequently destructive to self and others, and easily swept into evil.
Conversely (and thankfully!), intimate knowledge of the darkness in us makes darkness less likely.
When we begin a serious journey of intimacy with self, we find that we are not one self but two selves (at least two!) There is “me-as-I-am” (The Authentic Self), and “me-as-I-like-to-see-me” (The False Self). The crux of traditional psychotherapeutic and religious disciplines is identifying and subordinating The False Self so that The Authentic Self might emerge.
Intimacy with self means paying attention. For example, while the self is more than the mere sum of our thoughts and feelings, our thoughts and feelings do provide a window through which we begin to glimpse our identity. So, too, can our bodies give us clues about who we are. We embody our identity in posture, body language, tension, kinesthetic habits, and certainly many (most?) illnesses.
Paying attention to dreams is yet another way to meet ourselves.
But, in the search for intimacy with self, we rarely need to look beyond our own behavior. It is the trump card. The tell. Freud said, “The consequences of our actions tend to reveal our motives,” and he was right. A favorite writer of mine said it like this: If you’re ever in doubt about who you are, look down. Look at your feet. What direction are they pointed? Where are they taking you? What are they walking toward? Or away from? Because that’s who you are. Your feet never lie.
In a paradoxical twist, the journey to intimacy with self can never be completed alone. No matter how intently we examine our lives, there will always remain a part of ourselves eluding the examination – namely, the part doing the examination! To know ourselves fully, we must be known. We must rely on others to see in us what we cannot see in ourselves.
True friends will tell you what they see. So will true enemies, of course. But their motives will be different. Even when your friends and your enemies agree.
(Steven Kalas writes a weekly column for the Sparks Tribune. He is a Nevada author, therapist and Episcopal Priest. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)