Intimacy and the self.

I came across another quote from the Natalie Goldberg book, which I finished this evening (whatever book I read next has big shoes to fill!). She’s writing about her students’ response to a piece of writing which is deeply present, rich in detail, the kind of writing that leaves you shaking and shattered with the bolt of insight with which you’ve just been pierced. Many of her students, though, disconnected when they heard it read aloud. She writes:

‘Together we discovered that some of the listeners disconnected not because the writing was not alive – obviously it was – but because they couldn’t bear the intimacy. The author comes so close…The students felt touched and it scared them.’

She continues: ‘We need to build our tolerance for intimacy. We think of intimacy, closeness as something good. We can’t get enough of it, we tell ourselves. But in truth we fear we’ll disappear. Closeness means annihilation. If we find something we squirm at, we ought to [engage with] it over and over until it becomes part of us. Then that work won’t destroy us, it will make us larger…we need simply to become aware when we’re moving in on something [difficult] and stay there; even if our knees wobble and tears spring to our eyes.’

Intimacy is terrifying. I’m good at getting close to people. I do it for a living. I am getting better at allowing people to be close to me. But intimacy? Letting them really, deeply in? Letting myself be known? But what if it turns out that my ex is right, after all that, and the more people get to know me the more they’ll realise I really am a horrible person and not worth spending time with? Not worth loving, allowing me to love them?

There’s not much I can do on that one. I just have to trust my friends.

The really scary part of intimacy is not just being close to people, but being close to my self (yes, I’ve deliberately made that into two words). Getting to know my self. Spending time with my self. Upholding my self as worthy of honour, and respect, and care. Because I don’t always like what I find in my self. Anger, hurt, selfishness. Intolerance. Laziness. Superiority, occasionally. But, more frightening, sometimes I do like what I find in my self. Love. Passion. Caring and selflessness. Intellect, a sense of humour. Dare I say, talent. The strength to survive and flourish despite everything. The determination to re-gain what was taken from me, to work toward making my self whole once more. And that’s really scary because it means that I have to take my self seriously. As a writer. As a friend. As a singer and social worker and blogger. As a person. As a soul. The presence of Me on this earth makes a difference.

And I get to choose what difference that is. But I’ll only get to do that if I honour and value my self as much as I honour and value others.

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4 thoughts on “Intimacy and the self.

  1. Three things in response (one I’ve pinched from Mum):
    1 your ex is wrong, wrong, wrong!;
    2 your friends (I’m privileged to call myself one) can be trusted; and
    3 your presence on earth makes a huge difference, not just to your family and friends but to work colleagues, clients, neighbours (including, or perhaps especially, Maggie), readers of your blog, people in churches from Melbourne, Newcastle and between.

  2. Naomi, you have named the paradox of life – and the paradox found in each one of us. If we were perfect, would there be need for intimacy? We would be the answer to our own needs. We are imperfect and in that is beauty, vulnerability, weakness, strength, failure, achievement – and much more. Intimacy is one imperfect person accepting another imperfect person – as they are. Those who deny this are deeply flawed, and unwilling to acknowledge their own imperfection. Their denial makes it very hard for them to love or accept themselves and anyone else.

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