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Intimacy and closeness

A book I turned to for years written by two psychologists, Thomas Patrick Malone, Patrick Thomas Malone, has been a sit spot for my heart.  Do you have a favorite sit spot that you go to in a café or chez lounge in your back garden where you let the quiet seep in and the thoughts reorder? For me, these two doctors, who happen to be father and son, are the place I go when I want a sit spot for the intimacy I know we can live in our lives.  When I open their book, The Art of Intimacy, just about any page brings back what I know and feel intimacy is. Their description of difference between closeness and intimacy I find super helpful. Here it is.

Love makes relationships work, but also makes them growthful systems.

When I-other relationships work as love, then families work.

Love is both immanent and transcendental. It is the force that forms the canvas on which we humans paint.  Along with the concepts truth and beauty, it is our way of naming this canvas, the ground substance of our existence.  It is a level above those things that make it up—closeness and intimacy. Love cannot be understood if we do not understand its twofold makeup, and if we do not understand the difference between intimacy and closeness.  Nor can it be understood if we do not comprehend that the power of love depends precisely on the balanced interaction between being close and being intimate in our relationships.

For example, Sarah is close enough to her husband to “know” that he would not come in with her for therapy, to know not to tell him what he does not want to hear (that she is distressed and sought help), to know that he loves her. She is seldom intimate enough to be herself with him.  

Learning about closeness (the “being part of”) is easy.  Just study systems: large, small, independent, dependent, functional, non-functional, real, imagined.  There are a myriad of well-structured systems. The how-to literature on counseling, management, religion, friendship, warfare, supervising, on adjusting, coping, fixing, maintaining, on psychological stratagems, and so on ad infinitum, are all discourses about closeness.  Most of the many concepts of relationship that we mentioned earlier (supportiveness, commitment, etc.) are also aspects of closeness.

This cultural imbalance is part of Sarah’s confusion.  She has read many of these books but has not found what is missing.  Instead, she finds how to be a better wife, mother, woman, communicator, or whatever, but, not how to be joyfully Sarah, herself, with her husband.

Most writers have described intimacy in terms of sentimentality or romanticism.  To do so is to falsify it. Our capacity for, our experience of, intimacy is part of our nature.  One of the beauties of what little written literature there is by Native Americans is their clarity on this point.  For example, the Hopi word koyaanisqatsi, “life out of balance,” summarizes succinctly and directly the consequences of our experiential loss.  The word, meaning crazy life, life in turmoil, life disintegrating, or perhaps most significant, a state of life that calls for another way of living, poignantly expresses our current imbalance.  What we need is a life in balance.  

Truth, beauty, and love are our culture’s names for this “life in balance”, a balance between intimacy and closeness.  We hear this from the ancients as well as the writers of the present. Zeno said, “The goal of life is living in agreement with nature.” Thousands of years later, Buckminister Fuller spoke to the same issue:  “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But, when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” “Life in balance” is experienceable.

(The Art of Intimacy, Thomas Patrick Malone, Patrick Thomas Malone, Prentice Hall Press, 1987, ISBN0-13-047085-6, p. 7)