He who dares not offend cannot be honest. ~ Thomas Paine
One of the main factors that sets great relationships apart from merely good ones is the depth of emotional intimacy. There are, of course other factors that contribute, but authenticity, vulnerability and deep emotional connectedness are right up there at the top of the list. When two people commit themselves to the process of deep diving into the soul they become, in the words of the writer Sam Keen, “psychonauts”, who unlike astronauts who explore the outer reaches of space, choose rather to explore the inner depths of the heart and mind. This exploration require courage, curiosity, motivation, and a spirit of adventure. It also requires a desire to be aware of and in touch with our emotions and perceptions, as well as a willingness to reveal and share what we are experiencing with others whom we deem to be trustworthy.
Connecting to our inner experience on a feeling level is for many of us, easier said than done, but with practice, we can learn the language of emotions and become more skilled at recognizing feelings when they arise, identifying them and, honoring them through our communications and /or actions. This process not only generates intimacy, depth and genuineness in our relationships, but it also enables us to create the feeling of being complete and whole within ourselves. When we choose instead to deny or repress feelings, our relationships and our lives in general may begin to feel dry, flat, or superficial. This is the consequence of being more committed to avoiding upsets than we are to living with authenticity and integrity.
Overriding our emotions for the purpose of control, protection or approval prevents us from experiencing mutual intimacy and acceptance with others. Those couples who share the greatest degree of connectivity and fulfillment together are not the ones who experience the least conflict or the fewest upsets, but rather are those who are the most willing to relate with both honesty and sensitivity. They have developed good communication skills and learned to relate respectfully to each other when differences arise. The psychologist and writer Daniel Goleman refers to this characteristic as “emotional intelligence”and it applies to ALL relationships, not just romantic partnerships.
It’s a package plan; there is no way that we can thrive in our relationships without being open to feelings of anger, fear, jealousy, guilt, embarrassment, frustration, grief and even hatred. If we want a partnership that thrives and doesn’t whither, we have to be willing to accept, as Zorba the Greek says, the “full catastrophe”. As we see it, the real catastrophe is to come to the end of your life only to realize that by playing it safe and trying to avoid risk or discomfort, you have taken the biggest risk of all, and lost the most valuable thing that you could lose: a life of meaning, fulfillment, and love. Living an inauthentic life also denies us the possibility of ever feeling truly loved for who we are, and consequently we inevitably find ourselves caught in a relentless quest for love that can never be satisfied or sustained.
How can I trust that anyone really loves me when I haven’t shown them who I really am? So when my partner tells me that he or she loves me, that little voice in the back of my mind says, “you love who you THINK I am. But if you really knew who I was, you wouldn’t love me”. It’s only when each of us reveals ourselves fully that the deepest, purest, most soul-nourishing love can be felt and exchanged. The remedy for coming back to engage more fully is to first be in touch with what we are feeling and then to express, rather than repress, connect rather than protect, and reveal rather than conceal.
Like any new skill, it may take a while to learn to live open-heartedly. Old habits, particularly protective ones, often take a while to break. We are not likely to be graceful and accomplished right away. At the beginning, we may feel awkward and clumsy. It helps to keep this in mind, so that we can each be more patient and forgiving with each other and with ourselves as we stumble towards enlightenment. It’s not about doing it right; it’s about what the Buddhists refer to as making “right effort”. As we become more skilled at emotional honesty we come to know ourselves and each other more deeply. Not just ABOUT each other, but all that is within each of us: the wounds and sensitive areas, feelings of inadequacy, our mistakes and magnificent failures, our beauty and our passion and gifts.
The joy of authentic connection is beyond measure. And there is a price to pay for it, but it’s very small in comparison to what there into be gained by being in the process. A word of caution though: Once you get started on this path it’s impossible to stop or turn around. Returning to a life of inauthenticity or superficiality just doesn’t show up as an option. Once you get a taste of the real “good life” there’s no going back. But then, why would you want to?