God, the meaning, emotion, and even physiological response that this one word can ignite within. That single word is at the core of our existence—in fact, quite literally speaking, we exist only in relationship.
From our first living, cellular moments, we are breathed—ideally loved—into being due to an intimate union and then formed within another: Our initial home for “becoming.” We develop our basic sense of self, again, only in connection to our very environment; our experience of self being within another’s body.
Our bodies, our neural connections or “hardwiring;” our primary experience of emotion, of sensation, and of relationship, are all intimately linked to that primary bond. And each and every relational experience we have has the capacity to shift our entire neural map—altering not only our perception but our behavior—our BEING.
It forms our development of how to exist within the world. It wires us for connection—or not. It teaches us that the world is safe or that the world is not worthy of our trust. It provides us with our innate capacity to either soothe emotional tension, stress, and trauma; or become subject to its power. Our interdependent neural systems, at birth, form (if we’re lucky) what scientists now believe is the psychobiological foundation for what we know as “Love.” The connections that we have with our mothers, primarily, literally help to form the structure of our brains and, subsequently, aspects of our physical bodies—in response to our psychological worlds.
Based on the conditions our mothers provide for us in utero, through what she experiences; what she eats, what she feels, and how she behaves, we can become either more or less vulnerable to certain conditions and/or diseases. Our life in the womb has the distinct power of altering even how our genes are expressed—meaning those first 40 weeks are a powerful determinant of who we become!
It wrecks us. I don’t know a person who has not been broken, torn open, forever changed, at the edge of themselves, found weeping uncontrollably, acting out in ways so incongruent with their nature that they feel as if—or look as if—they are losing themselves due to overwhelming emotion from relating to an intimate partner. Our relationships can challenge us to question our worthiness for being loved unconditionally—can challenge our perception of truth, of sanity even, and of how we offer and receive love and affection. Our romantic bonds help us to grow into ourselves and sometimes guide our evolution into owning our place in the world. We can feel known for the first time; held in the arms, the eyes, and the heart of our partners. And our connections to lovers can take us to a place of fighting for our very survival—or at least the intense feeling of doing so.
Intimate relationships, utilized as an ongoing practice, provide an opportunity like no other aspect of our lives to transform who we are—to not only shift behavioral patterns but to literally re-wire, restructure our brains and neural patterning; to shift intergenerational blueprints, to grow into people beyond our “original designs.” Based in our intrinsic nature to advance ourselves, relationship can become our mirror—sometimes the most painful yet honest reflection of our inner workings. In coming to intimately know ourselves through the eyes and souls of others, we renegotiate our experience of who we are and who we choose to be.
FIT FOR INTIMACY
So then, what exactly is Intimacy? And how does it play out in relationship? Obviously, many of our relationships require not much intimacy at all—most of them, in fact. And yet we have a drive to belong—to gain a sense of familiarity with those closest to us—to be truly known, at a heart and body level. Intimacy is a unique expression of togetherness and requires reciprocal transparency. And certain levels of interpersonal awareness and self-development are necessary for intimacy to sustain itself.
Intimacy develops through an open, vulnerable willingness to engage with another. It can strengthen our confidence as we establish a deepening bond and explore our emotional repertoire with a partner. In an intimate relationship, we develop our ability, together, to negotiate a tolerable range of emotional intensity involving rage, fear, lust, seeking, play, care, and panic—the “Executive Operating Systems” (Atkinson, 2005)—all innate expressions which, when owned and practiced, can strengthen our capacity to love.
Principles of Fit For Intimacy (F4I)
What, then, does it mean to be “Fit For Intimacy?” As if healthy relationships require nice bodies!? That doesn’t seem quite right. That could be a particularly offensive view, really. Yet there is undeniable truth to the fact that our bodies are an integral part of relationship. It’s also true that our bodies—through our deep sensing—inform our experience of the world and especially of our connections to others. And how might our level of physical fitness impact our perceptions—and relationship to—our environment and the people in it? How does our capacity to inhabit these physical forms with which we’ve been gifted impact our ability to be present with another, to share ourselves both emotionally and physically with our partners? Certainly our ability to be intimate—to be sexual—is evidenced through our bodies.
Our level of “fitness” can encompass a range of expressions in our lives. We can be physically fit, yes, which is the most generally acknowledged example. We can also work toward psychological fitness, mental or emotional fitness, even spiritual fitness. And what might Intimate Fitness look like? Interestingly, the only example that requires another person!
Strengthening our bodies increases our level of physical fitness. Similarly, strengthening our relational repertoire—back to those Executive Operating Systems—can increase our capacity for intimacy, creating a certain tolerance for deepening our experience of another as well as deepening our experience of ourselves WITH another. –This might include our capacity for trust, for play, for authenticity, for sexual expression and vulnerability, for owning our space, for openness and eroticism, for acceptance, for adventure, for humility, for reaching, for yielding, for attachment—and non-attachment, for widening the lens from which we view our partner and the world. And these are just some examples.
Relationship is messy business. And sometimes the emotions it ignites can feel just outside our comfort zone. And in those moments we have a choice: To blame, to run, to shut down, to make meaning, to dismiss, to cling, to withhold; or to get curious, to self-soothe, to remain present, to own our voice, to reach beyond what we know, to connect, and to open—heart and body. What will we choose?
Early Wiring For Intimacy
Healthy intimacy wasn’t something that was modeled well, for most of us, as children. For many, our parents’ focus was on creating and sustaining a home life that provided basic necessities, such as food, clothing and a bed—it’s really only been in the last couple of decades that (some) parents are as concerned with the relational modeling they provide their offspring. Rarely do I encounter someone, either personally or professionally, who has been given the emotional resources to withstand current life stressors while simultaneously being able to negotiate the delicate intertwinings of intimacy. And most can trace that lack of skill to some gaping holes in their own early relational development.
And so, we grownups are left to cultivate a new paradigm of healthy intimacy that begins at the foundation—that represents all that we are learning. We are gathering exponential knowledge through psychology, biology, neuroscience, endocrinology, relationship research, epigenetics and other such models of research. On a personal level we’re learning through Mindfulness, through tracking sensation and thought patterns, through body practices, practices of shifting brain states and behaviors, and through understanding our intuitive knowing. In sharing with people in our close circles—those in our immediate, real-life communities as well as those in our digital, social networks, we cultivate a foundation for progress. It’s time that we bridge the gaps in our expanse of knowledge and in our practice, experience, and sharing—it’s time that we integrate all that we “know” and bring our knowing to the flesh.
Fit For Intimacy is a platform for doing just that—to provide a forum for open dialogue and sharing and giving voice to the developing body of knowledge coming to life from a multitude of sources, whose passionate seeking for some innate truth is finding it’s way to a collective resource.
The Forbidden Zone
One of the more enlivening aspects of F4I is the “Forbidden Zone”
—the place where we navigate through the plethora of details on sexuality, sensuality, eroticism—those things that often feel too risky to talk about in an open forum. (For those 18 and older please).
How do we explore transcendent sex, enlightened sex? How do we develop a more thorough dialogue around how our sex can help us expand our intimate practices and our consciousness? Through exploring the sex and relationship neuro-scientific research of people like John Gottman and Kate Sukel and the scientifically sound practices of Dr. Brent Atkinson, Esther Perel, Stan Tatkin & Dr. David Schnarch; through delving into the provocative explorations of David Deida and Ken Wilber, and delving into the early attachment work of Alan Schore, looking at the body’s wisdom described by people like Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen and Susan Aposhyan, integrating heady philosophy and science with Somatic practice, Mindfulness, and a variety of experientials; through engaging in transparent dialogue with experts and others willing to share their personal stories, we come to develop a foundation for Intimacy Fitness. We build our repertoire; we strengthen our ability to make contact, remain present, and share our inner worlds in a fashion that honors our original design as lovers.
My Work with Men & Women
My professional therapeutic work with women supports their empowerment in owning their bodies, enlivening their sexual expression; engaging their pelvises, their eyes, their mouths, their touch—their capacity to own their desire and receive not only pleasure but adoration. More importantly, I challenge and help women to dissect the cumulative stories of who they are in relation to their bodies and their true natures, spanning the chasm between truth and our collectively developed fear.
Currently in American culture, women have cultivated a deadened response to their natural sensuality—especially in regard to our existing mainstream hetero- nuclear family systems. Certainly there are women claiming powerful sexual ownership. But in general, the theme of women experiencing numbness in response to sex is burdening the life-blood of the US!
Women—more specifically, the Feminine, is “the flow of life,” in essence. The feminine (in men and women) exists by breathing in each moment of life as new and alive–and is drawn to the masculine, which can ground us and help to deepen our perspective. The masculine provides the stability and presence that, when the feminine trusts, can provide the center for the feminine to yield in-to; to experience being held, being cherished, and receive the directional foundation so that she can flow and nourish and commune and express her aliveness.
The feminine spirit craves the freedom of “dancing” through life and love, while simultaneously wanting the safety to trust in a masculine presence that is strong and stable; that is certain, still, and present. So I help women explore where trust has been thwarted and help to re-pattern a core level trust in the body through body mind practices and corrective experiences. From there, we work to reclaim desire, attraction, full expression; the power in their pelvises and the wisdom of their bodies.
And with flexibility of thought, we can acknowledge that this may look very different than a “woman” trusting a “man.” Depending on the partnership or dynamic, the masculine and feminine can take on different forms, even simultaneously—even within a singular person.
My work with men—from a woman’s perspective… confronts everything from shape, size and rhythms, to how women might respond to a man’s unique style. We explore early, often “narcissistic” wounding, that leaves men growing into adulthood craving the complete, unbridled attention that was meant for him in childhood. We look to re-patterning some of the early messages that have forced men into boxes and beings that don’t fit their complex natures. I help men to embrace both the masculine and the feminine aspects of who they are—to first develop intimacy with themselves—to trust their bodies and hearts and to practice reaching, wanting, and expressing vulnerability. And I help them to own their wisdom, their strength and the deep, sometimes aggressive push forward to meet their needs that is indicative of a masculine essence.
I help men get out of their heads and into their bodies, learning how to reach with their mouths and their hearts and how to stay present to not just their genital sensation but to their whole body sensation—to all that drives them and all that they fear.
The Core of Human Desire
With both men and women, we explore what it is that we’re all really looking for, wanting… are we simply trying to “fill the gap”—cover up the emptiness and numb ourselves or are we stepping into truly making contact that can ultimately be an accumulation of corrective experiences proactively used to “re-parent” ourselves? How are our masculine and feminine polarities expressed through reaching toward one another, through receiving one another? And how can we both learn to take up a little more space, and also offer it to our partners?
Beyond wanting, can we receive? Often, we’ve been taught that receiving is connected to selfishness. Or we’ve placed other, non-trusting, meanings on experiencing another’s reach toward us. Learning to accept, to open our hearts and bodies to what is being offered is a necessity for developing our Intimacy Fitness. When receiving is not comfortable, we will often simply continue seeking the unattainable. Navigating the territory of deciphering those ambiguous needs and desires is part of the Fit For Intimacy work.
F4I is about both validating our deepest needs and feelings and, at the same time, challenging us to step beyond our hardwired, preconceived limits and working with the fear and anxiety provoked by emotionally stretching beyond what we know.
I invite you to engage now, within the realm of Fit For Intimacy—to share your truth, your essence, your sexual expression and all it entails, and to open yourself to new discovery and to all that relationship can be.