One of the great gifts of an intimate relationship, and by that, I do not necessarily mean a romantic one, is that it constantly offers us the opportunity to grow; anyone you’re close to will challenge you to show up as your best possible self, for you and for them. That’s part of the joy and the pain of having people in our lives who know us and see us clearly. These people may be your parents, your siblings, your best friend, your children, or your partner. The most intimate and enduring relationship you’ll have in your whole life, though, is the one you’re having with yourself.
The thing about intimacy is that it demands honesty. There’s no hiding if we want to be seen and heard and known, and those who truly love us want us to shine. This means there will be times when we have uncomfortable conversations, because no one shows up as their highest self in every moment. We all make mistakes, say things and do things we wish we hadn’t, or get ourselves worked up over imagined or real slights or wrongdoings. Sometimes we want to hide from ourselves. Maybe there’s some tendency that doesn’t serve you, some way you’re moving through the world, or thinking about yourself or other people, some way you’re showing up for yourself or not. When we love people, we also hold them accountable, not in a cold, shaming way, but in a loving, compassionate one, “I know you and I see you, and this is not the best you can do.”
When we love, we have to want for the other person what they want for themselves, even if it’s at odds with what we want for them, what we want for ourselves, or what we wish they would want, and I believe it’s also our job to kindly hold up a mirror when someone we love is not making choices in service to their highest good. That’s intimacy. Clear seeing, and the ability to communicate when things are not clear, “Help me understand what’s happening with you. Help me see how things are for you right now.”
This isn’t the shiny, glossy stuff we’re sold in the movies. If you’re close to someone, you’ve seen them crying until their nose runs, or you’ve seen their face twisted by anger or despair or frustration. You’ve seen them in the midst of struggle, when they’re triggered and trying to come back to center, and you’ve seen them at their best, too. Maybe you’ve seen them lie to themselves, or watched them lie to your face out of fear or an inability to say the hard thing. Love isn’t always pretty. For a long time now, I’ve tried to practice unflinching acceptance of the people with whom I’m closest. Just let me see the truth of how things are for them, then I’ll deal with the truth of what that means for me. That’s a practice in and of itself, but I believe it’s worth exploring. This does not mean I allow myself to be disrespected or abused, although there have been times I’ve let the lines get blurry, because compassion for someone else can turn into abuse of oneself if you aren’t careful. I’m certainly not recommending that.
Sometimes we really fight reality. We want to stuff everything into neat little boxes that are all labeled, “My Plan.” Sometimes we try to stuff people into those boxes, too, but you’ve probably noticed, since you are a person, people don’t like that very much. Sometimes we dance like monkeys and bend over backwards and try to sell ourselves or other people on the idea that, “everything is okay”, when really, we know it is not. Sometimes, as we all know, the truth hurts, but I’d take the truth over a lie any day of the week; I’d rather deal with a painful truth than a pretty lie. I want to stand on solid ground and know I can trust myself.
The only way that happens is to know yourself, too, to do your best to see yourself clearly and understand what’s driving you, what’s blocking you, what’s lighting you up. There’s nothing wrong with getting some help if you need it, because sometimes we’re so close to a thing, we can’t see clearly, and sometimes we’ve grown up in situations where we pushed our needs and wants down, and focused on survival. You may not have a clue what you want. Maybe you’ve spent your whole life responding to what other people want, or you’ve been “shoulding” yourself for so long, you wouldn’t recognize a cry from your intuition if it was in surround sound.
I really think you have to start there — self-acceptance, self-compassion, clear-seeing, and sometimes you’ll be terrified by what you want, or paralyzed by it, or maybe even ashamed or disgusted. That is totally fine. Feelings are not facts, and you don’t have to act on every feeling you have; in fact, you’ll probably create a lot of pain and turmoil for yourself if you do. However, anything you reject within yourself is going to push back four times harder. The truth wants out. There’s a drive within all of us to heal, if we open to it. Underneath the layers of pain, confusion, darkness, doubt, rage, grief, loneliness and despair, you will find love. That’s what healing is in my opinion–it’s a return to your natural state. Love, acceptance and compassion thrive on truth, that’s how you make that stuff blossom.
Chasing happiness is like sprinkling yourself with that “flower food” they give you with cut flowers. The flowers aren’t rooted. Maybe that stuff will make things look pretty on the outside a little bit longer, but if you want to feed your soul, you have to find your roots and plant them in soil soaked in truth. Once you accept what’s real and right for you, it makes it inevitable that you want to do those things for the people you love. You want them to know you can see them and that you understand them. You don’t have to agree with how someone feels or what someone needs in order to accept that’s how it is for them, you just have to be willing to face it, and then you figure out how to love them and still honor your own tender heart. There are no boxes in this thing. Love has open hands, open eyes, open ears and open arms. May we all be strong enough and brave enough to love ourselves and the people in our lives.
Sending you love,
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