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September 1, 2021

Physical Intimacy requires devoted Practice to Work its Magic.

Some might say that you fall in and out of love.

I’ve heard it said that early romance is based on clouded judgement and isn’t reality, but rather some temporary blissful state of being. Bullsh*t. 

If things end, you probably didn’t truly love them in the first place.

People protest that life gets in the way, people’s interests change, they grow apart, they argue, they see the hidden demons in the other, and that “reality sets in.” Unless the content of your thoughts are reality, which they aren’t, this cannot be true.

If the romance wears off after a profoundly intimate time of real connection, you didn’t “fall out of love,” you’ve strayed from home base. A home base that needs to be physically tended to.

Strong physical attraction is just that; physical. It lacks the profundity of real love. I’m not just speaking about sex here. That certainly is one facet, but sex itself is just a physical act. You can mentally disconnect from who you’re with and do it just for physical pleasure.

Personally, I’ve never been interested in that. I want to make love to the woman I love, in the same spirit that I hold her hand, scratch her back, stroke her hair, and of course, kiss her.

Ask yourself this: “Why is romantic love for another always stronger physically in the beginning?”

Could it not be that this must be the entry point? People report all the time falling for someone and then when they consummate the relationship, they realize there is no “physical connection.” And then it ends. If the “first time” with someone as a mature adult feels “magic,” it’s because it is. But like real magic, there is a whole host of things that lead to the trick, and that takes practice.

Like meditation, physical intimacy has to become a devoted practice or it can’t “work its magic.”

The first time I kissed my wife (as a middle-aged man mind you), I was transported to a level of intimacy I’d never felt before in my previous 42 years. She is the most beautiful being to ever enter my life in every facet.

But, I get caught up in my thinking and insecurities, and when I get trapped in my head, I get fearful.

When I’m caught up in my hurt feelings and thinking, I may feel that I don’t want to be physically intimate, but if she lays her head on my chest, the truth screams at me. If I just pay attention to the weight of her head on my chest, the warmth of her body, the smell of her hair, and the feeling and sound of her breathing, any problems disappear.

I think the ability to slip into this physical presence is the result of meditation practice. You always come back to the body.

Human suffering occurs within our consciousness and we can observe it if we stay rooted in the body. Thinking and emotion are so powerful that we need to tether ourselves to the body. If we don’t, the storm of the mind will leave us lost at sea. I love Chögyam Trungpa’s description of emotion as “high-speed thought.”

I see real romantic love as a unification of the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual between two people. If you’re a meditator, you know what I’m talking about.

The boundary lines blur over time as you ruminate less and feel more physically intimate with your body and environment. It’s a priori to thinking. Physical stillness, with time, leads to the mind settling. This settling clears up confusion in thinking and emotion.

Also, as a meditator practicing in the Zen tradition, we don’t really meditate with the mind, we meditate with the body.

As humans, we use our tools of cognition to navigate the world around us. This is a double-edged sword: one could say that thinking is our greatest asset and our greatest enemy—but it doesn’t have to be.

To get out of our heads so that thinking and language can be used as the communicative tools they were meant to be, we must get into our bodies.

So we sit with good posture, pay attention to the physical sensation of breathing, try our best not to latch onto our thoughts, think anyway, realize that, and go back to the body and the breath.

Notice that the “home base” is the body. Why? Because physical perception is immediately experiential. There’s no filter to create fiction. It exists before thought and therefore before division. And division is suffering.

And so it is with real romance; Stillness becomes clear in the act of physical intimacy. There is stillness in movement and touch when immersion takes place and we get out of our thinking.

Research clearly shows that couples who work on maintaining physical affection and a regular sex life, suffer less from anxiety, depression, and lack of self-worth.

It’s not ironic that the root of the word affection is the same as that of the word affinity, and affinity means bonding. Bonding is required for human happiness. The bonds are happier, more successful as partners, and they have higher levels of self-worth. Self-help and individual psychotherapy aren’t as effective at improving these things as a healthy dose of physical affection.

Physical intimacy with a loved one clears the mind and refills our depleted feelings of need for the physical that thinking drains from us. It’s these depleted resources that lead to the demise of a relationship. Physical intimacy is our gas station. We have to return over and over, on purpose, or we’ll run out of gas.

This takes work after “reality sets in.” In actuality, reality has been swept away by your thinking, criticizing, judging, and annoyances with the other person. These things arise from a conflict with our thoughts about what we want and the way we think things should be. These things are so convincing and so real feeling that they take us further and further away from home base. Physical intimacy stops this runaway process and lets us reconnect on the level we are meant to connect on; real love.

Real love, like meditation, is inclusive of the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual—because they aren’t separate. This isn’t to say that emotional personal conflicts won’t come up, feelings won’t be hurt, scaring won’t occur, and that if we only attend to physical intimacy all of these things will be cured—that’s insane.

What I am saying is that, like meditation, physical intimacy provides the perspective necessary to attend to all of the relative facets of reality.

This also isn’t to say that there aren’t differences in the needs of the two people; of course there are. The emotional and physical needs of each gender is different, and we all have a different life experience and perspective that has formed our view of the relative. These all lead to the differences in the concepts of our emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual needs.

Meditation is a perspective changer, and it works through the physical practice of coming back home. And so too with physical intimacy. It is the fundamental practice of an intimate relationship between two people that allows each other to meet all of the relative needs of the other.

Physically disconnected people are disconnected. Period. 

My thoughts here don’t directly apply to survivors of trauma. But as Dr. Susan Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Therapy, EFT research has shown, physical intimacy leads to a healthy relationship which in itself is potentially curative to survivors of trauma. I’d, however, never even fathom trying to speak for the trauma of another. That would be arrogant. Specific issues call for individualized approaches.

No matter the approach, the body is home base whether one admits it or not.

If we’re able to drop our emotional and psychological attachment to physical intimacy, the majority of us will feel completely present when embraced by the one we love. This is a universal human experience. When things change and we get caught back upstairs in our minds, we need to come back to the body, come back to the intimate touch.

Life is practice. Practice is falling off and getting back up, again, and again, and over time that repetition builds momentum and it becomes part of your way of being.

I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t enjoy being in my head. It’s horrible up there. Luckily, I can return to the container of physicality and intimacy, and take a break from the head trash so that I can more effectively sort it out.

Universal insights gleaned from the world’s contemplative practice over the course of human history have been pretty consistent in their findings. In most of these traditions, staying with the presence of the body while allowing thinking to carry on without you grabbing onto it, will eventually lead to this realization.

The body is our container to our interaction with the universe around us. Charlotte Joko Beck calls sitting practice, “building a bigger container.” Physical intimacy in relationship is the container for the bond and practice enlarges it.

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