When I began to sit meditation retreats with my teacher, Reginald Ray, I was surprised that we were not silent the entire time. In the periods of silence, we would touch places of stillness in our bodies and minds, developing intimacy with our inner worlds. In silence, we could go underneath the conditioned ways that we typically move thru life. In the periods of talking, we would learn to meet others from that place, without the coverings and defenses of our typical connections. With the nourishment of connection or even the awareness of difficulties that might have arisen with others, there would be more courage for the next period of silence.
Most clients that I work with come to therapy seeking greater intimacy with themselves or intimacy with others. What I want to explore is how these two aspects, the inner and the outer, interrelate and support each other.
When a person wants to connect more deeply with a partner or others in their life, having a practice that cultivates stillness and presence will help them meet the other in an open-hearted way. Have you ever sat with somebody who looked at you and you felt seen, who had no agenda or expectation for you, who was so comfortable with themselves that they did not have to protect or defend themselves in connection? Many of us only experience this with spiritual teachers or mentors, therapists, or maybe grandparents. We often can bring this quality of deep and unconditioned acceptance towards small children or towards elders. Through the practice of meditation, we can become more intimate, more available, more loving towards partners and close friends.
Similarly, close relationships can help us embark on a healing process internally. Many of my single clients come in with a desire to heal all of their old wounds in order to be able to be in a healthy relationship, but I believe that some of our deepest healing happens in relationships, including the therapeutic relationship. John Welwood writes that, “just as the sun’s warmth causes clouds to arise, by prompting the earth to release its moisture, so love’s pure openness activates the thick clouds of our emotional wounding, the tight places where we are shut down, where we live in fear and resist love.”
My first solitary meditation retreat came almost twelve years after my first group retreat. I needed to have the support of teachers and mentors for many years, who guided me through challenging or stuck places that arose in my practice. When I had internalized their wisdom and loving support, I could go into the wilds by myself and trust my own guidance during the challenges. In a similar way, a child entering kindergarden will feel more confidence if they were able to internalize a sense of love and safety earlier on.
I believe that when we experience true intimacy with others, moments of simple presence without conditions or expectations, where we are naked and unguarded, we can get a glimpse of our inner being or our deeper nature. And when we can be with ourselves fully, alone, in solitude, we can meet others this way, naked, unconditionally loving and radically true.