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Embracing Vulnerability in our Relationships — the depth of my desire for intimacy

Updated: Dec 17, 2022

This is a practice of reimagining R E C I P R O C I T Y.

An invitation for you to meet me at my edges—partner with me at the edge of what I do and do not know. This is where growth happens. This is where growth is made possible.

There is a difference between being open and being vulnerable. My coach Ilana Grostern helped emphasize the value in this distinction, and then Gabor Mate when he spoke of the crab, who must shed its hard shell and

become soft and vulnerable in order to grow.

Before I press on, I'll offer some language to ground this post. The third body is the space between two people, the "body" that is held and informed by two people coming together. There is the first body (mine), the second body (theirs) and the third body (ours).

I have been distracted in my pursuit to satisfy the deepest and fullest expression of belonging in my relationships by the simulacrum (Ilana for the language!) of intimacy. A form of intimacy posturing as the deepest but in reality existing somewhere closer to the surface. I am often engaged in relationship as the witness. I have become established in this role over time and its meaning has compounded to take on the resonance of "expert" in the way I relate to myself and others. As I have consistently shown up for others more than I have asked others to show up for me, I have developed a belief that disregards the POSSIBILITY that anyone even CAN show up for me.

What is being practiced comes to define what is possible in our lives.

And so I have become the expert of my own life, and in this way I have closed in my own body around the possibility of receiving others. The witness is a role well known to me and one I find deep satisfaction in filling. But it is not the only role I wish to cast myself in. I have come to confuse it's familiarity with reality which keeps me from accessing deeper possibility within my relationships and within myself.

I have recently begun to see how a third body that provides space for me to risk exposing the depths of who I am allows me to move beyond my role as expert, to be met by someone else's expertise and to be witnessed in the greater context of my wholeness. This type of third body relationship holds the possibility for evolution and transformation, it offers me space to continue evolving through the process of intimately relating. It doesn't mean I never hold the role of witness but rather that that responsibility is shared. This has shaped how I understand the different ways ‘being witnessed’ actually supports us in our embodied transformation.

The distinction between openness and vulnerability is helping me understand that my desire to be witnessed goes beyond recognition and praise. I long to be known in order to access where I can evolve and grow beyond what is knowable to me alone, in any given moment. Which means I am seeking intimacy at a depth where reciprocity is happening within a specific degree of exposure. Not the degree that defines an “openness”, but one that allows vulnerability to be practiced by both participants. This means I am held by the other person's wisdom as I meet my known edge and push into the space of the unknown. This reciprocal movement allows us to have a NOVEL experience of ourselves, to find a new way back to the parts we can't quite see on our own. It means what I historically offer, can be offered back to me. It is the practice of being received through someone else’s gaze within the context of my own experience. Not through a dynamic of domination where the exchange is omnidirectional, where one person has power over someone in the end… but one where I am engaged through curiosity and possibility expands in every direction of relating. Me to myself, me to the other, the other to me and the other to themself. The novel experience being one where I am asked deep and thoughtful questions that reflect me back to me, provoking an inward reflection that allows me to dissolve my shame and lift the veil of judgment that has kept me from seeing myself fully, in the offering of the other's unwavering compassion, from within their understanding of me as inherently worthy of love.

I thought I was being vulnerable when I simply shared about myself. Not always, but more often than was true. But there are scales of depth from which we share. There is being courted at a certain proximity, where the degree of proximity inside that contact is maintained….there are quiet expectations this proximity assumes which inform how we share ourselves. I have a huge capacity for intellectual stimulation which exists at a depth that is, I admit, hard to satisfy. And so I can get distracted by my own sense of scarcity here. The ‘take what you can get’ mentality. The intellectual stimulation without reciprocal curiosity that challenges my thinking is fulfilling, but I am not necessarily able to express my full capacity or desire for intimate exchange. This lack of reciprocity means my own desire is half met, and I continue to be responsible to be my own witness, holding myself within the context of my own expertise. But I LONG to be held in this way too. I crave to be led and to be shown the way, not for someone else to try and shape me to fit their own image of who I am and who I will become, but to allow me to be that we may find ourselves allured by each other within our mutual holding, regarding the other as autonomous, sovereign and self determined. My attention can’t be in two places at once, there is the low hanging fruit of offering wisdom with no expectation of being held by anything other than my own two feet and the juicy fruits at the top of the tree that I need to be held in order to reach. I am practicing trusting others again by giving myself an opportunity to practice trusting them. I am reaching for that higher sun drenched sweetness.

I am seeking to be held by someone else’s knowing, someone else’s deeply intact trust of self, so that I may push into my own unknown edges and be shown the way back to myself. This is what I offer to my clients in my coaching practice.

My vulnerability lives deep. Not everyone can reach it. I am craving to be met here, to be held in a way that invites me to surrender to someone else’s leading. To finally be able to distinguish between the low hanging fruit and the high has allowed me to recognize what fuller satisfaction in all my relationships looks like and feels like. To revere my desire for depth and to accept that not everyone can meet me here. That doesn't mean I compromise around my need, it means I learn how to sit with that open space and hold it open, until it is met by the right someone that is ready to receive me at that depth. So that I may grow in the light of your expertise and be informed by this degree of reciprocity and the quality of intimacy that is possible here.

I am seeking deep intimacy within all my relationships, every relationship is built differently and different levels of depth are possible within different relationships. We are all worthy of being met at our deepest, and it doesn't mean that the relationships that can't offer us that aren't worth cultivating. But the clarity that comes from understanding WHERE you are being met by whom is invaluable. Marc Gafni offers an equation for intimacy possible between two beings.

Intimacy = shared identity in the context of relative otherness X mutuality of recognition X mutuality of pathos (we heal each other) X mutuality of value (shared field of value) X mutuality of purpose

The possibility of reaching depth in our shared intimacy is determined by the degree of our willingness to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable with each other we must risk something. May we find the courage to do so.

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Thanks to Qiddist Ashe for this particular language...a question that has brought much healing into my life by offering reverence for something so many of us have a hard time facing at all. I am here,

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