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  • Lisa Blair, M.A.

That's the Thing about Love: My Personal Awakening to Emotional Intimacy

It’s spring 2009 in Portland, Oregon. My partner, David, and I are nestled close under the covers with a laptop on our shared lap. It’s pitch black in our room except for the light pulsating from the screen.

We are wondering aloud to each other what Stephen and Ondrea Levine, master meditation teachers, are up to these days. We realize we haven’t heard anything about them for several years.

David had been to two of their meditation workshops about 22 years before in San Francisco and had read nearly all of Stephen’s books. He reminds me yet again of how he met Stephen after the first workshop. He waited to speak with him and when it was his turn, he told Stephen that he had recently gone through a painful divorce. “Have you cried about it?” Stephen asked. David shook his head No. Then Stephen reached out and placed his knuckle firmly against a point on David’s sternum called the “grief point.” Instantaneously, David gasped loudly, “Ahh!”

About two years ago, in 2007, we read Stephen and Ondrea’s book Embracing the Beloved: Relationship As a Path of Awakening aloud together. We loved it. It opened up beautiful, vulnerable places of feeling inside us and between us that were previously undiscovered even to ourselves. Although we had both been doing extensive personal therapeutic work as well as relationship work for years, somehow embarking on the experience of reading this book together inspired us to delve deeper into the realms of emotional intimacy. Our desire for a new level of closeness and connection became more palpable.

Together with our training in Process Work (Process-oriented Psychology) with Drs. Amy and Arny Mindell and innumerable other brilliant teachers and elders, we used the Levines’ book as our map and compass to help guide us through the myriad messy entanglements of relationship.

As the Levines delicately instructed, we had experienced the profound vulnerability of asking for our beloved’s forgiveness. We knelt with our hand on our beloved’s heart as they lay prostrate to receive our unconditional compassion. We sat looking into each other’s eyes, baring our souls as truly and deeply as we could muster.

And so, in our pondering under the covers in our Portland home, we Google the Levines and find a video of them speaking side-by-side on their couch explaining how they are no longer teaching meditation workshops. They are now living in the mountains of northern New Mexico, focused exclusively and intensively on their relationship and their mutual physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. [1] We are entranced.

Here we are huddled in the dark, so touched, so excited, saying aloud to one another, “How did they do that? They left it all! They got off the wheel. They decided to leave the world even though they’ve been filling workshops with hundreds of students. You can’t just move to the middle of nowhere in New Mexico and work on your relationship. That’s crazy!”

The seed is planted. We can’t shake the image, the fantasy, the Levines have invoked in us.

The feeling takes hold. By early July, we are visiting Santa Fe and thinking, “Who lives here? It’s too beautiful and feels like another planet.”

By the first week of August, we’ve put our house on the market. The first couple who sees it gives us a full-price offer on a street where houses have been for sale for over a year.

By late September, I’m graduating with a Diploma and a Master of Arts from the Process Work Institute (PWI).

By mid-October, it’s my last day as the Head Administrator at PWI, where I have worked for eight years.

By the first week of November, David and I are pulling out of our driveway and beginning our journey to Santa Fe to live in the mountains of northern New Mexico. We don’t know a soul. We don’t have a solid place to land or any reliable income. We are just living out our dream of being like Ondrea and Stephen, alone and together, embarking on a journey of intimacy we have never before known.

* * *

Over these nearly ten years since moving to Santa Fe, David and I have gone through more ups and downs and twists and turns than I can possibly convey in words. It has not been easy; practicing the attitudes and skills of emotional intimacy is not for the faint of heart. But the payoff has been beyond what I thought was possible—beyond what I had previously known to be the limitations of connection with another human being. Our shared desire for emotional intimacy has become the cornerstone of our relationship.

So, what exactly is emotional intimacy? What helps a person feel close and connected to another? What hinders it? How does one create a relationship culture that welcomes honesty, deep sharing, and vulnerability? These are some of the many questions I’ve been exploring in order to distill what I've learned down to what I believe are the core attitudes and skills necessary to cultivate emotional intimacy in relationships.

I’ve already begun sharing about these learnings in recent blog posts:

And in previous posts, co-written with my partner, David Bedrick:

Over the next months, I’ll be sharing more with you about emotional intimacy and how you can create your own relationship culture that embodies self-awareness, individuality, playfulness, direct communication, vulnerability, and much more.

[1] Stephen and Ondrea Levine, Embracing the Beloved: Relationship As a Path of Awakening (New York: Anchor Books, 1996), 307.

Thanks to Alicia Keys’ song “The Thing About Love” (As I Am, 2007) which served as inspiration for the title of this blog post.

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