"The experience of the Aquatic Lomi Lomi, took me to a place no bodywork has taken me before. Michael creates the safe place to visit with one's soul. I felt divine being guided this way and that, embraced by the water. Real time stood still. After an hour and a half in the water, I came back to the world with fresh eyes, and an open heart."
I've been blessed to do very intimate work with a number of clients, and very frequently they report profound shifts, healing or transformation. This workshop deals with bringing intimacy and vulnerability into our relationships as the basis of connection. Researchers have found that our ability to have satisfying connections with others is based on our willingness to become vulnerable and that shame is that which stands between us and the connection we universally crave.
In the first chapters of most massage texts, we are told that massage is intimate. Indeed it is. We are then taught about boundaries and draping and ethics. If our school is meticulous and effective in teaching these lessons, we sometimes come away with the notion that intimacy is to be avoided at all costs. We become afraid of intimacy. We may confuse intimacy with sexuality. Yet massage is intimate. The best massage is deeply intimate, without boundary violations. This can seem like a contradiction, a paradox, but it is not. Intimacy and personal boundaries are subtle concepts and vary with individuals and situations. Intimacy is a direction along a continuum from separation and distance, to connection and oneness.
In relationship with intimate partners, that continuum may extend into sexuality, into Tantra and sacred sexuality. Note that I say may extend. This is far from a given. Many ‘intimate’ relationships are scarcely intimate at all. Often our love interests, significant others and spouses are as loosely connected to us as roommates with whom we have sex. Likewise, intimacy has a place in many of our relationships, interactions and even in our work and professions. If you are open to it, you may encounter intimate moments with complete strangers. Powerful connections can arise, touching people deeply, then recede.
One day I was walking my dog. We came down the driveway and at the corner, against the curb was an old van. One tire was shredded and an agitated young man was looking at it in obvious anguish. The side door to the van was open and there were three children, all under the age of six. One was an infant in a car seat. Instantly, I connected with him. I remembered being a young father, not having much money and being responsible for small children. I didn’t know if he had anyone he could call. He seemed to be wondering what to do next. This was before cell phones were ubiquitous. I had one, but he apparently did not. I invited him and the children in, while he called his family to see if anyone could come get them. He reached someone, but it would be some time before they could get there. His kids were getting restless and he was wondering what to do with them while he waited, uncomfortable imposing on me. I insisted we all walk down to Trolley Square, the shopping center a few blocks away. The walk would be nice by the park and when we got there, they could get something to eat. The kids were getting hungry. So we went, taking our time, as the goal was to keep everyone occupied. As we went, I called a tow truck driver I knew, the father of one of my daughter’s friends. It was a Sunday. I arranged to have him tow the van to a tire store about a mile away. It was closed of course, so he left the van there. Meanwhile, I bought lunch for them at the pizza shop and the kids were having a fun day out, an adventure. Dad had calmed down considerably. He was a little embarrassed, but obviously relieved when I told him I had paid for the tow and would stop at the tire store and pay for the tire the next morning. I checked to be sure his ride could get him there to pick up the van when it was done. He was effusively grateful and we exchanged a couple of e-mails. At the time the money was nothing for me, but I recalled being stranded with small children at a time when I couldn’t just pick up the phone and fix it. What I did for him, I really did for me. I made him understand that and in that understanding, we connected on a deep spirit level. It was a profoundly intimate afternoon, a redemption of sorts.
"An angel does not make love, an angel is love."
-Pygar, “Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy”, 1968
Intimacy is a quality. It isn’t an action or technique. It is a quality of being. It is not something we do. It is something we are. How can I propose to teach something that is a quality of being? I can’t of course. That’s the main reason this book took so long, years, to conceptualize. Thinking is an abstract reflection of what is… a pale and incomplete reflection. Yet the monkey mind is so active, and such a distraction, that to get access to our being, to pure experience, we must throw the monkey a banana, give him something to think about.
So this is a collection of thoughts and perspectives on intimacy, interspersed with activities to apply to experience intimacy and the characteristics that invite intimacy. Honor your own boundaries. Take what you need and leave the rest. But do remember the man who fell into a swimming pool. Unable to swim, he struggled and had to be rescued. On the deck, sputtering and coughing up water, he swore “I’ll never go near the water again, until I know how to swim.” Alas, we can’t learn to swim on dry land. Unable to swim, we will be uncomfortable in the water while we learn, but into the water we must go, if ever we would master it. Please be willing to sit with some discomfort as you venture into a new and powerful place from which to live.
In dictionaries, one common definition of intimacy is: “sexual intercourse.” Often people confuse the two, even wordsmiths. But few sexually active adults would argue that sex is necessarily intimate. It is possible to have sex without intimacy and intimacy without sex. In even the best relationships, there are degrees of intimacy in sex that vary from one time to the next. While deep intimacy enhances a sexual experience, people have very satisfying sexual experiences all the time that don’t have the quality of deep intimacy. So sex and intimacy are separate concepts. What then is intimacy?
noun (plural intimacies)
-close familiarity or friendship; closeness:
the intimacy between a husband and wife
-a private cozy atmosphere:
the room had a peaceful sense of intimacy about it
-an intimate act, especially sexual intercourse.
-an intimate remark:
here she was sitting swapping intimacies with a stranger
-[in singular] closeness of observation or knowledge of a subject:
he acquired an intimacy with Swahili literature
-Oxford English Dictionary
Reduced to words, a definition of intimacy is most unsatisfying and incomplete. Yet, one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed was a moment of profound intimacy. It was on Sunday, May 9th, 2010, Mother’s day. That morning, I walked into the ocean on South Beach near sunrise, as I did almost daily then. On this particular morning, the ocean was like a lake, nearly a perfect sheet of reflective glass. Only at the very edge was there the most gentle lapping of the water against the sand. Sitting cross-legged in the softly breaking ripples, was a young mother, naked except for a string thong. In her lap was a bare newborn. She played with him and he giggled and flailed his arms and legs. After some splashing and playing, she nursed him. Tears rolled down my face as I stood out in the water. I wanted to tell her how beautiful they were together, to wish her happy Mother’s Day. I kept my distance and said nothing. Moments of deep intimacy are sacred. They inspire great reverence.
One afternoon, in a workshop on aquatic massage, we were paired up in a pool, naked and giving each other sessions. After dancing with my partner, sweeping her around the pool as if she were an angel flying across the heavens, or a mermaid flitting among the coral, gently stretching and holding her, I concluded the session, collecting her in a fetal position and guiding her gently to the pool steps. I deposited her there, ever so slowly, her head on my shoulder, my arms around her. There I knelt, waiting for her to come back to herself. After a long while, I felt her stir, her head rising slowly from my shoulder. She opened her eyes and gazed into mine. Her whisper brought tears to my eyes. “I wish my father hold me the way you hold me.”
Water is a powerful medium. The weightlessness we experience quickly takes us via state dependent memory, to a place of deep connection. A place before we were separate. A place where we were completely loved and cared for. It takes us to the womb. It is not surprising then, that people often refer to this work as womblike, some even saying they remembered being in the womb. It is also not surprising that my work in the water has provided me with many examples of deep intimacy.
One session, again, naked in a warm salt-water pool, with a client that had just been through a traumatic betrayal, almost immediately released wracking sobs. The session became a series of long embraces, where I cradled her like an infant in my arms, her head on my shoulder as she cried, sometimes sobbing, sometimes screaming, sometimes almost asleep from the exhausting release of emotion. Whenever she stopped crying for a bit, I resumed the work, stretching her out, sweeping her around the pool, rocking her, kneading. Then she would abruptly shudder and I would collect her again, holding her tight while she wept. This went on for almost two hours. Afterward, we stood in the pool and talked. She told me how healing it had been and how amazing the experience was. She laughed. Much later, I asked her to describe it. A highly trained energy healer and experienced LMT, she said without hesitation “It was deep, profound intimacy, without boundary violations.”
In relationship, we can also invite vulnerability, connection and intimacy. We can be a container for the other to connect to the divine within them. Stroking a your partner’s hair, as you would a small child. Gently resting your hand on their sternum, while your other hand is under them, opposing it, securely holding their heart-space, reassuring them that it is safe. Firmly scratching their scalp, alternating the speed, enjoying the delightful sharing of their bliss. Cuddling and nestling together, their head on your shoulder. At such times, one may shudder and begin to weep. As a container, your job is to hold them securely, and free of judgment, to be strength, compassion and love, to betray not an ounce of discomfort, simply to be with them, holding the space.
"When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth."
-Billy - age 4
If you invite intimacy and connection, if you are not afraid of it, sometimes you will summon great power, power to heal, power beyond your training, capacity or imagination.
Though you call on the experience of your linage of teachers, and you ask to set aside your ego, though you will yourself to slip into an intuitive altered state, something greater still may arise. For such selfless dedication of a space and time to the healing of another is a prayer. Such prayers may be answered very decisively. So you’ve got to ask yourself, can you remain calm and steady when God slips into the room, gently takes your hand and whispers, “I got this one.”
This is one of the topics we explore in the Intimacy, Connection Healing Series, a workshop for all those in the healing professions. Massage Therapists, Acupuncturists, Yogis, Counselors, Social Workers, Nurses, Breath workers, Energy workers and anyone with an interest in connecting more powerfully to heal.
We explore the powerful connection that sources healing and arises naturally in all healing work. Florida CEs for LTMs, LCSW, LMFT, & LMHC. New York CEs for LMTs.
Join me for my first workshop in Costa Rica, at Living Forest Retreat Center November 11-17
Follow this link for more information, cost, lodging, meal and transportation options!