This is not one of my usual blogs, but I have been thinking about the topic of intimacy for a long time.
I believe that true intimacy involves mindfulness and being present and still in someone else’s company. Being totally present when another person is expressing their emotions. Ceasing all judgement. Not making comments while the person is speaking. Not even asking questions.
You may not understand something but that doesn’t matter because it is an emotion that the person is expressing. You are listening non-judgementally and you are keeping a safe space for them.
This sounds a little similar to mindfulness, doesn’t it?
Do you do this?
Female friends are often regarded as being great at doing this, and they mostly are. However, my recent experiences with some female friendships taught me that we can make mistakes. And for whatever reason, we struggle to sit with another person’s emotional vulnerability, in particular their pain.
Recently, a dear friend of mine died after suffering from a long illness. I wasn’t able to see her before her death and only found out her health had been deteriorating when she was admitted to palliative care. By this time, we were in stage four lockdown in Victoria, Australia and visitors were limited to family.
My friend had been in hospital, but I didn’t know and so I missed my last chance of seeing her. I sent her a goodbye message via text as I was told that was all she could handle and she didn’t want numerous people calling her. This is very understandable, but at the time of her passing I was sad that I missed a final goodbye.
One day, I was chatting to another female friend about this and explaining my sadness. In the middle of the conversation, she interrupted me with questions like, ‘How long was she sick for?’ and ‘What cancer did she have?’ And the final prying question, ‘How old was she?’
This questioning impeded upon the depth of the information I was expressing and reduced the conversation to one about the benign facts. The benign questions also said to me that what I was sharing wasn’t worth listening to, or that what I was sharing wasn’t important because what she wanted to know was more important.
I’m not very good at remembering details and I had forgotten when my friend had been diagnosed or for how long she had been sick. I do remember the shock she had experienced when was first diagnosed, the anger towards her doctor who had failed to recognise her symptoms, her fight and her emotional growth as she moved from trying to understand why this was happening to acceptance. At one point I even forgot what her diagnosis was.
Did I ask my friend what her diagnosis was each time we met up? Of course not. I sat with her throughout her journey and allowed her to express herself emotionally. We meditated together. We laughed together. Her diagnosis wasn’t important anymore.
I am not writing this article to have a go at anyone. We all struggle with intimacy at different times in our lives. We all have personal issues and our emotional availability is limited at times. I have no doubt I make mistakes too.
These days so much has happened and you probably have little energy for anybody beyond your own close-knit circle. It’s ok to say you are not available or not able to be fully present for someone else’s woes.
If you are tempted to ask a lot of questions and find sitting in someone’s pain uncomfortable, that’s ok. It might mean you have too much of your own emotional pain and cannot take on anyone else’s. Maybe you need to do some personal work on yourself and let people know how you feel. That’s better than doing any further harm.
I am writing this blog to encourage you to think about how you behave when someone is expressing themselves on an emotional level.
The interaction with my friend left me feeling angry and lonely. It did more harm than good and I would have been better off not talking to anyone.
Some of the questions you can think about as you review your interactions in vulnerable situations are:
- Am I truly present?
- Am I sitting with the person’s pain as they express themselves or am I thinking about what I want to say?
- Am I comfortable with another person’s pain?
- What emotions are arising as I am listening to my friend?
- Do I ask too many questions?
I’d encourage you to think about the questions you ask during an emotionally vulnerable interaction. Are they important and relevant to your friend’s disclosure right now?
In my interaction described above, consider whether the questions asked were relevant. I don’t think they were at all. They were particulars that bordered on nosey.
I may not be perfect, no one is, but I’m sure as the morning arrives each day that I do not ask questions seeking out benign facts as I do not view such information as important. This is not being mindful of the person’s emotional state.
A few years ago, a dear friend’s younger sister died suddenly. I remember the pain she and her family experienced at losing someone so young and so suddenly. I still hear about this pain and sadness from time to time. I also hear nice stories about the life they shared and the plans they made.
Do I know how her little sister died? Nope. To this day I have no idea. In the early days, my friend couldn’t talk about her sister’s death without crying uncontrollably. So I let her cry and didn’t attempt to ask for further details about the gruesome story. To this day, I still don’t ask. For me, it doesn’t matter as my friend’s sister is gone and there isn’t anything that can be done about it.
Of course, if the day comes that my friend wishes to talk about it, I am here. I will listen mindfully and without interrupting. It’s my friend’s story to tell when she wants to.
I could continue writing on this topic, as it is a lot more complex than my little blog. I did write this in response to my anger at the interaction with my friend. But I also wanted to share how I feel and believe an intimate and vulnerable interaction should take place. Mainly because I want people to feel better after a painful event, not worse. Also because I believe true intimacy is a part of living mindfully.