But then, why resist intimacy, why seem to flee it? A powerful countercurrent pulls against our drive toward connection, we also desire individuation, separateness, freedom. On one side of the balance is the need for home, for the deep solid roots of place and belonging; on the other is the desire for travel and motion, for the single separate spark of the self freely moving forward, out into time, into the great absorbing stream of the world.
A fierce internal debate, between staying moored and drifting away, between holding on and letting go. Perhaps wisdom lies in our ability to negotiate between those two poles. Necessary to us, both of them—but how to live in connection, without feeling suffocated, compromised, erased? We long to connect, we fear that if we do our freedom and individuality will disappear.”
~ Mark Doty, in “Still Life with Oysters and Lemon”
This passage struck me deeply. I suspect I’ve struggled with precisely the issue (so elegantly articulated above) for years, but these COVID times have really thrown it into high relief. Perhaps to a degree artists, or better — “creative individuals” of every sort in any field — especially feel this challenge in our society. After all, we’re often trying to defy or move beyond norms, invent new paths, or at least spark them, and yet we need a grounding base in order to have a foothold from which to leap.
Amid embracing this challenging aspect of life’s journey, how do we maintain our unique vitality while engaged in our community. More so, navigate a creative path with the limited hours in each day, as well as find all the necessary time for reflection and “filling the well” WHILE still being fully present and intimate with another, whether they are a companion, spouse, partner, or undefined friend?
Yet we (or certainly, I) long for and need both! Maybe one reason I enjoy being on this fluid road is because solid answers seem to slip through my grasp. Further, in this strangely necessary anti-social time, it becomes problematic to even live the questions, as Rilke famously suggested. So I treat myself to my “retreat/sanctuary,” the river, where I can set aside this and all issues, and, whether alone or with companions, am able to mostly just be in the moment.
Neither the waters, the trees along the banks, nor the keen-eyed birds, nor boulders, nor occasional leaping fish need me. I find that so long as I present no threat to them, and especially when I am “present”, they accept my presence. I’m appreciated for who I am, without judgment nor the burdens of expectation. I’m granted the freedom to be myself, and accepted no matter how I make that manifest. It’s an unspoken, immeasurable gift. I think it’s a great part of my attraction to what has become for me a joyful and affirming, meaningful ritual. Don’t we all hunger for a safe space, devoid of judgments and criticism, where we can just BE our selves, even if we are unsure what that may look like? Floating, I feel deeply connected—dare I say— “loved.”
If there’s a way to pay this gift forward, perhaps it’s to offer the same to others when I’m back on solid ground, immersed in the endless dramas of daily existence. To try and offer others the room to be themselves, crucially recognizing that by definition it is an ongoing process of discovery for us all. As a lived creative act, part of the honor of being a trusted witness obliges my own patience and silence. My respectful acceptance nurtures room for creativity and connections.
And so perhaps with a partner, like the herons who accept and watchfully respond to my presence but never direct it, by offering space and the freedom to discover and ever re-create one’s self, we can allow intimacy to grow and blossom.