15 Jun 2007 12:51 pm

LIMITATION AND INTIMACY

Throughout our investigation into lived reality we have found limitation to be an essential component of all internal and external experience. Whether we are reflecting on our lives, or spontaneously perceiving the world around us, we find limitation as being the core of all possibility. This fact forces us to reconsider the role of limitation in self-fulfillment and intimacy. If intimacy is to be a realistic goal and not an empty ideal incapable of any practical application, it must successfully incorporate the realities of limitation into its very dynamics.

Unlike many human ideals such as Freedom and Immortality, Intimacy is not irreconcilable with the realities of limitation. Though an ideal, intimacy is firmly rooted in human experience and finds no need to transcend any aspect of normal life.

The goal of intimacy is not perfection but on-going fulfillment. Needs are identified and refined through reflections on current joys and past motivations. An intimate person finds meaning in his past and uses his personal history to gain insights into himself and project a future. Fulfillment, therefore, is a life project in which intimacy is unfolded through time. Limited mortal existence is not an obstacle, but rather the vehicle for fulfillment in the world view of intimacy.

In the previous few chapters we have seen the beneficial side of limitation played out in a few different theaters. In all forms of internal and external experience from thought and speech, to sense experience, perception and imagination, limitation was found to be unavoidable and essential. The limits and imprecisions of language (constituting the words and thoughts creating our self-image) were identified as being fundamental in our ability to perceive a journey or a purpose in life. Self-knowledge without thought and speech borders on the unimaginable, as does the ability to create and interact in a world without thought.

No matter where we turn we find ourselves bounded by a world of perceptions, sensations and cognitions. Those very confines, ironically enough, fill our lives with endless possibilities and options.

At birth, we are thrown into an endless sea of sensation and within a short time we organize this mélange into a world. We find limits and boundaries to our bodies, feelings and thoughts. Through these boundaries we create our sense of self as well as the foreign.

Soon after acquiring the ability to associate words to things and feelings our lives are pervaded by an endless flow of thoughts and perceptions. At almost any moment in time we are capable of interrupting this flow to guide, assess, judge and evaluate the world around us. Though at times we become aware of the fact that words are insufficient to express or summarize our experiences, we are generally content with their ability to present and process our experiences.

Man’s dreams and desires often blind him to the benefits and necessities of limitation, and instead have him focus on the problems and obstacles they provide. Limitation is often a source of remorse, pain and frustration in the life of an individual, and society in general.

Negative Limitation

Starvation, disease, death and war have plagued man long before the beginning of recorded history. Ancient myths and modern religions are full of man’s hopes and dreams to overcome the negative aspects of limitation. Many of the ideals we reviewed were born of the painful realities of mortal existence, demonstrating a desire for this life to be overcome, transformed or transcended. Man’s desire for intimacy was often fatally wounded by the painful realities of human existence resulting in limitation itself becoming equated with pain.

The belief that life is a struggle, full of pain and suffering is illustrated in the ancient rituals and religious practices of people all over the globe. The rites of passage ceremonies commemorating an individual’s acceptance into society, emergence into adulthood, marriage, death, and spiritual awakening were often laden with physical and mental anguish.

In most transitional rites, an initiate was warned or reminded of the tenuousness of life and the reality of human suffering. Physical mutilation of genitalia, or spiritual journeys fraught with pain and fear were common means of testing an initiates personal fortitude and worth to the tribe.

The Christian sacraments including baptism, confirmation, and matrimony, bear witness to the harsh symbols of the ancient rites of passage. A child’s entrance into the world out of the mother’s sea of blood and into the dangerous waters (chaos) of profane life is prominent in the actions and words of all the varied forms of baptism practiced around the world.

In almost every society there are creation stories and legends designed to explain the emergence of limitation in the forms of death and pain in human life. The accounts of the fall of man are a part of the spiritual heritage of almost every human being. In these stories, pain and mortality were often introduced as a divine punishment in response to some wrong doing or act of pride by a primal ancestor such as Adam or Gilgamesh.

The history of man is indeed filled with pain and suffering, in which his very survival has been contested at every turn. The desire to be free from the yoke of life is quite understandable when one takes even a detached view of human history. The history of man is filled with unending war, famine, plague and disease making it inevitable for men to want to conquer, escape, or transcend mundane life.

Mythology, religion, science, law and crime are all ways in which man attempted to gain some control over his existence. Through spiritual and legal forms of justice men tried to rationalize and overcome the perceived chaos of mundane social existence. It is only logical that these noble attempts to control life would view all limitation as an adversary, as a component of life to be mastered or transcended.

According to most ancient myths and religious legends, man has paid a heavy price for his individuality. Man commonly is thought to be originally bound to his creator, living a life of harmony and beauty in some form of heaven on earth (the garden of Eden). Only through some terrible action did he fall from grace and begin his pained existence. All that is bad and painful in life, therefore, came into existence at the moment man asserted his individuality. The fall, the moment man separated from the divine and became an individual, is the very instant his life was opened to pain, suffering, death and chaos.

In modern psychology the legacy of the pains of human individuality continues to have a central role. The moment at which a child separates from his mother is a traumatic and potentially devastating one for the child. His individuality is gained at the expense of all his feelings of security and harmony. A child’s sense of individuality is accompanied by the realization that he is vulnerable, alone and lost. An infant not yet realizing he is a separate being may experience pain in response to a global need (hunger), but it is not his pain or his fear.

The trauma of individuation is a time of danger in which the frail emerging ego can either be crushed or nurtured. The potential joys of autonomy are only acquired to the degree that the mother (parent) responds to her child’s anxieties and fears in a constructive way. Much of modern psychology, especially psychoanalysis, is dedicated to helping individuals appreciate the beauty of human existence while overcoming underlying fears and vulnerabilities a person may be storing from their earliest years.

It is easy to see how a child overwhelmed by his own vulnerability may choose to hide in a world of fantasy, or yearn to return to the safety of the womb. When life is cold and threatening it is not unusual for a person to seek refuge in an idyllic world. Personal traumatic events especially in one’s earliest years can rob a person of their ability to attach to others, severely injuring their natural drive towards intimacy.

Psychologists have amply documented the long lasting harm early traumatic experiences can have on the life of an individual. Traumatic events which amplify the vulnerability of a child such as divorce, physical and sexual abuse, the premature death of a parent, childhood disease, and the witnessing of a violent acts are often so emotionally debilitating as to cause a child to fear and mistrust everyone including themselves.

Pain and suffering, along with fear, can induce a person to view reality and all limitation as an adversary. A traumatized person untrusting of the world around them will often seek refuge in a perfect world through fantasy, religion or spiritual ideals. It is only natural for such a person to view limitation as an obstacle to be overcome.

Only a secure and confident person is able to see and value the positive aspects of limitation. A traumatized life full of pain and suffering would desire to overcome all limits and view mundane human experience in a very negative light. This fact, explains why human ideals often seek perfection denouncing human experience as an illusion leading to pain and suffering.

What is true for the individual is also true for society. A society mired in plagues, famine and war will adopt a negative view towards limitation and human experience. An historical preponderance of social and personal traumatic events has blinded mankind from recognizing the positive role limitation plays in happiness and fulfillment.

The traumatic events of the individual coupled with the harsh historical realities of pain and suffering in most societies doubly reinforces the view of life as pain, and limitation as predator. The fall of man which occurs at the very moment mankind separates itself from the divine parallels the infant’s pain when separating from its mother. In both situations life’s traumas coerce an individual to denounce human experience.

There is no denying pain and suffering enter life at the moment man realizes his individuality. That moment is the birth of all experiences be they painful or pleasurable and, therefore, is more than just the root of all evil in life. The fall of man, the moment when one realizes their individuality, also opens one’s life up to joy, fulfillment and meaning.

The unique position intimacy has in the realm of human ideals is in its acceptance and appreciation of limitation. Where most ideals aspire to overcome mundane life, intimacy tries to steep itself in the limits of experience. Limitation, rather than being restrictive and a burden, becomes the very vehicle for fulfillment. The traumatized view of limitation being a prison is replaced by the image of it being a home to live in.

Though aware of the dark side of limitation, intimacy also is secure enough to appreciate the essential role it plays in all human experience. Rather than blindly fleeing life or the body, an intimate person seeks ways to unfold the potential of human experience.

Earlier in the book we mentioned how the desire for intimacy requires some leisure time and a certain distance from the daily fight for survival. We now can add security to the environmental conditions which promote adopting intimacy as a primary goal in one’s life. The growing social discourse regarding intimacy is in direct response not only to the number of people in our society who have time to dream, but also to the climate of personal improvement created by modern psychology.

We as a culture are very interested in overcoming our inhibitions and therapeutically resolving the traumas and dark experiences which alienate us from ourselves and the world around us. Pain and limitation are becoming things we can resolve and master in a practical way without taking flight into lofty spiritual ideals denouncing mundane experience. Whether a person seeks professional intervention, or uses personal introspection as the means of attaining personal growth, we are now more confident in our ability to improve the quality of our lives.

The contemporary view focuses on personal growth as the means of attaining fulfillment and satisfaction with one’s life. This intimate view, becoming more and more popular as we head into the next century, is allowing us to see limitation in a more balanced fashion. At every turn, science, while reminding us of the fragility and tenuousness of human life and our planet, is discovering the beauty of limitation in nature and ourselves.

In nature and the human body, limitation is no longer just a necessary evil, but helps define the very magic and awe we find in life. From the production of perception and memory, to that of a single cell, our brains, senses, and bodies are marvelous miracles. Likewise, the entire realm of limited existence from the subatomic, to organic nature, to the expanding universe are breathtaking glimpses into the incredible variety and intricacy of limitation.

The positive role of limitation in intimacy does not blind one to the negative realities limitation engenders. No matter how removed a person is from the daily fight for survival which has dominated the planet for centuries, their life is not exempt from the type of pain, suffering and vulnerability which has haunted man through the ages. Even a person of great wealth can contract a life threatening disease, or be subject to the emotional traumas which render life unbearable.

I myself have never been financially secure, having to rely on daily resources in order to make ends meet. Yet, I have never had to worry about my next meal, and have always found time to create and to dream. My desire for intimacy has survived and grown with me throughout the years, even though necessity and pain have been my constant companions.

My wife and I are happy and optimistic even though our lives have been anything but idyllic. I have lost close friends at a very early age to disease and fatal accidents, and my wife’s sister died of breast cancer before she turned forty. Our lives have not been free of necessity or pain, but our basic view of life remains positive with our drives towards intimacy intact.

One does not have to ignore the painful realities of life, or have a charmed existence in order to live an intimate life. All intimacy requires is that one embraces life with open arms, cultivating interests which provide fulfillment and meaning. Being open to life includes its pains as well as its joys.

Focusing on the negative side of limitation has one turn away from both personal experience and practical solutions to real problems. If life is painful and evil, then the only solution is to escape or transcend life. If limitation only has a negative role, then no one’s life is safe and when in the real world one’s only recourse is to be greedy and protective. It is this negative view which prolongs prejudice, fear, and practical problems such as world starvation.

Though we have more than enough food for the entire planet, we continue to horde and protectively manage the distribution of food in an inefficient manner. When accompanied by fear, a practical problem such as food distribution becomes a political nightmare in which the negative view of limitation has us see scarcity where none exists.

Only when one is open to seeing the positive aspects of limitation, does a realistic view of the negative aspects of limitation become possible. In a negative world view, all is pain and suffering, and limitation is just a lack. A balanced view of limitation allows us to work with limits as a necessary facet of all human experience.

An intimate person removes unnecessary limits while honoring the limits which make experience possible. A traumatized viewpoint equates limitation with pain, suffering and the need to escape or transform life. An intimate view of limitation evaluates each individual limit in terms of its specific application in practical life.

When life is viewed as a never ending process, limitation can play many roles. A limit can be a goal, an obstacle, a vehicle or a condition. It can unfold, bar, challenge, house, make possible or inhibit. Yet, most importantly, limitation is part of a fulfilled as well as an empty life. In an intimate life, the desire to overcome limitation must, therefore, be balanced with a desire to work with and explore our limits.

Separation, Individuality and Union

In the course of our examination into intimacy we have come across many instances in which the downside of limitation is exaggerated and rigidly focused upon. Limitation, justly accused of being a necessary companion to pain and suffering is attacked and rebelled against. A desire for and glorification of a static neutral state is the natural result of this one sided negative view of limitation.

The pain and trauma of life has induced many to seek a form of numb tranquility, a perpetual state of balance and calm. We often refer to this as the desire to return to the womb, to reach a state of inner tranquility. These same fears and desires fueled the maxim that ignorance is bliss.

In our discussions regarding human ideals we repeatedly found man’s aversion to pain as a catalyst to overcome or transcend mundane life. The harsh realities of human limitation induced many to equate fulfillment with a state of non-existence, in which all individual experience was annihilated.

The goal of states such as enlightenment, nirvana, or cosmic consciousness is to remove one from the wheel of pain and suffering which is the weight of human experience. Immersed in a state of tranquil meditation an initiate is said to be in union with pure being or divine will. Once ground in the calm waters of eternal bliss a holy man is beyond the pain of individuality and able to re-enter human existence from an unlimited perspective.

As we previously acknowledged, there is much to be said for the experience and perspective of enlightenment. If one is able to get beyond the negativity inherent in its basic philosophy (not making a neutral numbness your only goal), there is much to gain from the experience of enlightenment. Learning how to be detached

and take less ownership for our actions frees us to gain a larger perspective to our experiences. Instead of annihilating and deadening experience, this detachment can stop us from looking at our experiences from a petty and shallow perspective.

If enlightenment is just a neutral state opposed to and beyond human experience, it cannot nourish and enrich our lives. Enlightenment is only beneficial when it does not annihilate all experience, but only removes the egocentric and petty aspects of our lives which blind and contaminate our experience of intimacy.

We found the same desire for a neutral static state in our just concluded discussions regarding the fall of man, the birth trauma, and in the anxiety accompanying the revelation of an infant that they are an individual. In the many legends of the fall of man, we notice a glorification of the state of ignorance, in which a harmonious bliss is destroyed when man becomes aware of his individuality. Man’s fall comes when he separates and distinguishes himself from the divine, just as an individual’s pain and suffering start at the moment he becomes aware that he and mom are separate people.

Though there is truth to these beliefs, they are highly exaggerated. There is little doubt the birth process is a traumatic event. Yet, the belief that the womb is a state of perfect contentment appears quite unfounded in the light of recent scientific data documenting fetal life. Changes in fetal vital signs seem to demonstrate that even fetal life is in constant flux. Data shows and logic dictates that since a fetus is a functioning part of mom’s body, it will be effected by every experience of its mother.

Hardly anyone doubts a mother’s diet, stress level and general emotional state can either help or hinder the development of the fetus. The time in the womb, though still conceived as being a relatively safe and secure one, is far from being unimportant and uneventful.

A fetus, as well as a very small infant, can indeed experience discomfort and pain. Yet, it could be argued that until an infant develops the awareness enabling it to distinguish itself from its mother, it is incapable of experiencing true pain. Pain and discomfort for a fetus or young infant are not individual experiences, but rather global sensations devoid of any localized or specific awareness.

There is much truth in this argument, for a fetus and infant being unaware of their separate existence can not take ownership of their pain. They can not be afraid, suffer, or be aware of their vulnerability, because “they” do not as yet exist. One is incapable of feeling such things until they recognize they are an individual. Emotions and feelings are quite a different beast than sensations, and the sensation of discomfort is not half as terrifying as the feeling of pain.

The life of a fetus or an infant is often envied because it lacks the very awareness necessary for feelings such as fear and vulnerability to arise. An infant or fetus is still able to be harmed, suffer and die, but they are spared the awareness of these things. If Adam were truly a human being he was destined to die and suffer long before he transgressed and became aware of the fact he was mortal. His awareness, like the infant’s growing realization of his individual existence, only opens himself up to acknowledging and taking ownership of life’s pain.

Yet, a life devoid of pain, is a muted one, incapable of joy as well as suffering. A confident, secure and generally happy baby will take advantage of his emerging individuality to explore and investigate the world around him. His drive for intimacy, and the thrill of exploration will seduce him to crawl and toddle away from the security of his mother.

Only after the exploration is over, or when he wants to share his discovery with his mother, will the child become aware that he is off by himself. At that moment the child may become paralyzed or overcome by fear and anxiety and begin crying for his mother. Yet, soon the child’s explorations will lengthen in both time and distance and he will learn that frequent visual and physical check-ins with mom sufficiently reduce his mounting anxiety and feelings of vulnerability.

The smile on a toddler’s face as he returns to his mother from a successful and lengthy exploration amply demonstrate the joy’s of human experience. His homecoming to mom is made all the more joyous by the fact that he has been away. His thrill and intense emotional pleasure at being re-united with mom would not be possible if he had never left. A happy infant will always explore and investigate the world around him, deriving pleasure from both his journeys away from mom, as well as his ecstatic returns to her safe and protective arms.

The image of the toddler gleefully returning to mom wonderfully illustrates the proper roles separation and union play in fulfillment and intimacy. Our unions with people, ourselves, nature, etc. are amplified and only fully appreciated when we distance ourselves from them only to return again. An intimate person constantly moves about to attain new experiences and perspectives to enhance the unions and relationships which make up their lives.

A desire to denounce limitations and overcome all experience leads us towards a static state. This state is not only unattainable but only restricts our experiences and often induces the very pain it desires to overcome. This fact is demonstrated when we look at the type of infant that does not openly explore the world around them.

When for some reason a child is unable to feel secure and safe he will take no joy in investigating his environment. Anxiously lingering next to mom, he will be deprived of the thrill of discovery as well as the exhilaration and excitement of returning home. His unrelenting need for security will be a constant source of anxiety and even the slightest change in his environment will be threatening.

It is a sad psychological fact that abused children, lacking the feelings of security needed for them to venture out into the world by themselves often cling to the very people abusing them. An abused child or one who for some reason does not feel safe will be emotionally stunted and afraid. The longer a child remains tentative and insecure the stronger a basic mistrust of the world can become for them.

Traumatic events, or long patterns of insecurity, can strip a person of their ability to ever trust others or find joy in the world around them. This is why psychologists talk of the irreparable harms early childhood can engender, and how a basic trust and security is essential for a person to bond to others around them.

A confident toddler quickly learns the joys of discovery. A confident and secure adult, too, is enthralled with the very process of life, and finds its limits both challenging and rife with possibility. Just as an insecure child clings to its mother while fearing life, so, too does an insecure adult denounce human experience at the very same time as he clings to and takes ownership of everything he feels. Without enthusiasm and intimacy one inevitably lacks the perspective needed to avoid taking too much ownership for one’s thoughts and feelings. Therefore, it is the very people who hide from pain and flee limitation who are most imprisoned in suffering.

An insecure person flees the world with dreams of perfection and a return to the womb. Their negativity blinds them to the joys of life, and the positive roles of limitation. This is why even though tranquil states such as enlightenment are beneficial, the negativity and insecurity at the root of such quests often make these experiences isolated moments inapplicable to everyday life.

The benefits of a safe static state though often exaggerated or misconceived, are very real. Even the most adventurous child finds contentment in the repose of his mother’s arms. No matter how independent we may become all of our adventures lack substance unless we have a home in which to return. The excitement of the moment is somewhat empty without duration and repetition. A toddler’s frequent returns to mom demonstrate how we need consistency and solace as much as adventure. A life going from one discovery to the next lacks the continuity and direction which only quiet and reflection can provide.

Natural science states that all of life seeks an equilibrium, a static state devoid of stimulus. This is demonstrated in how hot balances cold, and how areas of high pressure escape to low ones. Everywhere we look in nature we find order, and the tendency for things to seek a static state of equilibrium.

Freud, too, talked of how our bodies struggle to organize the vast amount of stimulus they receive and seek to reach a state of stability, of general inactivity. All of our mental life looks to placate desires and solve problems to restore a static state. Without this tendency man would soon be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stimulus and practical demands placed upon him. Without the anchor of repose, man would be lost at sea.

Though it is important to fully appreciate the beneficial role of equilibrium and the static state in our lives, it is just as important to avoid underestimating the role movement and adventure play in our lives.

Every happy person delights in those calm and still moments of peace, when we contentedly bask in a sense of completion. These are the times of solace in which we aimlessly drift about counting our blessings while absorbing the day in quiet relaxation. Time ceases to exist for us as we lie there floating in idle repose.

Yet, at some time our awareness will be drawn to a deep sigh, or our thirst will induce us to get some juice. Our attention during our sigh might be temporarily drawn to a familiar smell which beckons us to reminisce over some past nostalgia. When drinking the juice our awareness of its flavor might be heightened by our relaxed receptiveness. At this moment our attention is drawn outward towards the world and our history.

When we smell a fragrance we are back in the world of complex stimuli. Our deep sigh pulls in air through our nose and over a series of nerves and receptors whose very function makes smell possible. The juice too glides over our taste buds and mixes with the oxygen and chemicals in our mouth to produce the flavor which adds to our pleasure and contentment.

Even if these stimuli only temporarily draw us back into the world and away from listless solitude, our joy and contentment will soon again pull our attention back into the world. Just as a happy toddler is destined to leave his mother, so are we destined to leave our solitude. The security mom provides spawns the desire and the confidence needed for a child to go out and expand his world. Likewise, it is the joy we feel in aimless contentment which propels us back into life.

Our lives thrive on the diversity which only the limitations of mundane experience can provide. Moments of quiet solitude, though highly rewarding, will not totally satiate our thirst for fulfillment. A goal accomplished only induces one to accomplish more.

Watch a toddler and you will see that walking is a very complex and difficult task. With each step his body is thrown completely out of balance only to be caught once again. Each step leads towards the next and moments of balance and stillness are but brief interludes between steps. All of our physical movement from walking and writing, to blinking, breathing and talking leave very little space for rest.

Our moments of stillness and peace may anchor and orient us in the world, but they are truly fleeting. The order and dependability of life comes from our ability to break up experience into meaningful pieces and purposeful actions. Without those fleeting moments of balance and calm, there would only be random movement and eternal chaos.

Each calm neutral state of balance, no matter how fleeting, poises and positions us for future success, for increased familiarity and intimacy. Silence organizes and prepares, but does not replace movement. Movement is experience, and the desire to forever be in balance is contrary to every aspect of life. Balance and equilibrium are extremely important in helping us process our life, they are the reflection and intention which allows us to find fulfillment and meaning out of chaos.

Life thrives on diversity and variety. Though we need order, predictability and consistency in our lives to survive and find meaning, we are just as dependent upon new experiences and chaos to make life interesting.

In nature when something is too predictable it is killed off by its predators. If the human body forever stayed the same, our entire species would soon be wiped out by the microscopic prey which our changing bodies defend against. In order for our species to survive our bodies need to adapt to the demands of life and the process of natural selection while remaining orderly and predictable enough to function as a cohesive unit. Our heartbeat and blood composition must be regular and consistent enough to insure it works, while changing sufficiently to evolve and adapt to the environmental challenges of competing organisms.

Subjectively, life that was too predictable would cause us to become bored. Life without variety and a healthy supply of chaos would soon become unbearable for any creature who is aware and desires to grow.

A predictable static existence of pure balance or total union would be an unlivable nightmare. Such a desire to be free from all limitation is born from fear and pain and is an internal call for help. Limitation is not our enemy, neither is chaos, individuality or separateness, they are only facets of life in need of understanding and reflective evaluation.

The venturesome toddler becomes intimate and knowledgeable of his environment at the expense of temporarily separating himself physically and mentally (awareness) from his mother. His return to mother’s arms not only increases his appreciation of his union with mom, but also provides him with additional ways to understand her.

His ventures allow him to find other things which are soft, nurturing, and warm, which help him identify those qualities which he loves and his mother possesses. Every venture and additional discovery provides him with contrasts and comparisons to his union with mom. The feel of the cold floor may have him long for mom’s warm embrace, and the cat’s soft fur may remind him of his mother’s hair or the softness of her lap.

We never outgrow the ability to intensify our feeling of familiarity through momentary experience. With each passing day an intimate person fortifies and expands his unions with new experiences. Each day brings new perspectives and appreciations of old loves and interests while filling new unions with the fullness of our past. An historical awareness of myself allows me to build off of my past. New friendships, unions and interests grow and develop quickly benefiting from the years of experience which pervade every observation and assessment I make.

Pain, Sickness and Loss

When we are sick or in pain the quality of our life is severely hampered. If we have suffered a great loss, options available to us may no longer exist. What then is intimacy’s relationship to these specific forms of limitation and distress?

The quality of our life is definitely hampered when we are sick or in physical pain. When we have a fever or the flu our concentration is quickly impaired making it difficult to think through even the simplest problem. Walking about in a mental fog, it is difficult for us not to become irritable, crabby and listless.

The pain of a head or toothache can be just as debilitating rendering us incapacitated or highly impaired. Sometimes when in pain or sick our body’s natural ability to exist in the world shuts down leaving us paralyzed by the need to make almost every movement and thought a fully conscious enterprise. Dazed and confused we are left with the choice of either succumbing to our discomfort and sleeping and resting, or pump ourselves with medications and try to ignore our impaired predicament.

Resisting sickness is often a bad move, only making it harder for our body to fight off the virus or infection causing the illness. Rest, it is generally believed, is an essential component to any form of recuperation. Pain, too, is our body’s way of telling us something is grossly out of balance and needs to be restored. Ignoring pain and not resting often leads to additional complications and injuries as our body overcompensates for the injured organs impaired and in pain.

Accepting the limitations of pain and sickness seems to be the most efficient way of curtailing the length and intensity of our discomfort. Yet, accepting pain and sickness does not necessarily mean we have to lie around all day moaning and groaning. Accepting sickness does not always require that we focus all our attention on feeling ill.

Though ignoring that we are in pain or sick is counterproductive, ignoring the actual pain while we rest is often necessary. Whenever our pain is overwhelming, or is defeating our spirits it is only natural for us to place our awareness elsewhere. Maybe we remember pleasant times, make future plans, or find some form of vegetative entertainment which places our attention away from the excruciating pain. At times of overwhelming pain and illness our bodies will likewise be attempting to help us endure the pain and ignore the pain by pumping natural anesthetics into our system, numbing our bodies and fogging our awareness.

Many mind\body techniques including meditation, yoga, positive imagery and forms of physical therapy allow a person to temporarily escape pain by diverting their attention away from the site of pain. Such techniques are beneficial for they give us a way to avoid discomfort without disturbing a non-resistive relaxed pose.

At those times in which sickness and pain are not overwhelming, we can actually use our awareness of our body to end our discomfort. Pain and illness as we have already noted contain many messages to our bodies. A healthy and painless body is easy to take for granted, yet an ill body calls out to our awareness. The limitations of pain and sickness often induce us to become more knowledgeable of our bodies.

A sick body presents a problem to be resolved, and the resolution of our discomfort is often dependent on gaining an increased knowledge of how our body works and functions. Medical science is all about us becoming more intimate and aware of the human body. Through science and experimentation we begin to localize pain and disease, we learn its dynamics and processes, and begin to understand how to cure or restore the body to a state of comfort.

Sickness and pain make us more aware of how our body functions and its limits. An intimate person uses sickness and pain as a way to gain increased understanding and practical control over their body. If one discerns what actions or activities led up to their discomfort, then they may be able to prevent or avoid such experiences in the future.

The more acute one’s awareness of their body becomes, the more able they are to terminate many of the pain’s and sickness they encounter. A person who understands the exact dynamics their posture plays in their back pain will be very capable of alleviating and preventing further occurrences of it. A person who has learned to localize the exact muscles whose tension results in a nasty headache, will be able to massage the pain in a relatively quick manner.

The limitations of pain and sickness, therefore, do indeed have a positive role in intimacy. Even though physical pain and sickness often temporarily restrict the quality of our lives, they can also be used to educate us. Sickness has us gain a greater appreciation of how good we normally feel, while allowing us an opportunity to become more intimate with our bodies and how they function.

Throughout this book we have talked about the importance personal history and sharing with others play in fulfillment and the development of intimacy. Life is an on-going process which gains meaning through its history and accomplishments. On a few occasions we have pointed out how individual experiences pale in comparison to the enduring one’s which give our life meaning and consistency. Nothing seems more pernicious to intimacy than to lose a friend or life partner through death, or all our personal belonging in a fire. On the surface, loss, and the mental anguish accompanying it, would seem to be very devastating to intimacy.

What happens to my life when the person I’ve shared all my thoughts with dies? How can I turn the loss of my past via theft or destruction of the possessions, pictures or personal writings documenting my life, or the loss of a life partner into a positive event?

The answer is of course, you can’t. The loss of something dear to you can never be a positive event in your life. A tragic event can teach, warn or guide you, but it can never in itself be a positive experience. A loss may solidify your resolve to live life as fully as possible, or alert you to the dangers of over-dependence, but the actual loss of a valued object or person will never be a pleasant or rewarding experience.

Just what restrictions and gaps in our lives does the loss of a treasured possession such as a photo, poem, diary, song or picture entail? What long-term restrictions and effects on intimacy does the loss of a valued possession provide?

Losing an object of great sentiment and personal meaning does not alter my past in any real way. The thoughts, feelings, and experiences these objects document have not been lost. The overall effects of these experiences on how I live my life stay intact. What is lost is the unique crystallization of the moment the object represents.

The odds of me ever perfectly duplicating a poem or photo I have lost are near impossible. The exact words I used to encapsulate my life in the lyrics of a song, or in a diary are indeed lost forever. If the object lost is an heirloom or gift from a deceased relative, it can never be replaced, or substituted.

Even though the loss of a meaningful object does not destroy your ability to remember the past, it may deprive you of very specific memories. The general thoughts a person has regarding their courtships, or the growth of their child, are never as intricate as the memories of old photos, diaries and love letters. Photos and diaries capture the uniqueness of the moment, and once lost, can never be fully recaptured. The fullness and intensity of the original experience is lost with our objects of sentiment, and the fading continues the longer we are without our treasured documentation.

The other possible limitation accompanying the loss of a treasured object is in its practical usage. If my favorite chair or guitar is stolen or lost in a fire, I will never be able to enjoy it again. A new guitar or chair may not have the same feel as the dear friend they are replacing. Though this may seem rather silly to some, many creative people will appreciate the importance a familiar object plays in their art. The tone and tenor of a specific guitar may be an indispensable tool in the sound a person has been perfecting in their music. Without that specific guitar a person may find it impossible to recreate the musical environment which has housed their artistic expression for years.

The death of a close friend or loved one is a very painful loss for most people. Yet, the loss of contact with a person still alive is often just as painful. Whether the loss of contact is due to a divorce, change in location, a bitter conflict, or being dumped for a new lover, the sense of loss can be as painful as any death.

Accepting the loss of a friend is often even greater if they are still alive. The past joys or perceived potential of a relationship may make it extremely difficult for a jilted lover to move on with their life. Instead, they may fill their life with fantasies and strategies to win the person back.

In the case of an estranged lover, or the death of loved one, a person has not lost their past. They still have all the memories, and their lives are still shaped by the experiences they shared together. What is lost, especially through death, is the ability to continue to build on the relationship in the present, and the specific remembrances the other person had of times together.

When a loved one dies, we will no longer be able to rebuild a significant portion of our past through another’s eyes. All those shared experiences are reduced to personal memories unable to be fully understood and appreciated by another. Personal history is not lost, just shared history.

The loss is even greater when the person missing in our lives is someone who was currently living with us, or a daily part of our lives. The depth of such a loss is due to the impact they had on our daily existence. The loss of someone you lived with is not just a concept, it is practical reality whose lack you will be forced to recognize almost every day.

The death of a life partner fills our life with moments of new silences, in which we hear phantom noises, when we expect to hear familiar ones. Gone is the noise of the electric razor in the morning, or the clinking of their plate during dinner. No longer do we hear their car pull into the drive way like clockwork, or feel their hand on our shoulder when we are reading.

No matter how much we care for or value another person, their death is easier to handle if they are not a part of our day-to-day life. The loss of an old friend, no matter how much time we used to spend together, is not the same as losing a person who is an integral part of our daily life, or we see on a regular basis. In one case the loss is conceptual, in the other the lack is a practical experience.

An intimate person accepts loss like any other natural part of human existence. This open acceptance of life on its own terms reduces the very pain of loss. An insecure and dependent person may find the death of a loved one devastating and never fully recover. Their preoccupation with unrealistic visions of perfection may never allow them to accept the “randomness or injustice” of their loss. Yet, a secure intimate person is too in love with life to let their attention ever become permanently absorbed with any one person or object.

The loss of a loved one does not end our life, or our ability to be intimate. A death of a life partner, though significantly altering our daily existence, does not prevent us from using our past to build on to the future. Our past has not become useless by their death anymore than our childhood has become useless by our growing up.

An intimate person is confident enough to experience loss and pain, without fearing that he himself will become lost, or his life will lose all meaning. A fulfilled person finds intimacy through being intimate, and as long as his ability to be intimate survives he need not fear loss or pain.

All forms of loss challenge our spirit to not hold on to the past or view the world with bitterness or resignation. Our life is not demeaned or destroyed by a loss, only redirected. Past and present treasures may in fact be removed from future use, causing us to adapt new skills and resources. In most cases loss is only a temporary setback leaving our general ability to be intimate with ourselves, nature and others fully intact.

Yet, what about a loss which isn’t temporary, but a handicap which pervades our lives? How does intimacy deal with physical and mental handicaps which directly impair or restrict the general quality of life?

Physical and Mental Handicaps

Each year due to accidents, sickness and injury thousands of people find their lives irrevocably altered. Some due to paralysis or loss of limb find themselves restricted to a wheel chair, or struggling in pain to adapt to artificial limbs. Others through disease or neurological malfunction find themselves totally dependent on a machine or respirator, clinging onto life in a state of enforced stillness. Still others have their muscles or minds atrophy to the point where they have little control of their bodies which have, almost overnight, become strangers to them.

Any form of chronic and severe limitations in mind or body is indeed difficult to adapt to, especially if one was previously very active. A person born with a severe handicap, having no alternative internal experience with which to compare their current state with, is much better able to deal with their restrictions. Though potentially envious of those having no visible limitations, a person born with a severe and rather stable handicap is truly unable to put themselves in the others shoes.

Even though a caveman may have envied a bird’s ability to fly, their inability to access the feeling of flight made their envy very vague and conceptual. Likewise, a person born blind will have no reference of experience to fully justify or validate their envy of vision.

In certain extreme cases the pain and total impairment of the quality of one’s life may become physically and emotionally unbearable. A person may feel a prisoner in their own body, finding their inability to experience anything but pain overwhelming. In such cases where a person is being forced to live a life beyond their threshold of pain, or whose ability to be aware of their environment and engage in any recognizable form of human experience is missing, then death is a logical and even a humane form of escape.

When a human life is reduced to a biological function, or when pain is the only experience available, the possibility of intimacy or fulfillment is scarce. A life with no dignity, with no joy, is not a human life by any definition except the organic.

As in the case of any form of loss or pain often the restrictions of a physical or mental handicap are grossly over estimated. Often times people exaggerate the limitations and

restrictions inherent in their situation. In general, the loss of a limb or a disabling disease does not signal the end of intimacy any more than does that of the death of a loved one. A handicap may restrict movement and make certain pleasurable and rewarding experiences no longer viable, but it seldom precludes one from intimacy in general.

Life in a wheel chair, or dependent on a machine is no one’s ideal. The very thought of living a life in such a restricted state fills my heart with fear. Yet, no life is without restrictions and we all have to make the best of what we have at our disposal. A person’s ability to know themselves or to explore intense realms of human intimacy are not destroyed through most handicaps. Though each handicap bars a person from specific talents and inquiries, it is not true to say that the quality of their life or their ability to find personal fulfillment is destroyed.

A person’s limitations make up the very structure of their experience, and define the quality of their life. Human experience is filed with limitation, and even though we all would like to avoid certain limitations, the fact is we can’t. The ability to adjust to and work within our limitations is as much a part of personal fulfillment as the desire to cultivate intimacy.

A realistic view of any limitation, including a physical or mental handicap, lies somewhere between acceptance and ambition. It is a mistake to take our handicaps and limitations as a given, for that is resignation not acceptance. Likewise, it is a mistake to make our life’s mission to forcefully overcome all of our handicaps, for that is only a denial of who we are, precluding us from feelings of self-satisfaction.

An athlete with a total disregard for the limitations of his body will go from one injury to another, never allowing his body to recuperate or develop. Conversely, a person who ceases to exercise at the first signs of fatigue or physical challenge will never cultivate the skills and endurance needed to make physical activity rewarding. Growth on any level of human existence requires we push back the boundaries of limitation while respecting its essential presence in our life.

Being realistic or sensitive to a handicap does not entail resignation. We work with any handicap the way we work with any other limitation, we expand our abilities at the rate producing the greatest growth and personal reward. If my handicap directly limits my ability to remember things spatially, I work on expanding this ability while developing alternative ways to remember things.

If we have an excessive weakness in one area we compensate for that loss (lack) in another. If I lose leg strength, I can compensate by accenting arm strength. If my eyesight is limited, I can place more emphasis on other senses. Through compensation and hard work expanding the boundaries of limitation, one can usually keep their life intimate and rewarding regardless of the severity of their handicap.

One of my strongest childhood memories is of a moderately to severely retarded boy. His name was Charly and he lived at a local sanitarium on the grounds of the park I played at almost everyday. Charly would stop by when we were playing baseball to watch and umpire. His physical handicaps included slurred speech, poor coordination, and a slight palsy of his legs. His mental limitations made it difficult for any of us to communicate with him, and we soon got accustomed to hearing him call out fictitious balls and strikes, home runs, etc, much in the same way someone with turrets spouts out words and phrases indiscriminately.

We let Charly be a part of our games in any way he could. He carried and handed us our bats an gloves, helped find lost balls, and we routinely let him hit a few times. Charly’s poor motor skills made it difficult for him to make contact with the baseball. Some days it take him thirty or forty swings before he would even get close. Yet, when Charly made solid contact he could hit the ball much farther than any of us.

Charly’s long hits did not surprise anyone who had experienced his grip on their arm or shoulder. I have been around a lot of strong people including professional power-lifters, but I have met no one with a grip which could compare to Charly’s. The instant Charly held your shoulder you realized he could end your life in a matter of seconds. His lack of mental and physical agility was more than adequately compensated for in his incredible strength and power.

The longer Charly played with us the better he got. Instead of going minutes without hitting the ball, Charly got to the point where he would hit at least one out of every seven pitched. He even learned how to wear a glove, and his throws became surprisingly accurate over time. His celebrations over hitting the ball or throwing the ball in the general direction he wanted it to go, were both amusing and infectious.

Even though he couldn’t verbally share many things with us, Charly definitely thought of us as his friends. He often struggled to learn our names, and was very protective of us. Any form of acceptance, even a smile, was often enough to get Charly to shout in excitement.

Charly is a perfect example of how someone can work with their limitations. His joy and enthusiasm over every personal improvement and success had us all appreciate ourselves a little more. Though at times he was visibly frustrated with his limitations, he was generally a happy person who apparently enjoyed his life.

We all have our limitations even if they aren’t as severe or noticeable as Charly. Yet, if we accept them enough to patiently work at them, we too will derive great joy from our progress.

Sometimes it is difficult to focus on ourselves and not look enviously at the abilities of others. At times all of us are bound to get angry and frustrated when we see someone possessing a skill or ability we would like to possess. Yet, comparing oneself to others is not always a bad thing. Admiring the good qualities and skills in others helps us define our goals, and can motivate us to accomplish many worthy things.

If done realistically, comparing oneself with others is a valuable skill, opening our eyes to all our options and potential. There is much to learn from others, and our learning is stunted when we close ourselves off from their influence. Our options and opportunities are increased when we are exposed to the lifestyles, attitudes, and interests of others. Yet, this exposure is useless when instead of motivating us, it causes us to give up on or devalue ourselves.

A confident person does not begrudge another their special talents and gifts. They look at the strengths of others with admiration, not jealousy, and use their excellence to motivate them. An intimate person thrives on their success, so the majority of their goals and dreams are realistic ones, affording them the feeling of fulfillment which powers their satisfaction. When faced with a personal limitation or weakness an intimate person accepts the challenge while continuing to build on the strengths and qualities that they naturally possess.

Improvement is easy to see and feel when a handicap is stable and unchanging. When a handicap is stable a person can track their success by comparing today’s performance with yesterdays. Charly could easily recognize the fact that his ability to make contact with the baseball was generally improving over time. Yet, internal recognition of improvement and success are difficult to ascertain if ones handicap grows over time.

Progressive limitations, in which a handicap intensifies while one’s abilities continue to deteriorate is probably the most difficult limitation to handle. In the case of a disease attacking the central nervous system one can expect muscles to atrophy and become rigid, and mental faculties to fade becoming less reliable.

It is hard to feel intimate with a life which seems to be fading away from your grasp. As mental and physical capabilities wane it is inevitable that a person’s sense of accomplishment deteriorates along with their condition. No matter how much pride a person takes in their efforts, it is only natural for them to get frustrated with their decaying abilities.

A person whose handicap is progressively worsening needs to find the areas of intimacy in their lives which are still thriving, or at least surviving. If they only focus on what they are losing their task will indeed seem hopeless. Yet, if they find something to cultivate in their lives, some small area of growth and quality, it will give them the strength to continue their battle to maintain their dwindling abilities.

There is no optimistic way to view deteriorating conditions which globally erode one’s ability to experience intimacy. Sustaining and improving the quality of life is what intimacy, or any human ideal is all about. Yet, as long as an individual can find any realm of intimacy in their life intact, one’s will to live can survive. When facing any enduring limitation adverse to our experience of intimacy, our only choice is to seek other areas of our lives to cultivate in an intimate manner.

We all have our individual limitations and handicaps , as well as our unique strengths and skills. Limitation, being a necessary component of all human experience is not something for us to always combat. In most cases limitations are things to work with, not against.

Even in the case where a specific limitation is restrictive, we do not have to battle or overcome it. Instead, our approach should be to use our limitations to unfold our experience of intimacy. The understanding and knowledge we gain by pushing back the boundaries of limitation is central to any experience of union we attain. Limitation is, therefore, not our enemy, but the very process by which intimacy enters our life.

Limitations rarely hamper the quality of our life, or our ability to experience intimacy. Even severe physical and mental handicaps seldom prevent a person from the feelings of success, fulfillment and union. Only in the extreme cases when restrictive handicaps are globally reducing one to a purely painful or vegetative state, does one’s ability to experience intimacy, and the quality of life get called into question.

The life story of Helen Keller bears testament to the ability of an individual to overcome severe handicaps to live a productive and fulfilling life. No matter what one’s handicap is, (be it neurological, physical, perceptual or mental) one can still lead a fulfilling life as long as they retain the ability to process their experiences. An intimate existence is available to anyone able to take joy in getting closer to things they desire and appreciate. The value of a human life is not so much in one’s inherent potential and abilities, but in how they use their abilities to increase the quality of their life.

When we stated earlier that the superior man cultivates things of importance while the inferior man cultivates trivial things, we were not implying that only the life of a genius has merit. The superior man cultivates things which are important to him and his life, which unfold his needs and desires. An intimate person maximizes his potential and does not overly concern himself with the potential of others.

There is no one perfect way to live an intimate life, for we all have our unique talents, drives and expectations. An intimate life can be a calm one filled with simple joys and pleasures, or it can be a complex existence motivated by unending challenges and universal principles. The important thing is that a person maximizes the potential of their life, wherever that potential leads them. In all but the most extreme cases, our limitations define rather than restrict our existence.

The desire for an individual and the community of man in general to overcome the restrictive qualities of limitation is in deed a very noble goal. Intimate people will always yearn to remove any restriction which distances them from the world, or blinds their understanding. Intimate people will always look for solutions to problems and ways to overcome obstacles to additional familiarity and knowledge. Yet, the fact that we strive to eradicate all mental and physical handicaps should not cause us to

devalue the potential of any individual, or underestimate the quality of another’s experiences.

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