Saturday, August 17, 2013

Going the Distance: Embodied Intimacy

This weekend Ma'ikwe and I are doing a workshop together entitled Embodied Intimacy for the Human Animal: Diving Beneath Language & Creating Embodied Relationships in Community (which is a mouthful and "embodies" twice). It's being led by Victor Warring & Elena Zubulake, who are from Colorado. He's a somatic psychotherapist and she's a bodyworker and dancer.

Ma'ikwe suggested doing this as a way to explore intimacy issues between us, that are part of the puzzle of whether she wants to renew a partnership with me. To restart our intimate relationship, she needs a clear picture of how we can address what's been hard (or not in the case of my inconsistent erections) about how we relate to each other and is hoping that this workshop will provide helpful insights—all of which sounds good to me.

Nearly 20 people turned out for last night's opening session, which was a gentle introduction to body awareness through movement with some light (non-sexual) touch. We spent some time in dyads and fours discussing what intimacy meant to us, both individually and in the community context.

I liked that it was protected time to step out of my routine, to set aside most intellectual considerations, and to simply be in my body. While many of the movement exercises were awkward for me (running, jumping, crawling on the floor) because I'm still recovering range of motion in my right knee after hyperextending it last September, I just stayed within what I could do and that seemed OK with everyone.

A large emphasis of the evening was developing a body language that was independent of words. While we do this all the time on some level (just notice how much richer face-to-face conversations are than email exchanges), Victor & Elena taught us to use touch (or at least body expression) to intentionally create "primate moments" where conversation (especially where there is emotional strain) was purposefully suspended to reconnect (reboot?) at the we're-all-of-the-same-species psychic level. It's a simple tool to redirect energy more productively. They also gave us an opportunity to express unconditional love and caring for a fellow human being with eye contact and gentle touch.

While we're only through the opening sequence of a workshop that will have four or five more parts, Ma'ikwe had an "aha!" moment last night when Victor described how the physical distance that feels appropriate between two people can vary widely—even (or especially) between intimate partners. He said there are times when 10 miles apart from Elena seems right, and other times that they want to be right on top of each other. From Victor's observation about physical distance, it was an easy step to broaden it to psychic distance—to the question of how much engagement with your partner feels comfortable and appropriate in the moment.

Ma'ikwe was excited about viewing the dance of intimacy through this lens, as it helped explain a confusion she's had about how much her answer varies and what that might mean (is there something wrong with her; is there something blocked about her ability to open up to her partner?). She came out of last night's session feeling better about herself (always a good sign), and we talked briefly about how we could work with that. I reported that I didn't need her answer (to how much engagement she wanted) to stay constant, yet I needed help from her to know what her answer was. On the one hand, she could just tell me. On the other, I need her to be OK with my asking what she wants. 

While this may seem obvious on the surface (it being OK that I ask her what she wants), in practice my posing that question has not gone well. She can be frustrated because she's unsure of her answer and I've put her on the spot. She has, at times, expressed irritation because her answer has not changed from the last time I checked and why aren't I paying better attention. She can feel trapped in that she "should" be available for engagement when her intimate partner requests it, and now I've outed her in her uncertainty or lack of desire in that moment

For this to work better in the future, it needs to be OK for Ma'ikwe to turn me down (by which I mean requesting distance from me in any particular moment). It also means Ma'ikwe has to state her truth (even her ambivalence), and I need to deal gracefully with "this isn't a good time." Fortunately, a lot of my personal work the past month has been around my tendency to spiral down when criticized or rejected, and I now feel much better able to handle her telling me "not now" without dropping into a funk. So this seems hopeful. I'm expressly asking Ma'ikwe to not protect me by softening her truth (because she can't bear to see me go into the whirlpool).

This was a good one to unpack, and an immediate reinforcement of Ma'ikwe instinct to do this workshop together. Already we've gotten a shiny new tool.

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