Reflections on Intimacy

Five other IBM’ers and I flew into Canberra from Brisbane yesterday evening, at the end of the conference. The last time I was in Canberra, it was two years ago, and they were working for LinuxCare, and I was working for VA Linux Systems. How things change, and yet how they stay the same…. it was so much fun spending time with them, as we traveled as a gaggle through the Brisbane and Sydney airports, geeking about Linux kernel internals, terrorizing Quantas Club attendants, etc. 🙂

I woke up today, and instead of trying to find a local church, I decided to spend my Sunday morning resting and reflecting, and reading more of “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama. It’s definitely a book which requires multiple readings, and the metaphor which repeatedly came to mind was that each section required careful chewing, since there was so much there that required careful digesting.

What is intimacy? There are lots of definitions, from those that focus on the purely physical aspects (“anything involving physical contact”), to the purely psychological ones (“the experience of connectivity”). The one which I most like defines intimacy as sharing one’s innermost self with another.

One of the observations in “The Art of Happiness” which I’ve been meditating over today and yesterday was Dr. Cutler’s observation that the concept of “That Special Someone” as the primary way of obtaining intimacy is really unique to the Western culture (and only in the past century at that). In other times and in other cultures, the definitions of privacy and intimacy, and when and how people share intimacy are quite different. For example, in Japan, the Japanese tend to rely more on a group of same-sex friends as their primary mains of gaining intimacy. And in Colonial America, the way that husbands and wives communicated with each other tended to be much more formal; not much different from how they communicated with acquaintances and strangers.

I found this really thought-provoking, since it caused me to think about other ways in which people find intimacy — including writing their thoughts in public Live Journal entries. It’s also caused me to understand my Poly friends much more, even if I’m not wired that way. (Although I now wonder how much of it is cultural programming.)

In the book, when the Dalai Lama is asked about why he isn’t lonely, despite being separated from his family, being raised as a monk from an early age, as a monk never marrying, etc., he explains that his model of intimacy is based on being willing to open himself up to many others: family, friends, even strangers, and by forming deep and genuine bonds with others based on his and their common humanity.

Anyway, it’s certainly something to think about. Even if I don’t have someone special to share with, there are plenty of ways which I can find intimacy, simply by being open to the humanity in others.

“If what we seek is happiness, and intimacy is an important ingredient of a happier life, then it clearly makes sense to conduct our lives on the basis of a model of intimacy that includes as many forms of connection with others as possible.”

…and thus ends my (somewhat unorthodox, but deeply satisfying) Sunday devotions. Now off to lunch, and then to meet with Paul Mackerras and his wife. We’re going to go visit the aquarium, and then if the weather holds, maybe have a barbecue at his house. Whee!