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The Alchemy of Intimacy

Alchemy; the blending of metals to create gold or a healing elixir.

Intimacy; a feeling of openness and closeness toward someone else.

Our hearts have a compass for seeking connection through the intimacy of close, personal relationships. Whether these intimacies are physical, romantic, emotional, spiritual, or in some combination, they all possess the potential to become golden and healing.

Life is full of hardships that cause us all manner of suffering and harm. Surviving and healing from them may be served by the safety and love found in intimate relationships. These relationships are like a cauldron into which we can combine special elements to create something greater than the sum of its parts. And so it is that we need to learn this alchemy of intimacy.

When two or more people create a cauldron of openness and closeness it generates both excitement and vulnerability. And though we seek intimacy as a remedy for the vulnerabilities of life, the vulnerability in the cauldron is necessary for the alchemy of intimacy to produce safety, comfort, and healing.

Into these relationship cauldrons must be added essential elements of love. These include trust, empathy, understanding, acceptance, forgiveness (mercy), and most especially - compassion. The more these elements are brewed into our relationships, the more potent the intimacy becomes, yielding greater powers for meeting our needs. Developing intimacy often feels natural, but it is a far greater challenge to sustain it because conflict will inevitably activate defensive impulses that can easily spoil the brew.

Sustaining intimacy isn’t simply a matter of continuing to add greater quantities of love to our cauldrons. We must also protect those elements from the spoilers of judgment and betrayal. Protecting our cauldrons of intimacy requires us to control our instincts to judge, fight, and flee (nobody ever said that making gold was simple or easy).

Our instincts to judge, fight, and flee can serve as helpful responses for contending with life’s varied threats. While judging and fighting those things we regard as “bad” may protect us from certain threats, they can also do more harm than good to our relationships, potentially destroying them. For these reasons we must learn to refrain from being judgemental and/or aggressive in the context of our intimacies, especially when we feel vulnerable in conflict situations. Trust requires the maturity of self restraint, and we must acquire skills for managing conflict in non-hurtful ways if we are to preserve our intimacies.

In order for the elements of love to produce the finest gold possible, the dynamic of reciprocity is also needed. Openness, vulnerability, loving sentiments, and trustworthiness need to swirl in both directions. Intimate bonds can be forged between a giver and a receiver, but even greater bonds are forged when we take turns giving and receiving.

So we now have it that alchemizing intimacy entails the risks of vulnerability, the capabilities of love, the discipline of self control, and reciprocity. But what are the results of this formula? What, exactly, is the nature of the gold and the elixir we’re creating?

The gold of intimacy is the creation of new unions. Bonding is connecting, and the strongest bonds are those that transform a person from simply being a me into a we. Isolated in the world we are unsafe, while togetherness enlarges and empowers us. Our we can be a friendship, romance, marriage, family, partnership, team, community, country, or whole planet. The greater our bonds, the larger and more powerful our growing we becomes. This is a gold that is strong, beautiful, and invaluable.

The healing elixir of intimacy is different and is something that occurs in the chemistry of vulnerability. Consider that the most exquisite faces of vulnerability are seen upon the thresholds of birth and death. Gazing into the eyes of a newborn infant or of a loved one preparing to let go of life awakens the most loving sentiments human beings are capable of feeling. Why? Because we empathize with these and other forms of vulnerability, realizing that the fragilities of life are universal. This realization awakens our heart’s natural instinct to comfort. The heart responds with compassion, conveying loving energy through the umbilical bonds that connect us. It may be through words, touch, nourishment, song, or a loving gaze. These are the elixirs of love that provide comfort and healing.

The gold and elixir of intimacy surely cannot be purchased. They are not manufactured by the substances found on the periodic table of elements, but from the intangible elements of the heart. They require our shared wisdom and willpower to combine, sustain, and exchange. For those who learn the alchemy of intimacy, the treasures they’ll share will be priceless.

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