I’m standing opposite a stranger and we’re gazing into one another’s eyes. We don’t say a word. We’ve been invited to ‘see’ each other, to meet the person beyond any thoughts of age, gender, beauty. At first it’s hard – gazing like this makes one feel incredibly vulnerable. It’s also extremely intimate – and that is the whole point.
I’m at a workshop at the first Togetherness festival held in London’s Docklands. Its aim is to bring people together, exploring the beauty of both human relationships and the world around us.
‘The holy grail is intimacy,’ says the festival’s founder, Adam Wilder. ‘It’s the one real taboo in our society, the thing we fear, because it’s about taking off the mask so many of us hide behind.’
We tend to think of intimacy only with regard to sex or close romantic relationships but that misses out on a whole world of connection. When we are able to jump past the whole polite ‘What do you do? Where do you live?’ stuff, it can be a huge heart-opener.
Looking someone in the eye is a great start. It’s something I found incredibly hard when I was younger – in fact, I’ve spent most of my life avoiding direct eye contact. But a raft of retreats have helped me grow accustomed to it, to learn its power, and even to love it. When I went on a Zen meditation intensive (Zenways) we spent the whole weekend gazing into people’s eyes and listening, just listening. At the end of the weekend, I had fallen in love with every single person there. Everyone is beautiful if you take the time to be with them, really be with them, dropping the stories, the ego stories.
Back at Togetherness, I can see warmth and openness in my stranger, kindness and humour. I also detect maybe a little sadness. When the exercise ends, we smile broadly and hug. I know none of the mundane details about him yet I feel a real connection.
I slip into another workshop, led by Roma Norriss. ‘In order for intimacy to happen we first need to be intimate enough with our own feelings, so that we can express what is real,’ says Norriss. Again we’re paired up. This time we’re instructed to take it in turns to talk as honestly and openly as we can while the other really listens. Usually we tend to butt in, to give our opinions. All too often we’re so busy formulating our reply that we don’t even hear what the other person is saying. As I listen to my partner’s story, his sadness, his hurt, I feel myself welling up. It’s quiet, it’s deep, it’s beautiful.
I left Togetherness determined to bring this quiet soft attention, this intimacy, to as many of my daily interactions as possible. Something as simple as gently holding eye contact with the people you meet during the day makes a huge difference. Don’t hold it too long or you’ll freak them out! Smile with your heart as well as your mouth. Listen, really listen. Just try it.
This first appeared in Natural Health magazine.
Image courtesy of Togetherness Festival