Thoughts on intimacy from one who appreciates it a great deal.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Can We Ever Know Another?

Though we think of modern humans having the same capabilities as our prehistoric ancestors, with little
Dance Couple, by TIm Holmes
biological change, psychically we are evolving at a speedy clip! We might be tempted to say that something that doesn't depend on biology or technology– like intimacy– would be somewhat immune to changes over time. But I don't think that's true. I think we are daily cutting a brand new edge in the evolutionary story!

Take marriage, an institution with roots in the dark ages and before that simply gets passed on from one generation to the next without ever being really scrutinized. When I think about the intimacy my parents were able to achieve when they got together in the 50's it must have felt as deep and worthy as that we can feel today. But the fact is that in their world, although they could both value each other fully as human beings, because the marriage was still partly an economic arrangement, they didn't live in a culture that supported the kind of relating that we are capable of. So no matter how close they became personally, there is a way that their cultural context limited their intimacy.

In our generation, with the social changes brought by civil rights and feminism, the social world is more open (cognoscente of universal equality) and thus supports personal intimacy in a deeper way. (For instance now that women are more equal socially she is not economically dependent on him). This allows for a deeper intimacy. In fact, this is a depth of intimacy never before available in human history!!

Just as a landscape becomes the context for the body life, which is in turn limited by it, the social context calls forth the individual life. As human rights around the world becomes more universally respected and more minorities are allowed to inhabit their dignity in social space, the gift of a capacity for greater, deeper personal intimacy becomes available to all of us!   

Monday, August 26, 2013

In LOVE, Where's the Distinction Between Art and Life?

How can one distinguish between the love an actor portrays onstage for the character he confronts
and the love he has for the actress behind that character? Or between the dancer and the dance? When the artist paints a beautiful woman how do we know his love is not inappropriate? In my heart I cannot find the boundary. That is why my personal boundaries sometimes appear so wiggly to others. It is not that I do not want real life relationships or that I can't make a solid commitment (I do and can) but that if those divisions come into question there is no way I or anyone else can separate one from the other- except perhaps in their own head. 

I am not suggesting that a real relationship is an art project. If it had ever been questioned how could I have separated my deep love for Fitz (my former manager) from anything that might threaten my spouse? It depends entirely on what my spouse is threatened by. If I share on such a deep level with one other than my wife, who is to say what kind of love that is? The distinction lies solely in the heart of the one who is observing (self or other). Obviously if love is ever put on trial it can always be disproved while it can never ever be defended definitively. So when it IS taken to court there is only ever one outcome!

Check out a book I've put together about the search for intimacy called Quest for the Numinous One.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Marriage at the Speed of LOVE

"Whose Desire Turns", mixed media by Tim Holmes
On this Valentine's Day I found myself thinking about relationships, which makes me think of good jokes and here's a great one:  A couple of strangers, a man and woman, are assigned to births in a single sleeping compartment. They talk for a few minutes but are both tired so they turn in, she on the top bunk and he on the bottom. A few minutes later she says "I hate to trouble you but I'm a bit chilly, could you please reach me an extra blanket? "Oh I have a better idea", he says. "Why don't we just pretend we're married?" "Oh that sounds interesting", she says, "just what do you have in mind?" He replies, "I'll tell you what: get your own damn blanket!"
I come from a long line of married couples. As far back as records go, there are no divorces until I come along and ruined the whole picture! Not because I didn't dedicate myself to it; I thought my marriage would last forever, but I was only together with my wife for 20 years. What happened that I destroyed the family record?

Well, three things. First– as my Ex will freely attest– I'm an idiot. But what about my sister and cousins who also got divorced? Are we all so inept? Well, another reason may be that ours is the first generation for whom marriage is not primarily an economic partnership. It is a grand luxury to be able to choose to marry as a matter of preference rather than survival. You would think that this change would produce some attitude of curiosity about the structure of one of the most central of our institutions carried forward from pre-history, but save for a few adjustments of vows– like when Christianity was invented– marriage itself has seen little re-evaluation. I suggest now's the time and that is because of the third reason: the increasing pace of change.

A 50-year marriage for the next generation will be very different from that of my grandparents. My grandad grew up without electricity on a Pennsylvania farm that in fact was not much different than any farm of, say, 100 or even 1000 years earlier! When he went off to college he was introduced to three new experiences: he drove a car, used a telephone and– get this– heard live music for the first time! His lifetime encompassed a lot of world changes, but nothing like the pace of changes my niece will experience. Tara was born into a house without cell phones, but now– 9 years later– everyone in her family has one and wouldn't give them up. The speed of change has and will continue to increase exponentially. Will marriage adjust?

I suggest marriage is something like a wild animal– we want to live with it because of its mystery and power, but like a wild animal it is dynamic and unpredictable. The old marriage model is something like keeping a tiger by surrounding it by the iron bars of solid vows to keep it safely enclosed. Unfortunately the measure of success becomes whether or not the tiger ever got away, not whether it is actually still alive in there! For times of rapid change it appears we need a new model for marriage. 

I suggest one based on a different metaphor; that of a falconer. This is a person who also keeps a wild animal. Perhaps to the horror of the tiger trainer, however, every day the falconer lets her beast go free! But her wild critter keeps coming back home. This is because what the falconer is focused on: anticipating and satisfying any need that arises for her charge. I intend to point out this crucial difference to Tara when she grows up and thinks about marriage (if my generation hasn't totally ruined the idea for her). You can't say “Get your own damn blanket!” to a falcon because it may never return. The falconer focuses not on keeping the animal at all costs, but on cultivating and facilitating healthy growth, in whatever direction that leads. Every day the wild falcon returns by choice precisely because it knows that whatever excitement it encounters, there is no place in the wide world that it will be better loved and cared for than right here, at home!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Can a Business Owner be a Christian?

I don't see how without giving up their faith. Say you own a food store. The first person steals or doesn't pay their bill in full and you already have a contest between your career and your faith. Of course what we do in this culture is you take that guy to the cleaners because of the social contract, which says that stealing or not paying your bill is illegal. So, leaning on the law, you can force collection or send the guy to jail without any hesitation, though clearly you did not feed the hungry.

In fact, this scenario comes perilously close to what the Mafia does if a deal goes awry: take the guy's kneecaps off! Nowhere in our One Nation Under God, in whose currency we claim to trust, is there a Christian asterisk for the penal code: *except for cases of hardship, sickness or nakedness.

So if Christianity is not intended for the business world, for what alternative is it intended, some Sunday School world where people already are screened for purity? In the end is our beloved faith really anything more than a lovely idea, a slogan on a Hallmark card?

Fling yourself at life and disregard the consequences.
Let not the right hand know what the left hands is doing.
Feed my sheep.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

When the Christian has it wrong

This is an essay directed to my Christian community, which I write out of love. I have no one in particular in mind, but all of us devoted, faithful followers of Jesus, dedicated to the church and especially to Christianity the Lifestyle, are eager to improve our ability to follow Christ, or so I believe. It is this belief in a genuine desire for self-improvement that prompts me to write this. I have recently had the opportunity– so far unique in my life of 55 years– to witness one way in which my friends within the Christian community have behaved in a remarkably similar and quite un-Christian way. It would not be so glaring to me if it were not for the fact that many of my non-Christian friends don't have this hangup. I have pondered what this could be about and I have some thoughts to share.

What particularly makes me write is a comment made by a non-Christian friend, so often heard from outside of it, that the church is full of hypocrites; (and that this is the reason this person will never join the church). Well yes, that's not news, but to discover that it goes beyond just a failure to practice what we preach but that we are actually worse at accepting some sinners, that troubles me. Am I like this, too? Does my faith in some way make me a worse person??

We must agree that we all make mistakes and probably there are very very few of us who are willing to take our confessions out of the confessional and into the square. I rather think that there are parts of our nature that are wild and will never be tamed, no matter how tightly we try to control them. Lust, in all its forms, leaves not one of us untouched. (Nor should it!, an issue I'll leave for later).  I am firmly of the belief that some part of human nature can never be civilized. (And sex is probably the most untameable of any human capacity. I rather think that it is impossible for a non-asexual person to actually lead a fully sensuous life without ever coloring outside the lines).

In other words we all have our dark deeds and we all hide them. This doesn't make us despicable, it makes us human. What does Jesus say about that?  When you fall short, confess, repent and embrace new life. Oh, and don't judge. Good advice for a bunch of sinners.

I am an artist and I am used to being exposed in public, but because of recent circumstances I've in fact had to reveal all my secrets- openly if not publicly.  Although there are of course things that others don't know about my life there is nothing I am hiding.  I feel I have no secrets!  How many can say that?  This is what allows me to speak so boldly.

In my case I had an affair. I wouldn't have characterized it that way until it was defined for me as “a deep emotional attachment outside of marriage.” Now that I can buy that definition I have to admit to having an affair. I am very sorry for the pain it has caused to my wife and all my friends and family. I am totally sincere about that. But then there is more.  I also found a person who has been able to support me more fully than I've ever experienced in my adult life– I mean me, the guy for whom art is life, not a mere commodity.  This may be painful to others, but it is not more than I deserve.  My wife knew of my peculiar attachment and we dedicated ourselves to fixing whatever was wrong (several things that I won't get into). Unfortunately that didn't happen and the marriage came apart. I take the blame. But that also is not the end of the story.

This is where I find my Christian friends wanting. I can now see that the crowd surrounding the woman caught in adultery were all pious church-goers. I don't know but I imagine that anyone who did not lead a pretty clean life wouldn't dare show up at a stoning. Now that I have been the focus of that crowd and recognize my Christian friends' faces around me, I ask: where are the others? Why don't my non-Christian friends condemn me with equal vehemence?

There is a good reason why we “good Christians” have this holier-than-thou attitude; because for the most part we really do live comparatively clean, upstanding lives. But what that does not mean is that we are sinless, despite an attitude that other people's foibles remove them from our more pristine community. No; what removes them from us is our attitude of superiority! I like my brother's concept that the appropriate attitude to another's sin is one of curiosity rather than condemnation. I can certainly see why my Christian friends are judgmental, especially in the case of what seems on the surface like a clear and simple violation. It's a perfectly human response, it's just not Christian. My experience has been that my non-Christian friends sometimes better excersize this part of Jesus's message.

The friend I mentioned above has told me on several occasions that he has no use for Christians. I always defend my fellows of the faith in such cases, but now I can clearly see what he was talking about. Prejudice is prejudice whether it is directed at a black, an Indian or or a garden-variety sinner. Those of us liberal Christians who pride ourselves on our degrees, our broad concern for others and our evolved spirituality had better take a clear look at what kind of attitude that gives us before we stand for judgement ourselves.

[I'm sorry if this seems like an attack.  That is not my intent.  I simply hope to pass on my genuine experience, as I would want another to do for me.]  Feel free to comment, or write me privately at

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Why Sex?

It’s what sells everything marketable, spices up films and TV, floods the internet, and reportedly crosses a young man’s mind every three seconds. Downright disgusting. We have a love/hate relationship with sex: we are sick of it appearing everywhere and yet we can never seem to get enough. What is it with sex that everybody knows what it is and yet it is indefinable, transitory and it entirely escapes any attempt to civilize it? Why can’t we just grow up and move on?

I agree with Thomas Moore, who says in his wise and delightful book "The Soul of Sex", that it is precisely because we cannot truly absorb its nourishment that we become so obsessed with sex. Sex is a wildness loose inside our humanity that will forever remain outside of our attempts to control or even understand it.

As a sculptor who has worked with the subject of the nude for 30 years I have to wrestle with the volatile dynamics of a subject that no longer refers primarily to the fertile human as it did the prehistoric peoples, the beautiful human as it did to the ancient Greeks, or the glorious human as it did the Renaissance Italians. I can’t seem to make an image of a nude without its referring first of all to the human whose sexuality is uncovered. I remain perpetually astonished at both how much power the sexual aspect of the image of the human body wields and at how blind we sometimes seem to be about it. It strikes me as highly curious that with so much focus in American culture on sex and its effects on our lives there is yet so little dialogue about its symbolic meaning.

For instance, the issue of sex in advertising is a constant controversy in the media, which, not to be left out of the action, is well aware of how to attract readers and viewers. That conversation regularly rehearses the moral, esthetic, psychological and constitutional issues, but we rarely hear about the symbolic implications of sex.

In fact we’ve only recently begun to hear a flurry of voices questioning some of the basic assumptions of cultural mind that sets the stage for how we all think, even if we consciously disagree with that mind. The collective belief holds that sex as simultaneously necessary, good, even holy, but naughty and inappropriate; a fuzzy combination of the roots of our Puritan-spiked religious heritage with the goofy effects of the sexual revolution. Our cultural wisdom tells us we are merely animals, right fine ones mind you, but still biological organisms who will never be separated from certain barnyard behaviors. Boys will be boys and let’s just try to concentrate and move on...

Yet we can’t seem to make any sense of human sexual programming using biological math. We find ourselves puzzling over the human being’s notorious dissatisfaction with the sexual schedule happily embraced by the rest of our furry family. If the beasts can raise a perfectly respectable household by making whoopee once a year, it stands to reason that even that might be extravagant for the naked apes, for whom a mere few dates during the under grad years would keep the species clipping along at a fine rate of return. But every three seconds? And what the heck, then, is the female orgasm for? No, biology is little help in addressing our fixation with sex.

Our Christian forefathers were a testy lot who only just barely managed to not utterly ruin the faith they espoused, like a wad of boys charged with safely delivering the Christmas pudding. Among many other things that made them lethally (murderously?) nervous was the practice of alchemy, the early stirrings of science, which threatened the Catholic church’s monopoly on the truth. One reason for their wrath may be the illustrations that accompanied some of the secret alchemical texts, showing the kind of material that could secure for a filmmaker today a coveted “R” rating: pages and pages of drawings of a king and queen cavorting naked (often in a fountain!) and finally coming together in, well, bliss. Yet the alchemists weren’t a ring of underground purveyors of pornographic woodcuts, they were serious scholars and scientists from whose studies sprung modern disciplines we could not do without today, like medicine, chemistry and secret Masonic rituals. Why were important scholars so interested in a bunch of drawings that are not only nasty but really not all that well done? I think answer can tell us a lot about our own view of sex.

Can you imagine a technical treatise today using drawings of couples engaged in foreplay wearing nothing but their tiaras to illustrate scientific principles? Hey, don’t laugh-- if we could get our minds beyond the immediate embarrassment of contemplating images of what we today can only see as porn, we could begin to see their symbolic appropriateness. In the alchemical texts, sex between the partners represents the powerful transformation that occurs with joining of opposites, referred to variously as male and female, sun and moon, metal and sulfur, etc., but depicted as a couple getting it on. Symbols for the union of celestial or chemical bodies carry no transcendent meaning for us, but the union of opposites in the man and woman-- now there is a metaphor we can really sink our teeth into!

The pioneer psychologist Carl Jung was the one who really shed light on the richness of this metaphor when he dredged these moldy woodcuts out of medieval alchemy texts to use as illustrations of the psychic processes that describe the nature of transformation, not only as it appears in the physical world, but in the way that is more immediately crucial to each of us- within our own psyches. The mysterious internal process of “integration” that Jung identified as being the psychic homework of every human being is best symbolized by the energetic and ineffable activity of- sex!

Suddenly it makes perfect sense that while our close cousins the animals are quite happy with scoring once a year, we feel deprived if we have to wait till Saturday night! An animal’s imperative is merely a biological one which requires nothing more than the continuation of its species. But humans are given the Godlike gift of consciousness that endows us with power unimaginable by the rest of life. We therefore have the even more grave responsibility to transcend the human that can invent such things as the A-bomb with a humanity that can overcome its own threat to the very existence of that life.

Frederick Turner in his book, "Beauty: The Value of Values", suggests that human sexuality actually borrows much of its power from an underlying human drive toward beauty, a universal attractor that indicates the direction of evolution in the universe, to which the human is extremely sensitive. I heartily agree, and would add that there is also an imperative woven into the fabric of the universe that everything be creative to the fullest of its ability. For the animal kingdom that means hooking up every time the bell rings. But for humans the assignment is much more complex, demanding all our astounding creative capacities.

Humans are the only life forms we know that have the ability not only to reproduce our own form, but to create totally new forms, and in fact to continually upgrade humanity itself. I think we are obsessed with sex because it is the perfect symbol for a psychic programming that constantly urges us through the difficult process of transformation through uniting the opposites within us. If I can look at sex and the powerful attraction it carries– both in my own self and in the culture I live in– as a symbol of the crucial process of transformation, I can redeem my obsession with it. Perhaps the real reason we are so captivated with sex is not because we are otherwise in danger of depopulating, or because we are bad children who are using the gonads God gave us against God’s own wishes. Perhaps the reason is that we are charged with the most important work in all of evolution-- sex is a metaphor for our own transformation, a serious duty we mustn’t be allowed to forget.

The big question of history is whether the human species can use its imagination to create the morality necessary to handle responsibly the power of its own creations that now threaten life on earth. Will the king of technology be able to unite with the queen of wisdom, the king of globalization with the queen of fairness, the king of power with the queen of love? It’s clear that the very survival of the entire story of life on earth comes down to successful human sex!! Metaphorically speaking. So indeed spending one second out of three thinking about sex IS disgusting. It’s a waste of two seconds!