Starting on January 30, 2012, I began leading what I call intimacy practice. I've now done it at least 30 times, I'd say, and given talks about building intimacy at Alchemy (the Georgia burn), TBC (a queer conference), and APW (a polyamory conference). I feel like I have a good enough understanding to summarize it so that it can be truly open-source.
[why *practicing* intimacy is needed]First I want to explain the point of an intimacy practice.
Most people don't create intimacy deliberately; instead it exists in their lives if they spend lots of time with someone (family, coworkers, high school friends, etc) or go through shared transformative experience like visiting another country together -- because this kind of intimacy is expensive in time or in money (or both), it's considered something you can't create on purpose. But if you want a relationship (friendship or romance or family/tribe) to have lasting intimacy, you have to both/all invest in it. It's not any more natural for intimacy to continue unfadingly on its own than it is for a pendulum to keep swinging just as hard without being pushed again. If it continues, it's because you are creating it.
So if you decide you want to have more intimacy in your life, how do you create it? It's simple, but not easy: find someone who also desires to create intimacy through honesty and openness, and practice together. General ways of practicing this are:
[11 ways of creating intimacy]
1) Uncomfortable conversations. Bringing up small upsets or discomforts immediately, discussing them without blame simply for the purpose of sharing. Not only does this prevent them from turning into huge resentments that hurt everyone, but it gives small amounts of conflict intimacy. Handling conflict with kindness can be every bit as intimate as the most intense sex.
2) Meaningful communication. Talking regularly (I prefer daily) about all the emotionally impactful things in your life: including and ESPECIALLY small impacts. If it's something good, it's pleasure-sharing intimacy like sex is. If it's something bad, it's conflict intimacy like an argument -- with no risks to your relationship. If it's neutral, it's not usually emotionally significant, but if it is, it provides history for greater understanding. Don't just share the ones that go with the image you like: share the ones that make you "look bad" or "sound bad" too. We all have evil bits and sharing them is an excellent way of working through them. also, see #1. Your relationships with people who mean a lot to you are full of emotionally significant experiences you can share, whether those experiences are past or present.
3) Shared emotionally significant experiences. This sounds simple but there are many ways to do it that don't often get considered. Going to significant places (like your childhood home, places you had "firsts" or places that make you feel a strong emotion) and/or sharing media that has deep meaning to you (like watching a movie you resonate with and explaining why, or reading each other's beloved books). Also, anything that brings you great pleasure or creates conflict within you will be intimate if shared: if you both really love roller coasters, that's emotionally significant. If you both really hate something (like prejudice or pollution), work against it together.
4) Creating together. This can be cooking or painting or gardening or whatever: it's intimate like making a baby, but with less mess and stress.
5) Asking prying questions (with consent). It makes it easier for the other person to share, and it helps you to think more carefully about what they say.
6) Silent prolonged eye contact or silent focused synchronised breathing. (not relevant to everyone due to neurological/breathing differences) This is hard for most people, but has a lot of potential for connection.
7) Focused, undistracted touch. I think this is part of the reason people like getting tattoos and getting their hair done: it's a completely focused touch. Casually holding someone's hand doesn't offer the same intimacy as holding someone's hand, gazing at it and stroking it. Massages and grooming each other also work. Sex can fit into this category, but often doesn't because desire is very distracting. I think that sensation play and BDSM play can offer this intimacy.
8) Sharing spiritual and/or altered-state experiences. I know this doesn't work for everyone, but if you DO have a belief in spiritual things and/or if you use mind-altering drugs (including alcohol, obv), sharing them is intimacy. Talking about experiences is intimate and sharing experiences is even more so. This sort of reiterates #2 and #3, but I think it's worth its own number because (for me at least) that is harder and more rewarding than most shared topics or actions. And you don't have to have the same beliefs for the talking to be intimate. If they're not far off from each other or you're quite creative you can make shared experiences as well.
9) Sex. IF you're sharing things that feel vulnerable or meaningful, and you're thinking about what you're doing; sex is not inherently intimate.
10) Silliness! laughter exercises and other playful things that you'd be embarrassed to do in front of most people are excellent for creating intimacy.
11) Expressing or meeting needs. When you express a need, you are sharing that you are vulnerable to this lack, and that vulnerability allows for intimacy to open up. A great way to do this is to ask if anyone has access needs that could be met by others in the space. Meeting a need can also be an intimacy.
With intimacy practice, we use several of these methods. Occasionally #1 or #6 or #7, always #2, #5, and #10.
How an intimacy practice runs:
We start out with silliness: this is because you don't have to think about it, and it's a very quick way in to feeling close and vulnerable. In person we use laughter exercises: we make up silly poses and with noises or fake laughs we start ourselves into real laughter. When we meet online we do things like make faces or take turns doing impressions of animals. After we've loosened up enough, we usually move to truth-or-truth (a very simple game I invented).
Truth-or-truth is a question game: the goal is to satisfy curiosity and to encourage people to share important truths about themselves. (You 'win' if your question makes everyone go "ooooh, good question" or if your answer makes everybody sit in reflection for a minute) The rules are simple: Either ask someone a question or pick a questioner and a questionee. Whoever answers then gets to do the same. If a question is ever too invasive (rarely happens) or too simple, the person being questioned can ask for another question. If you get picked as a questioner, you have to ask the question (it can't get passed twice). Bounce-backs are only allowed once (if Reva asks Cam a question, Cam can then ask Reva a question but after Reva answers, Reva has to pick someone else to ask next). I hope I explained that well enough, it's super simple if you watch it being played.
After truth-or-truth, we usually start heart circle. Each person takes a turn setting the guidelines for responses (usually people ask for others to raise their hand if they have a comment, or wait until the end), and then they share whatever is on their mind/heart lately. This part is timed, based on the number of people and amount of time we have left for the session. This is usually pretty intense; knowing that people are really listening helps you to share more than you otherwise would, I think, and knowing that no one is going to interrupt you and go off on their own stuff is also freeing. It's essential that this be a non-judgmental space -- I've been lucky with my people but I imagine that in a more average group, a facilitator would need to be prepared to interrupt if someone began responding judgmentally.
Then if we are in person, we usually have a spiral hug, which is where we hold hands in a line and one end of the line stays still while the others spiral around until they're in a clump of hug. We stay until someone says "break" -- usually the person in the center but sometimes someone else who got uncomfortable. Everyone who wants a turn in the center gets one. If we are not in person, we usually blow kisses and make hearts with our hands and say I love yous (we're an effusive group for the most part). Or we wrap our arms tightly around ourselves with hands on our shoulders and squeeze.
Please feel free to use anything or share anything from this post as long as
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2) credit me for the original and provide a link ( tinyurl.com/intimacypractice ), and
3) if you change anything when you repost, clearly mark that part as your own edit, whether you add or take away.
Also please feel comment anything that you think would be a good intimacy practice exercise.