Intimacy is on the Outside

The other day I was struck by how intimate the question “How are you?” is. How are you? How are you is about our emotional state. How are you asks how we feel in our bodies. How are you wonders what at this present moment is affecting our mental stability or lack thereof. How are you probes at the core of our human experience. And ironically enough, it’s been reduced to this thing that we say to cursorily acknowledge another’s presence. It’s the extension of a polite smile, tossed at people whose stories we’re not actually interested in hearing.

Obviously I understand, we only have so much space and time to hold the weight of someone else’s narrative, and the checkout line at Trader Joe’s is not the time to excavate the cashier’s childhood. But I feel like it’s interesting that without much digging literally at all, we can soon get to the hearts of each other.

Especially because we spend most of our lives convincing ourselves that we are invulnerable. We put up walls and go about our days as though we don’t carry every part of our experience in our bodies and on our faces. We regard each other mechanically, and hide behind our defenses to keep up the ruse.

But in reality we are all walking vulnerabilities.

Completely exposed. Our bodies are soft, our emotions can rise to the surface with little to no prodding. It is at once terrifying and beautiful.

I say this because it feels much like the juxtaposition between strength and surrender, as spoken about in yoga. The idea of effort without force, and that surrendering into something often takes more strength than attempting to exercise the will over it.

Vulnerability and Intimacy vs. Walls and “Safety” work similarly. Though they appear as opposites, I feel like we can only feel true safety when we embrace the depths of our vulnerability. Conversely, trying to wall ourselves off just creates more worry that our defenses will be violated and we will be destroyed when they are. But what comes with embracing intimacy is a beautiful and peaceful surrender. Freedom to be in your life because you’re not unduly preoccupied with protecting it.

And this is not to say don’t take care of yourself or start taking up dangerous hobbies, because that doesn’t honor your experience either. I’m more saying like, it’s okay to cry in public. And it’s okay to answer “How are you?” with “Not that great”. Be discerning with whom you choose to share, but I think in realizing how close we really are to each other, how quickly intimacy can be reached, we can practice being more gentle with others and with ourselves. And see all the beauty and sacredness in our vulnerabilities.