Inviting Intimacy

by Jim Ferguson

One of the biggest wins I had at my Adventure weekend came from breaking through my resistance and fear when I was asked to show who I am, to stand my ground. And from that experience I learned something, a principle repeated so often over the weekend: "Trust the process, trust the process". In 12 staffings since my own weekend back in 1994 I have held tight to that mantra, and it has always proved infallible: "Trust the process, trust the process".

But now, the fear I felt on my Adventure weekend is accentuated 10 fold. There are men in this room – and there are women. I am being challenged to dig deep, to trust the process and to enter new territory. Now divorced 10 years, single and not involved in an intimate emotional relationship, it's almost three years since I held someone’s hand.

How did I end up in this situation?

The introduction to this workshop had come through an email on the MKP chat thread, six months previously. An invitation to explore intimacy in a mixed gender situation. Of course I immediately dismissed such a ludicrous thought. After all, I was a man. And, despite my fears, my shame and my guilt, up until my three-year voluntary celibacy I'd rarely been without a girlfriend or partner since my first “real” girlfriend at the age of 14.

For two and a half years I'd told myself I wasn't destined to be alone, I would find my soul mate. That the “break” I was experiencing was a healthy one, consciously chosen after one more rejection when my latest “life partner” had walked away in very traumatic circumstances. I believed rushing into another relationship would simply be trying to “fix my feelings” rather than understand them.

So I told myself that a six-month "break" would give me the chance to overcome this pattern of trying to medicate my loneliness and lack of self-esteem by enmeshing with a partner who would take responsibility for ensuring I was seen as wonderful, heroic and trustworthy - except it never happened that way.

Six months became 12, 12 became 18, and then, two years down the line, I was a lot clearer who I was and why past mistakes had happened, but there was no-one to share this new found enlightenment with. Of course I had sexual needs, and as a healthy heterosexual man they had to be taken into account: the easiest way was to visit porn sites as a way of relieving my frustration. I didn’t want to admit it, but this had become a habit. Why not, I reasoned? After all, everyone does it. Very few men talk about it as problem, but for me it was not only a way to relieve natural tension; it was also a way of relieving uncomfortable feelings, resentments, fears and sadness. All these feelings, I found, could be masked by a period of self-indulgence in front of the PC screen.

The fact of the matter was while I remained outside a relationship, the only connection I had with women was on a computer or television screen. Ironic really: I'd taken a stand in a bid to stop damaging my own peace of mind and hurting women, and here I was using porn. My voluntary break was supposed to leave room for a healthy, equal partnership based on honesty, trust, commitment and shared interests. Instead, I discovered that when I put old manipulating and seducing behaviours behind me, I actually had no tools, no concept of how to go about initiating and forming such a relationship.

I had plenty of friends who were women, and I had easy-going, enjoyable relationships with female colleagues, but when it came to moving things up a gear, I froze, I shut down. This was like being in a place where everyone seemed to speak a language that might as well have been Greek to me.

Another uncomfortable fact dawning on me was that although "doing porn" is "normal", in seeking to initiate a new "me" (one motivated by respect and genuine love) I was in fact supporting an industry that is heavily dependent on the exploitation of vulnerable people.

Also growing within me was the unavoidable truth that just as I'd needed help and support in overcoming my addictions, and help and support in forming healthy relationships with other men, so this latest quest would only find success as a collaborative venture. I needed to ask for help. I wasn’t able to do this on my own.

How long I might have flirted with this awareness before I took action I don’t know, because the next thing that happened was that I found myself on an MKP LT2 training in November 2011. We did our work. It was good work. New friends were made; friends who in the past would have remained strangers. And one man who particularly impressed me with his integrity was Frieder Fischer. I discovered he was Jan Day’s partner, and that together they worked on intimacy issues. That was the catalyst I needed to pick up the phone and pursue my interest, despite my fear.

My phone conversation with Jan was easy and enlightening. Had I lived in London I'd have taken her suggestion of attending a Meetings Without Masks Sunday afternoon workshop (with equal numbers of men and women). But I don't live in London and initiating a friendship or relationship with anyone from such a workshop seemed impractical….. And so instead I booked a place on Jan & Frieder's Invitation to Intimacy weekend residential workshop in Canterbury a few months later.

So here I was, facing a woman in a line, wordlessly asking to be seen for who I was and inviting a response. What was going to happen? Would I experience what I most feared - - crushing rejection -- or would I find myself in a different place? Nervously, I took a pace forward, and so did she. As the distance closed I experienced a sense of fear. I stepped back. For a few moments we danced, forward and backwards, not always in time. And then we were face to face. I was seen, I was held, and I felt love for who I am and what I stand for. I felt love flowing both from within and without.

That exercise somehow encapsulates the Inviting Intimacy weekend. Over two days and two nights, a group of strangers, growing together as the weekend went by, experienced radical insights into the nature of intimacy, where it fits into our personal lives, what we seek from it, and how we reject it. It was a safe and clean space, surely facilitated to allow every individual the opportunity to learn, to laugh, to cry, and to love with a deep honesty. This is a love which goes far beyond the narrow sexuality to which the word “love” is often linked in our society.

I left on Sunday, empowered, walking taller, standing prouder. In one sense it was not so different to returning from an Adventure weekend. And since then? Well, it is true I am not yet living in a rose-covered cottage by the sea, with my life partner and soul mate. But the prospect seems a little closer, at least the possibility of a healthy, honest, committed relationship….if not the rose-covered cottage!

Tellingly I blanked on the fact that Inviting Intimacy is the first step of a carefully structured series of opportunities. While many of my friends from that weekend went forward to follow up their work and explore further experiences, for example in the meaning of tantric teaching, I found myself playing the role of "outsider". And this triggered old responses such as feeling "on the shelf", excluded, and isolated. However, I could see these for what they were, old head-stories that could only pull me back if I listened to them – and believed them.

Instead I saw it as part of my own process. If the weekend opened me up to a new interpretation of intimacy, one that could lead me to a fulfilled relationship, perhaps the "blanked bit" shows the part of me that does not want a relationship. And that is very fertile ground to explore.

I know from just one weekend that here is another community, one that is safe, supportive and validating. Relationships and friendships built here have substance, and Jan Day has an astute eye for the nature of love and intimacy, and a firm but gentle way of offering a way back to those who are led off that path, sexually or otherwise. Assisted and held by Frieder and the other trainers, this was a safe way for me and for others to take a step nearer to the place we long to be.

My commitment now is to continue this work. By the time this article is published I'll have done more of the work I need to do, with the loving, generous people who were there for me when I asked for help. The journey continues in the right direction, while the ultimate destination is in God’s hands.

Jim Ferguson Loving Healthy Golden Bear

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Opening to love is the power that transforms lives ...
"This has been an experience of being more truthfully myself. I've learned what love is, love for myself and love for others" Jemma