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Standing at the edge of a cliff, a near fall, or barely averting a catastrophic car accident, one might see their entire life flash before their eyes.

Similarly, in a moment of intimacy, a clip of truly seeing and being seen, we experience our entire past, every fear, every moment of joy, all that we have ever felt, pulse through our mind-bodies.

In that mutual seeing its as though nothing is guarded, the reel of our entire karmic past unwinds before the other. The specific content of our past may remain obscured, but the imprint and the impact on our soul flutters there in the nakedness of the moment.


A couple being intimate on the street


A Global View of Intimacy

Intimacy is perhaps best understood through the wisdom of quantum physics and Eastern mysticism combined.  In physics the observer effect states that there is no phenomenon until it is observed. It is as if pure undefended observation and a simultaneous willingness to be observed lights up our most essential places.

Just as an electron cannot be detected until a photon acts on it, being truly seen by another calls into form all that remains dormant and untended within us. And when this takes place in a dyad without disturbance, the observer and the observed are one. The great Eastern mystic J. Krishnamurti describes this phenomenon as the knower knowing itself, the seer seeing itself. In this moment of truth seeing truth there is just being together, without judgement without qualification, without a past or a future.


The Defenses

But it is so incredible, that we turn away from it. Like diverting our eyes from a light too bright, we come up with elaborate ways of defending ourselves from what feels so blissful yet so vulnerable. When we are seen in such a deep way, our pain, our insecurity our neediness whatever it may be, is evoked and activated. To the extent that we are unable to sit in the eye of that emotional storm without reacting or clinging, is the extent to which we avoid real contact.

In that state we are vulnerable and a certain amount of healthy discernment is actually quite necessary. If we lack discernment or a safe environment many of us are psychically wounded in very close relationship. It happens particularly to children whose inherent need and relatively undefended nature allows them to trust easily. The psyche then protects itself accordingly.

Even the most rigid defense structures develop for the purpose of self protection in some way. Anything from a silly joke to severe addiction, to acts of aggression pose as defense mechanisms against intimacy. Seen from this perspective, no defense is either bad or wrong, they simply need to be understood for what they are and worked with consciously and skillfully.


Love and intimacy are like a tree blowing in the wind


The Opportunity

Whether through individual psychotherapy, couples counseling, meditation, prayer or any form of contemplation we gain more conscious awareness of our defenses against intimacy. Many of our defenses are semi conscious or completely unconscious. Bringing awareness into our defense structure invites malleability, and often total catharsis of vestigial means of self protection.

As this process unfolds we are opening cracks and even windows into the shadows of a forgotten barn in a far off pasture. Aspects of the self that have remained obscured for decades are slowly illuminated. Allowing in intimacy is a tremendously healing act, as if bathing our inner wounds in the benevolence of the divine.


The Other

Because the tendency to turn away from intimacy is so strong we must work to sit unwavering in the brutal storm of our insecurity. It is much easier to weather the tempest within the context of a safe and healthy partnership. With a compassionate observer the defenses are more likely to soften or fall away.

For healthy change to occur we must invite a partner of loving intentions. Such a person need not be divine or even close to it, but they must certainly be self aware enough and loving enough to trust with our most fragile places. We can not make someone into this type of person or seek or pine for them.

Such a pursuit is in fact a defense in and of itself. The appropriate metaphor would be closer to tending your own garden. Do the weeding, till the rugged terrain and enrich the soil of your own being. Within that fertile ground your like minded partner will appear.

Like many of the great mysteries of science and spirit, defining intimacy is not altogether possible. The moment we say “its that” or “its this” we create what it is not. Like defining death or God or truth itself we find ourselves in a tireless paradox. Some of the great truths are best left as questions, never completely defined but rather, eternally open to discovery.


A couple in love on the streets of San Francisco



Cameron Yarbrough is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and founder of Well Clinic. In addition individual and couples therapy, Cameron specializes in executive and leadership coaching in the San Francisco Bay Area.


  • I absolutely love Well Clinic! From the beginning, my husband and I felt like we were in a comfortable and safe space.

    Our couple’s therapy bridged gaps in our relationship and helped us understand each other that much more.

    Ivette B

  • Well Clinic is an oasis, especially for busy professionals like me.

    It’s a relaxing and safe space, nothing like the stuffy or drab offices you’d expect when going to a therapist.

    Brianna S

  • Well Clinic’s inviting and professional design makes me feel comfortable and at ease, which probably benefits the work I am doing.

    In fact, it doesn’t really feel like a therapy clinic at all, which I find awesome.

    Jim M


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