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The Therapeutic Value of Non-Sexual Experiences of Deep Intimacy: Increasing Transpersonal Experiencing, Spiritual Well-Being and Feelings of Connectedness in Everyday Life

This essay explores deep intimacy as a vehicle through which individuals may connect to transpersonal experiencing in everyday life. Taking its place as one of many pathways towards transpersonal experiencing (such as meditation, dance, moments of awe, non-ordinary or exceptional human experiencing and peak experiences, among others) this paper focuses on the less well-known ability of non-sexual experiences of deep intimacy, specifically through moments of non-verbal, tacit knowing (such as shared eye contact) as an existentially accessible entry point towards achieving spiritual well-being through transpersonal experiencing amidst everyday life.

The Therapeutic Value of Non-Sexual Experiences of Deep Intimacy: Increasing Transpersonal Experiencing, Spiritual Well-Being and Feelings of Connectedness in Everyday Life
Our first experience of life is primarily felt in the body... We know ourselves in the security of those who hold us and gaze upon us. It's not heard or seen or thought it's felt. That's the original knowing. (Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer)

A theme that has presented itself to me throughout the scholar-practitioner journey of beginning graduate studies in Existential-Humanistic Psychology is the ways in which the healing qualities latent within everyday transpersonal experiencing are not only undervalued through the public eye, but unknown. This combined with my acute awareness of the nearly ubiquitous need for deeper human connection in the 21st century’s primarily electronic, post-pandemic world maintains my greatest motivation for constructing this essay. As such, this essay explores the concept of nondiscursive tacit knowing, experienced through moments of deep intimacy, as a vehicle through which individuals may connect to transpersonal experiencing in everyday life. The purpose of this paper is to clarify both the collective need for greater spiritual wellbeing while introducing experiences of deep intimacy as a secular and accessible vehicle towards inviting more saturated feelings of connectedness amongst individuals through intimate transpersonal experiences in everyday life. This concept is investigated through a preliminary analysis of research on attunement, transpersonal experiencing, tacit knowing, poetry, phenomenology and accounts of lived experience through my scholar-practitioner journey.

Transpersonal experiencing can be understood in general as a mode of being in the world beyond ‘ordinary’ being, ripe with increased feelings of unity, connectedness and a self-transcendent sense of “being a part of it all”. Transpersonal experiencing delivers on our existential need for spiritual well-being, namely through the deeper feelings of connectedness such experiences foster. This essay articulates a collective need in contemporary society for both greater spiritual wellbeing and increased feelings of connectedness. In this breath it seeks to introduce an awareness of non-sexual moments of deep intimacy as an accessible pathway towards achieving more consummate collective wellbeing in the primarily secular and  individualistic paradigm of the Western world which many readers of this essay inhabit. By increasing awareness of the availability of this healing quality of connection through the doorway of everyday encounters, my hope is that individuals will be primed with a positive expectancy and openness towards their ability to connect to their experience of life—with and through others—more deeply. 

If this essay is able to evoke, even within a single reader, a greater willingness to open to their experience of the immediate world around them and within them through their relationships, it has achieved its purpose. Echoing the style and method of Adams (2019) essay ‘Living life, practicing psychology’, this essay is weaved onward “in dialogue with a few of my favorite psychologists, philosophers, spiritual teachers, and poets.” Mirroring its methodology in the spirit of deeper intimacy, “…reflexivity comprises both the theme and the method of the present essay” (p.3). May this intimate form of scholarly writing both embody and embolden this essay’s thesis regarding the transpersonal healing qualities latent in non-sexual experiences of deep intimacy.

Throughout the great hero’s journey of self-healing, there is an important space which lay just beyond traditional psychotherapy, persistent self-inquiry, and our apparently constant striving towards intellectualizing and rationalization. This space lives amidst the being-realm of interrelating (Maslow, 1971). Existing organically within relationship, it does not involve a strenuous tightening or forceful striving. Nondiscursive in nature, this space does not even involve words or cognitions. Revealed through a shared volitional opening, it simply is. It lives within communities, in the space between people, and all windows towards the unparalleled possibilities of healing through human connection. In line with Saybrook University Professor Todd Dubose’ (2014) scholar-practitioner motivation, I intend to ease the tension between the secular and the sacred by way of presenting an available pathway for deeper living that is ubiquitously present to us: through human connection. 

The Case for Connection 

In modern day psychological vernacular, a Ted talk presented by Susan Pinker (2017) demonstrated research on countries with the longest life expectancies while also exploring the question of what factors contributed to this longevity and vitality amongst citizens. More than quitting smoking or alcohol consumption, the answer was connection. Or, more specifically, social integration and close relationships. It was face-to-face interaction that had the greatest impact on their well-being (Pinker, 2017). According to Vivek Murthy, 19th surgeon general of the United States, “when we strengthen our connections with each other, we are healthier, more resilient, more productive, more vibrantly creative and more fulfilled” (Murthy, 2020, p.xxvi). Murthy explains that while connection increases life expectancy, chronic loneliness reduces it. Likewise describing human’s inherent existential need for actualizing feelings of interconnectedness, Friedman (2015) echoes famous psychotherapist Martin Buber’s sentiment, stating:

“If ‘all real living is meeting,’ […], then all true healing also takes place through meeting” (Friedman, 2015, p. 451). 

Many psychologists and similar vocational practitioners are familiar with the sentiment ‘the opposite of addiction is connection’. But what does it mean? Through the lens of childhood trauma, renowned physician Gabor Maté (2008) expresses that it is not what happens to individuals that causes the experience of trauma, but the fact that they are left alone without the proper resources and support to cope with and make sense of their experience afterwards. Maté (2008) makes the point that it is not what happens to individuals that causes trauma, but the fundamental disconnection from their authentic selves that happens inside of them as a result. Namely, the way that they disconnect from the true pain of their emotional experience, for the pain is simply too much to carry alone. This disconnection from oneself is, in my opinion, the most saturated and problematic source of suffering in the world, from which other life-long suffering springs. It is this inability to be with one’s present emotional experience alone that motivates further disconnecting through one’s life course in forms of negative coping behaviours, compulsions, additions and unhealthy dependencies.

By comparison, the same thoughts regarding the case for connection are paralleled in more esoteric schools of thought, where “pathway[s] of renewal [take] a mystical turn as an awakening from the normal human, alienated state toward a mystical union with the one and the good” (Moss, 2015, p.5). Where before individuals felt themselves to be “abandoned by god (synonymous for love or support)”, their healing and vitality comes from a feeling of connectedness to the life force energy within them, around them, and in constant dialogue between themselves and others. Though arguably more historically religious or philosophically esoteric than psychological, this view alludes to societies’ timeless awareness of human’s proclivity towards and need for healing through connection (Moss, 2015, p.5). Through a similar philosophical lens, Moss (2015) explains how “Neo-Platonists portrayed each individual human life as a type of falling from an eternal origin in divine oneness into earthly multiplicity.

"The task of human existence,” he writes, “became a journey of inward reintegration, recovering the lost oneness” (p.5).

This metaphysical perspective of the origin of existence aligns with Jungian analyst Hollis’ (1998) explication of the concept of the Garden of Eden. Through this notion individuals seek to return to the divine sense of safety, belonging and interconnectedness from which they came-the garden of the womb. Here, the garden of eden is a metaphor for the sanctuary of growth and love that is the womb. Likewise, Rohr’s (2003) sentiment from which this essay began reiterates human’s existential desire to experience this nondiscursive sense of unity: “We know ourselves in the security of those who hold us and gaze upon us. It's not heard or seen or thought it's felt. That's the original knowing” (2003)

Redefining Spiritual Wellbeing

According to Hettler (1976), there are six dimensions or primary sources from which individuals source a consummate sense of wellbeing. Including emotional, occupational, intellectual, physical, social and spiritual, each domain is needed to set the conditions for one to realize the actualization of their greatest potential. In my view, spiritual wellbeing appears to be a ubiquitously undervalued component of consummate wellbeing in the western world, consequentially impacting society from a lack of its most essential material: a deeper sense of connectedness. When one peers beyond religious connotations, spirituality is nearly synonymous for a sense of deeper connectedness to all that is. While a sense of connectedness to oneself, to others, and to a purpose or cause greater than oneself are each essential for ultimate wellbeing, this essay focuses on the aspect of connection that comes from shared experiences of deep intimacy with others.

Attempting to describe the ubiquitously misunderstood term ‘spirituality’, Underwood (2006) alludes to its 200 various definitions, simplifying its meaning through the words “it generally points to aspects of personal life that include the transcendent, ‘more than’ what we can see or touch or hear” (Underwood, 2006, p.184). Likewise, Saybrook University professor Dubose (2014) offers a way of looking at our existential need for the feelings of connectedness that spiritual wellbeing delivers on, as not above or below everyday life, but a part of it. As not something ‘extra’ or ‘unnecessary,’ but rather one of many existential needs. Advocating for greater discovery around grounding spirituality amidst a part of what it means to be a human, he invites a greater exploration of the diverse ways individuals can actualize this fundamental need. Human beings are spiritual, meaning-loving, transcendent-seeking individuals inherently, whether theist or atheist or polytheist (Dubose, 2014). Motivated by feelings of belonging, relatedness and connectedness that transcend superficiality, it remains an existential given that humans are inherently spiritual beings, whether they themselves reflexively accept this reality or not. 

Experiences of ‘deep intimacy’ contribute to spiritual wellbeing primarily through the feeling of self-transcendent connectedness that accompanies non-verbal shared knowing, as expressed in its most saturated form through moments of shared eye contact. This sense of spiritual connectedness and ‘enlargement’ of the self, often referred to in psychological literature as ‘self-expansion’ has been an existential need for humans since the beginning. Swaying into a summation of the material experiences of deep intimacy consist of, Adams (2019) preludes my explication with the following sentiment:

“These too are life coming to meet me. Martin Buber (1948) conveys this ethos very beautifully: “Everything desires to be hallowed, to be incorporated into the holy, everything in the world . . . what comes in our way needs us for its way (p. 144)”. He continues, “Everything”—not just the extraordinary or special, but the ordinary and obvious as well—everything and everyone entreats our hallowing of them. And, as Buber suggests, each singular being or thing needs us to do so for the fulfillment of their own authentic way” (Adams, 2019, p.6).

The Deep Intimacy Experience

Now that I have set the initial tone for the relevance of this essay by way of illustrating the importance of connection, I will continue by defining the deep intimacy experience through key terms, including tacit knowing, non-discursive thought and absorption. Similar to the ways in which works of art are marveled at and related-within moments of refined present-oriented awareness and appreciation, non-discursive thought refers to moments of experiencing which occur without and beyond language. Similarly, tacit knowing can be understood as an extension of this experience of non-discursive thought, whereby a sort of embodied affirmation is felt.

Wade (2013) describes shared moments of tacit knowing, non-discursive thought and absorption by way of example as “when attention is absorbed in a lover's touch or gazing into the lover's eyes” (Wade, 2013, P.391). She describes such moments as including the same “conditions cultivated for meditation in many traditions, only the object of concentration is different” (Wade, 2013, P.391). Tacit knowing is likewise illuminated in the eloquence of Persian poet Rumi’s expression:

“When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense” (Rumi in Barks, 2004, p. 36).

Akin to witnessing an extraordinary sunset, this umbrella of experiencing seeks not to change the object of experience but rather experiences it for exactly what it is. In the same breath, Rich (2005) offers a unique explanation of tacit knowing as “subtle knowledge that human beings recognize in deep levels of consciousness or being. Knowledge that by nature cannot be verbalized, yet is among the most profoundly important to the knower.” He deepens this explanation by describing the content of such knowing as “faculties and modes of awareness that perceive and know subtle, nonconcrete realities such as love, beauty and truth” (Rich, 2005). 

In the context of this present exploration, ‘deep intimacy’ is defined as a combination of the above terms, encompassing a blanket of non-verbal moments of shared, tacit knowing and synchrony. Most importantly, deep intimacy is defined as a state of being which stands upon these three component pillars, delivering on the existential human need for self-transcendence and feelings of connectedness under the domain of spiritual wellbeing.

Combining these terms in a delicious soup of temporary unity, I will continue my attempts to elucidate this culminating experience of deep intimacy with reference to expressions of this mode of being that have called out to me not just in an intellectual or cerebral fashion, but which also evoked an embodied response from deep within my being. Epitomizing the beauty of this unique human experience, Adams (2019) writes “the holy or the sacred are not abstract notions” (p.6), describing experiences of deep intimacy as involving:

Opening to dimensions of self and life that go beyond our supposedly separate ego; and they foster a way of responding to others in their singular preciousness and ethical appeal. To be sure, how we let ourselves be touched by the call of others makes an immense difference, for example, touched intimately by their sacred depths or superficially by their instrumental value for our self-centered wishes.  (Adams, 2019, p.6)

Adams’ sentiment here is of particular significance for how it helps to demonstrate why the experience of deep intimacy delivers not merely on human’s need for social wellbeing, but for spiritual wellbeing additionally. 

Deep Intimacy: A Transpersonal Opening to Spiritual Wellbeing

Under the conditions of shared non-verbal connection through eye contact and attention in the container of deep intimacy, possibilities emerge for transpersonal experiencing with implications for a greater sense of connectedness, meaning and wellbeing in life. More recently, researchers from the Western world have begun to explore such experiences from the perspective of transpersonal psychology. In Rich’s (2005) dissertation study, Direct knowing, direct contact: A heuristic study of psychospiritual and transformational elements in experiences unmediated by discursive thought, he describes self-transcendent experiences of awe through the lens of more embodied experiences of direct knowing in the realm of non-discursive thought. Ultimately revealing that such experiences have profound transformative effects, including:

Symptom reduction, deep satisfaction, equanimity, increased aliveness, and enhanced awareness. Transpersonal and transformative effects included sense of interconnection, oneness, awe, sacredness, and blessedness; clarity regarding profound truths such as love, compassion, and the existence of a unitive reality; increased ability to perceive transpersonal realities; and inspiration and resolution to serve (Rich, 2005, p.iv). 

Rich speaks to the more heightened end of the spectrum of transpersonal experiencing which non-sexual moments of deep intimacy have the potential to open individuals to. Be it in a more casual, fleeting nature during a conversation with a relative at Easter brunch, or with a stranger whose car moves at a speed in sync with one’s own as both drivers peer into the other’s window serendipitously at the same time, meeting one another’s gaze. Likewise conveying how experiences of deep intimacy redeem transpersonally and seemingly call towards individuals, Adams (2019) records:

I felt this transpersonal participatory source calling to me through and as the faces of my family, friends, students, patients, research participants, beautiful mountains, besieged mountains. Intuitively I felt the dynamic source to be—simply, but truly inconceivably—the boundless, seamless, all-inclusive field of interrelationships, encounters, and events in this one great life we all share, transcending and encompassing my individual self, ever gathered across time and space in each current encounter and its unique ethical appeal. (Adams, 2019, pp.6-7)


In summation I would like to propose the theory that the deeper levels of fulfillment and wellbeing can arise when human interactions are infused with an intentionality to opening oneself to this nondiscursive capacity for shared connection. As revolutionary Humanistic Psychologist Abraham Maslow (1971) concluded, “the highest reaches of human nature include the capacity for self-transcending altruism and for what he later would call transpersonal experiencing” demonstrative of the higher order thinking such attempts to live within this quality of relational intentionality signifies (p.12).

Through this quality of approach to everyday interpersonal encounters with the intention of sharing experiences of deep intimacy more regularly with those whom we are exposed to socially within our greater communities, a new way of being emerges. Brimming with a refined quality of presence, gratitude and feelings of connectedness, Adams (2019) speaks to how this intentionality, further adding to our well of meaning, seems to encourage us "to appreciate the untold significance, preciousness, and even holiness (if you will) of familiar things, encounters, and events” (p.5). I conclude this essay with a similar expression of hope. May we continue to strive to approach our peers, companions, families and all other humans who we encounter on our individual paths with the openness, holiness and reverence with which each are intrinsically due.



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