Open-heartedness and intimacy are two related states between any two connecting or connected people. To be open-hearted is to be honest, to share, and to hold nothing back. It is the other end of a continuum whose opposites are withholding, separateness, and egoic alienation. The open heart state usually involves full disclosure of one self to another and making oneself fully available to another for the free sharing of confidences, secrets, and deeply personal feelings and thoughts.
At the core of open-heartedness are two things: listening carefully and responding personally, sensitively, and thoughtfully. These may be tricky or elusive for people who are too full of themselves, or who are used to dominating conversation. Open-heartedness requires will, a desire to know, curiosity, and a commitment to treating someone else as an ‘end’ to be known, understood, and appreciated rather than as a ‘means’.
Intimacy is a much-abused word today that, for many, merely means physical familiarity or sexual intercourse. But intimacy is, above all else, a strong true closeness and deep knowledge of another person. It many ways, it is basically a profound friendship that involves a free sharing of oneself with another. In those ways, it closely resembles open-heartedness.
Human beings travel through life, basically from the perspective of individual experience and ego. Many people, for instance, express their thoughts and feelings through disagreement and complaining, what might be called ‘voicing opinion’. And although we may say and do a lot, even good things, that does not necessarily mean that we are truly close to anyone, even family members and spouses. So, to be able to connect closely and intimately with someone else might be viewed as a gift or an uncommon privilege.
American novelist Ellen Glasgow wrote that “It is only in the heart that anything really happens.” Although ideas may shake and move the world, it is, indeed, at the level of the heart where one finds what personally matters most to many people. And certainly nothing can be worse, in a figurative sense, perhaps, than a failure of that organ in relationships or in dealing with the various conflicts encountered in life.
We know, too, that leading with the heart can often be a risky enterprise fraught with hurt and suffering. In the words of Virginia Woolf, “Intimacy is a difficult art.” An art in the sense of something fine, involving human creative skill and aptitude. Difficult in the sense that it depends a mutual will and desire to connect at levels that belie ego, fears, suspicion, and distrust of others.
Connectedness is highly prized in this digital social media age. People proudly count their e-friends and followers in a modern digital take on E. M. Forster’s advice to “only connect”. But is there anything finer than open-heartedness and intimacy between two live, in-person individuals that allows them to be their best, happiest, and mutually free-est?