Have you ever experienced a meditation in which you gazed into a stranger’s eyes for ten minutes? Initially you may feel awkward, try to avert your gaze, let out a giggle, or tense up. You may feel like you’re intruding on this person’s life. You may even feel shy, as if they will see something that you’ve been trying to hide. How vulnerable it is to be looking deeply into another human being’s eyes. By the end of the ten minutes the two of you are smiling, laughing, crying, hugging, or just feeling deeply connected. If feelings of connection and strong emotional reactions can occur between strangers so quickly, as they do in eye gazing meditations as well as at transformational festival events, how is it that we as a society still struggle with feeling disconnected from each other? One reason may be the collective struggle with intimacy.
Intimacy is the process and act of being able to let your guard down, show up as your authentic self and be met with compassion. It is the act of being vulnerable and trusting that the other person won’t harm you. It is being able to accept and share in another’s inner-world and experiences. We struggle with intimacy for many reasons, one of which I believe is because we were not taught how to be intimate. We’ve been taught to brush our issues under the rug. We’ve been taught to appear “put-together.” We’ve been taught not to bother people with our struggles, not to be a burden, to be self-reliant and take care of ourselves. And we wonder why as a society we are overworked, depressed, anxious, physically ill, lonely, not having good sex, not having any sex, and feeling completely disconnected. We’ve created this fear that if we show up as ourselves then we will not be received positively. Often times because WE don’t receive ourselves positively.
Here are six lessons about strengthening intimacy skills based off my experiences at transformational festivals and my work as a sex therapist.
Be fully present while in the role of listening.
Deep, meaningful conversations can start anywhere while at a festival: food lines, art cars, or while star gazing as the music plays into the night. A single comment is made by one person, which is then picked up by another and then often progresses into life wisdom. People genuinely want to talk, share, and listen to what you have to say. These exchanges occur with intent listening and presence; and you are left feeling ‘heard’. Physically feel in your own body what it’s like to be heard by another human being. Now imagine if we turned off the television when we were listening to our spouse. Imagine if our friend put down their phone and looked us in the eye while we shared our story. It would feel far different.We can relax into affection that is without agenda.
How many people have you come in physical contact with today? To whom have you given a hug, a kiss, placed a hand on their back or shoulder? How does your body respond when someone is too near to you, or when someone comes to greet you with a hug instead of a handshake? Hugs and cuddle puddles abound at festivals and are usually welcomed from strangers and friends alike. A 20 second hug can release oxytocin in the body which is a feel good hormone associated with bonding. Research suggests it even contributes to feeling deep and meaningful connections with others! We would all like to feel connected with others, yet the benefits cannot be welcomed, or relaxed into if there is an underlying agenda to the touch. For some, touch can be used with the intention for sex, control, or need for validation. These aren’t inherently negative unless that intention or energy is unwanted, in which case the person will find it more difficult to relax into, or receive the touch.
At festivals, many times a touch is a means to connect, with no underlying agenda to take, manipulate, or control. In fact, many of these touch encounters last only a brief moment and then you part ways! On a daily basis, are you using honest intention and energy when approaching physical touch? and how are others reacting? Your intention is often felt by and responded to by others whether they are consciously aware of it or not. Clear your mind, and touch with unconditional intent.You can fall in love at first sight.
You look up from your own inner world and make eye contact with the radiant goddess across the way. Instantly you are filled with bright energy and joy. Is this lust? perhaps, but only if your intention is to take something from her. If your intention is to acknowledge and honor her radiance as a human being without the drive to possess, then I would say this is love. Love at first sight can happen again and again and again and not just with someone who is deemed physically attractive, but also with the man whose confidence uplifts others around him, or the girl whose compassion is overflowing. It’s through being able to see beyond the person’s history, behaviors, physical looks, values, culture, clothes, etc. and seeing them for who they are as a fellow being. It’s looking into their eyes and finding yourself reflected back. It’s not needing to own or possess or take anything from them, but rather appreciate them as they truly are: beautiful and divine.
Sometimes you need to give up control.
How hard it can be to loosen the grip we have on specific outcomes. We want this specific body or these specific results and we find ourselves anxious when we can’t keep up with our rigid expectations. In a festival environment, you quickly learn that there is no room for straight-laced personalities or rigid rules. You are required to relax your strict diets and expectations of ‘event outcomes’, because if you do not, then you will be gripping onto unnecessary discomfort and miss out on all the potential joy in the experience.
Shift into a playful mindset.
Many of us go about our days with our heads down: working, producing, accomplishing, then we get anxious when there’s nothing to “do” or we realize we haven’t spent time with friends without the intention of producing or getting something done. When we shift into a playful mindset, we let go of the ‘desired end result’ patter and we are able to be fully in the present moment with the intention to enjoy it. ‘Play’ helps us break tension and awkwardness. ‘Play’ helps us drop our defenses and critical inner-voice so that we can show up and be received as ourselves. ‘Play’ produces laugher, which in turn stimulates bonding. Festivals were created with the intention for us to play and through this we can build that deeper connection.
As a basic human need, we all want to be seen.
It can be difficult for us to recognize the less than desirable qualities about ourselves. We want to appear as our ‘best selves’ and not as someone who sometimes struggles or makes mistake. The problem with this mentality is that it creates an unnecessary separation from others and consequently leaves us with a feeling of being alone. We forget that we all make mistakes and have flaws. That these realities are what connect us: the experience of being human. None of us are perfect, and none of us inwardly or outwardly fit the socially constructed ideal of the “human”. So why not be honest about it, and not pretend otherwise. Festival life embraces imperfection, non-conformity, and self-expression. Through wild and diverse costumes, open expressions of emotion, creative and sexual dancing, openly sharing of life stories, and doing one’s “own thing,” intimacy is built. Festival attendees salute the authenticity of self-expression, thus making it a safe place to practice intimacy. When we show up as ourselves and we are met with kindness and compassion, the experience can be incredibly healing for us all.
So when you are driving away from the colorful banners of your weekend adventure into the festival world, the longing to feel connected and belonging might arise strongly, knowing you are returning to your daily life. Fortunately, we can take these lessons with us. We can continue to practice ‘acceptance’. We can reduce the experiences of loneliness, depression, and anxiety by consciously building a culture of intimacy everywhere we go rather than leaving it for the next time we are in the context of a weekend festival. Let’s be that change together, for ourselves and for all those who we meet.
Dr Cat Meyer
Dr Cat Meyer, PsyD, LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist, sex therapist, yoga instructor, reiki practitioner, and teacher on consciousness dedicated to evolving the relationship we have surrounding sexuality and our bodies. Dr. Cat integrates various schools of thought including science, body movement, psychology, and spirituality in her work for private practice and transformational retreats that are designed to help people create a deeply fulfilling, prosperous relational and sexual life. To learn more about her work, visit her at: