Why are love and intimacy painful?

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Question:  “Intimacy is growth and is painful” – Osho.

Why did Osho say that “intimacy is painful” when there is growth in intimacy?

Acharya Prashant: The ego can never really come close. Not to anything, anybody, not to the Truth and not even to itself. Ego operates in separation. Ego operates in boundaries. Ego operates in duality. To come close is to reduce the separation, dissolve the boundary and that would be the death of Ego. Coming close implies, “knowing really”. Knowing what? Knowing just about anything. Doesn’t matter what that thing is. The ‘thing’ does not matter, the knowing matters. The knowing itself is Godliness.

So, Ego will never really want to know. Know what? Know just about anything. Because if one thing is known, really known, intimately known, then everything is known. So, the Ego would have knowledge at best. It would never have the complete knowing that is called ‘Realisation’. Knowledge is digestible to the Ego, Realization is not. Because ‘knowledge’ is incomplete knowing and ‘realization’ is total knowing. Ego needs separation, Ego needs distance. Only in that distance, does it maintain itself. Only in that distance is the boundary preserved.

And the question that has been asked, a sentence by Osho has been referred to. The sentence says, “Intimacy is growth, and Intimacy is painful.” The questioner has requested, that the paradox be explained.

There is no other real definition of growth than the dissolution of the Ego.

Like everything else, like all other definitions, actions, thoughts, this definition too, can come from either of the two centers. One, real and one false. The false center is the center of the Ego. From that center when you define growth, all that growth means, is obviously the growth of the Ego. And that is our prevalent worldly and social definition of growth.

When do you say, that a person is growing? When do you say, that you are growing? Have you noticed?

You say you are growing when your accumulations increase. Only the Ego is interested in accumulations. So, coming from the false center, all that growth means is that the Ego has grown. Also, notice that the way we usually refer to growth or progress is always the way of the crowd. You say that you have grown, only when your growth is acceptable and certified by somebody else and to somebody else. Your growth must be visible to the other, impressible upon the other. The others must see that the growth is happening. Hence, the growth has to be in relation to the other. This is the false definition of growth. In this growth, all that is growing is falseness, illusion, and consequent suffering.

Then there is the real definition of growth. The real definition of growth or maturity is freedom from ‘otherness’. You have grown when the other, which is the world, which is everything and everybody that you see around you, does not have an impact so deep upon you that he is able to define your self-worth. Just as a kid is called to be growing when he is able to walk on his own legs, decide and discriminate using his own intellect. Similarly, a human being is grown when he can start abiding in his own self, in his own soul, in his own heart.

When you are truly centered in yourself, then the other stops and ceases to be a menace. Now you know that because you are not dependent on the other, hence the other cannot harm you. You are no more afraid. And because you are no more afraid, hence you can afford to go close to the thing that appears, as the other. It is a delicious contradiction. When otherness is lost, then the other becomes available to you. When you have started knowing that your being is not dependent, contingent, on the world, then the world, is no more a threat, just as it is no more a temptation. Now you can touch the world, now you can feel the world. Can you ever with poise, and attention, and innocence, ever touch something that you are afraid of? Is it possible?

There is a snake in front of you, and the snake is charming in its own way. But does it even occur to you, to touch the snake? The world appears deadly and poisonous to you, you cannot go close to the world. You cannot touch the world. We remain in our own shells, we remain in our own protective cocoons. We don’t have the guts the fearlessness to really go close to anything, to really be intimate. And as we had said, there is no knowing possible without closeness.

If you are maintaining a distance, how would you know? If you are maintaining a distance, all that you would know is the boundary and the separation. Because that is where your focus is. You are now, not intending to know, instead, you are intending to protect yourself. That is what your intention is. That is what your mind wants. The mind is not saying, “I must know at all cost.” The mind is saying, “Know a little but give the first priority to self-preservation. Don’t go so close that your own existence might be threatened. So, stay safely away. That is what happens when the other becomes too significant for you. When the other is too important, then you can never know that very same other. It is strange, is it not?

You are allowing, that one to be important for you, about whom neither do you know, nor do you intend to know. Could you know, probably the significance attached to the other would have dropped. In fact, the other is often significant only as long as he is not known. Only as long as there is an impression of him or her. Only as long as all you know about the other is an image. The image is significant. The image is impressive and important. Could you have gone close, could you have dared to be intimate, the importance would have dropped. But how can you go close when your first priority is neither the other, nor knowing or realization, but instead as a terrified being, your first priority is just self-preservation.

But then, just as the Ego has its ways, the mystic element in the Universe too, has its own strange ways. Left to ourselves, we would suffer but yet never rebel out of our suffering. Left to ourselves, we would declare, that we are satisfied with our mediocre and tepid existence. We would say that even though we are confined in our boundaries, yet we do not want to break out of these boundaries. Left to ourselves, these patterns would continue. Left to ourselves, we would just remain little, shy, protected and suffering beings. But then, we have not been left to ourselves. There is another force at work. A mysterious force that is not of our making. A mysterious force that is not of our reckoning. A mysterious pull, over which, we have very little control. That is called love.

Love is a disaster for the Ego.

The Ego says, play safe, and maintain and protect your world, your definitions, your concepts, and your way of life. And then the lightning strikes, unexpectedly, from nowhere. The Ego itself starts getting pulled to a strange direction. It cannot know, why exactly is it getting attracted. To satisfy itself, to justify things, the Ego tries to ascribe some reason to the attraction. It says, “I am being attracted to the other because of his knowledge. Or because of her looks, or because of some other rational and justifiable reason.” But deep within, even the Ego trembles to accept that all the reasons are inadequate.

You do not really know, why you are being mysteriously pulled. You do not even know, where, you are being pulled to. Neither do you know who is pulling you, nor do you know what would be the consequence of the pull? All that you see happening is that you are not being pulled as per your wish. Had it been under your personal control, you would have chosen to drop love.

In fact, many a time you wish, many a time you try to get rid of that strange affliction. You say, “This pull, this love is, not my cup of tea, it is just too dangerous, it is making me do very queer things. I am no more myself. My personality is no more the same. Something new is happening, and the new is always dangerous because it is not known in advance.

Those around you, start telling you, asking you, what has happened to you, you are no more the same. And they do not merely ask, they actively complain. You are changing. You are no more the fellow we knew. Your world starts coming down. That is what intimacy does to you. If you are really being intimate, then you cannot remain the same. You would feel like asking, intimate to whom? I am saying, “That does not matter.”

You would say, “But we have been taught, that one must be intimate, only to God, only to the deserving one.” But please tell me, how can you be intimate with God? Is God a person, is God an object, is God a place? A thought, a thing?

Whenever you would be intimate, you would be intimate to something or somebody. God lies in the intimacy and hence the something or somebody is largely irrelevant. Doesn’t matter what you go close to, it is the closeness that matters. And if you can really go close to anything, anybody, be it a blade of grass, be it the mountain, and be it the dust on the road. Be it a situation, be it a man or a woman, the source of the intimacy and the fruit of intimacy will be the same.

Mostly we refuse to be intimate, because of this argument. We say, “We yet do not have, the right contender. We yet do not have a deserving person. And how do you decide, who is a deserving person? Only the Ego decides. And in the garb of deciding and waiting for the right person to go close to, it just keeps postponing, closeness. In fact, that was the real and the hidden intention – keep declaring, that the deserving one is not yet there, so that you may keep postponing intimacy.

Is it so that we do not go close and intimate only to human beings? No. If we do not know intimacy, then we do not go close to even a little puppy. We cannot touch even a young green leaf with love. And touching a young bud, with attention, with respect, with love, is not at all different, from touching the feet of a deity or touching the face and the body of your beloved. But just as we do not know, how to come close to a little leaf, we also do not know, how to come close to a human being.

All intimacy has but one quality, and all lack of intimacy is also one. Maintaining yourself, you can never come close to anything. Maintaining yourself, you would only have a self-declared image of that thing. That image would be suitable to your own self-image. So, happily, smugly, you would maintain, both. Your own image, and the corresponding image of the world. These two always go in unison, if you would notice. If your self-image is that you are a victim, then your image of the world has to be that of an oppressor. These two go hand in hand. If your self-image is that of a brave person, then the image of the world has to be that of a dangerous place. If your self-image is of that of a clever person, of a manipulator, then the image of the world has to be a marketplace.

The Self-image must always tally and agree with your image of the world. You can maintain the image of the world, only as long as you remain away from the world. Nothing is as you think it to be. Not even you are as you think of yourself to be.That is why closeness is dangerous for thoughts. They are proven to be foolish when you go close.

You go close to the world, and the image of the world crumbles. And because your self-image is related to and dependent upon the image of the world, the moment the image of the world crumbles, your self-image too crumbles. The Ego starts feeling hurt, attacked. You have been nursing grudges against somebody for years, you have refused to look at him or her. That is the first thing you do, don’t we?

The moment we start disliking somebody, we increase the separation. We make sure that we can no more know the facts about that person because the fact cannot be known in separation. Now you have given to yourself, the license to live in images about that person. Had you really gone close and inquired, you would not have needed images, you would have known, what that person is really like. But had you known what that person is really like, you would no more have been able to nurse deep hatred against him. Nobody is worthy of deep hatred. But images can be deeply hated, only images can be deeply hated. So, if you are hell-bent on hating someone, you would increase the distance between you and that person.

And then one day, just coincidently, you chance upon that person. One day, just coincidently, you learn that that person is not what you have been imagining him to be all these years. Two things get broken parallel. One – your image of that person, and Second- your confidence that you have been knowing the world, and dealing with the world intelligently. You are shown to be an idiot, in your own eyes.

The one you were imagining to be an aggressor, might actually turn out, to be in a miserable state himself. The one you were imagining, to be powerful enough to cause hurt and grief to you, might show up, as a weak, and trembling fellow. And all these years, you had been living just to protect yourself against his imagined power. You had been raising defenses against an imagined enemy. The enemy really did not exist. And when it is shown up, that the center of all your activity, the center of all your defense preparations itself was false; then obviously you are made to feel ashamed. Obviously, you are compelled to disown, the center of cleverness you were operating from.

The more then you look at the way you have been living, the more you feel disgusted. That is why, in the given quotation, the author is saying, that intimacy is painful.  Nothing is as we think it is. Learning about anything or anybody is dangerous. We always have some concept of the other, that concept is our Ego. And the person has nothing to do with that concept. The thing, the event, has nothing to do with that concept.

Closeness exposes the hollowness of all our concepts. Closeness leaves us with very little self-confidence. Closeness, takes away, our support, our crutches. The Ego does not like that. The Ego is always, a little and a weak thing in its own eyes, hence it is always clamoring for support. If something or somebody takes away its supports, the Ego treats that something or somebody as dangerous.

But again, Life is strange. To be alive is mysterious. Just when your confidence in your concepts, is eroded and destroyed, you parallelly discover that you are able to live even without that hollow confidence. You parallelly discover that the force that compelled you to be intimate is also the force that upholds you during and after the intimacy. You are not being blindly pushed and left on your own. The force that is taking away your artificial supports is also enabling you to see that you do not need any support, that you’re being itself is the support, that the support resides in your heart.

All of that is too bad for the Ego. It is now left with no option but to surrender. And if grace permits, it does surrender.

That is the strange predicament of every human being. To really get what you really want, you will have to drop your wants. To really bring contentment to the Ego, you will need to ignore, all that which the Ego says. To really reach, you will have to stop. To really find yourself, you will have to lose yourself. To really go close to the other, you will have to drop your belief in otherness. Now it is too much for most people to handle.

We live in black and white lies. We cannot handle paradoxes. And the ability to live with a seemingly contradictory situation is the hallmark of intelligence. The Ego says, “Gain, to gain.” Intelligence realizes, “One must lose to gain.” Ego is linear. Ego is one tracked. At best, it can barter. But it can never afford to lose.

Lose yourself, and gain everything.

Drop the confidence in your knowledge and you come to know everything. If that means, that you have to go through pain, accept that pain as a minuscule payment for something very precious, something infinitely valuable. That pain is worth bearing. That fear is worth walking through. That pain, that fear, that overcoming, that resistance, that is what is called Tapasya. It is worth it.

Avoiding intimacy, just for the sake of preserving yourself is a very very bad deal. If you cannot go close, if you cannot touch, if you cannot know, if you cannot love, are you even alive?

As you sit in this room, there are several things too that sit here. The walls are here, the pictures are here, the frames are here, this glass is here, these instruments are here, they cannot know. And if you too cannot know, what is the difference between you and a machine? How are you alive?

To know, you will have to connect. The machine can never really connect. Every connection is an opening in your armor. It leaves you vulnerable. Every connection, therefore, requires faith. If you cannot connect, you are living a very mechanical life. If all you have is your shell and defenses, is it worth living? To live is to live with the confidence, to get exposed.

Nothing in the Universe deliberately hides itself, except the man. If you cannot know something in the Universe, it would be because of your ignorance, not because the thing has decided that it must cover itself up. Only, man feels the need to conceal. To hide. To keep things secret and private. To not to expose out of the fear of getting hurt.

Intimacy is nakedness. Unless you are, prepared to be naked, you will never be able to see the other as naked, and that is a bad bad punishment. If you continue to be clad, in your own veils, the other too would never drop his veil. And if you cannot know the other. You can never know God either. God will never come to you as a standalone entity. When you know the other, the God is the knowing. When you love the other, God is the love. When you go close to the other, God is the closeness, without the other, where is God?

But there are many amongst us, who, in their cleverness, avoid the other in order to go to God. They say, “Only God is my destination and the world is a distraction.”

You can never reach God directly, the world is the medium. The world is the gate. The world is your only opportunity. If you cannot be naked in front of the world, you are not being naked in front of the God. And God does not like those, who hide themselves.

God is another name for total openness, total availability, and total vulnerability. Nothing left hidden. Nothing left secret. Nothing left protected. Nothing left to doubt or conjecture. No half Truths there. God is the absolute.

If you really wish yourself well, stop defending yourself.



-Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity

Watch the session: Acharya Prashant on Osho: Why are love and intimacy painful?



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