The Quest for Intimacy by Dr. Pratyush Vatsala
Intimacy may be seen as eternal and universal search of Man for his existential roots. In other words, to find the missing link to the umbilical cord that was cut at the time of birth is the crux of the whole pursuit of all forms of love, care, sex (heterosexual or homosexual) and intimacy.
The present paper is an attempt of a close reading of Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho, a Brazilian writer, well-known for his humanistic concerns and spiritual quests. The book envisions entirely new meaning of love and sex for the contemporary world. The study probes into the complex psyche of the individual in modern times passing through the transition from tradition to modernity and still looking towards love and sex as a panacea for his fractured soul.
The Quest for Intimacy & Paulo Coelho’s Eleven Minutes: A Study in Changing Paradigm
Thou madest us for thyself
And our heart is restless until it repose in Thee.
Modern man has classified and categorized all labels and fables. He is moving faster than ever with supersonic speed, cutting the skies above and diving deep into the ocean. Alas, he has forgotten how to remain natural, a human being, in communion with the consciousness. His plans and negotiations have made towering buildings, sent missions to Mars but he is failing to communicate with his partner. Somewhere, something is missing. With the burden of volumes of knowledge and technology, crawling across the history, the modern man has exhausted himself. Fallen upon the thorns of life, he is bleeding profusely and has no one to take care of or to extend his trust to. Fear of the dread is immanent in his being. He has nobody to share his angst, though, there are many people, sailing on the same boat. A void has been created through the ages. He is stumbling badly. He is growing crazy to get that ‘something’, though he is not sure, what it is. He does not know where to seek and where to find this something.
There is a deep urge to seek and strive for something unknown, missing so far on the earth. Everybody is searching. The poor, the rich, the wise, the powerful, and the powerless—all are searching and nobody knows what it means to seek or to find. If somebody gets something he feels happy for the moment. But the next moment, he cries, “Neti Neti”, it is not that. There seems to be a void in the very structure of human consciousness, a hole, a kind of black hole that devours anything that comes to it, of whatsoever pitch and validity it might be. The hole is ever hungry and never full and so there is no chance for fulfillment. And, the feverish search continues in this world and in the world hereafter. A baffled man tries to seek this something in money, power, prestige, sex and, love. But, Love’s labours are lost in oblivion.
Life is a search, a desperate and hopeless search for the uncanny. No one can quit. The desire for something is always nagging him, pushing him or pulling him all the time. His search continues to seek that something in love, prayer, God and bliss, and he moves on. That is the message of Upanishads also “Caraiveti Caraiveti”. That is what human life is made of. There is no other option. Man has to enter “the dark night of the soul” to find the missing link, the roots of umbilical cord that has now grown in him to nourish his confidence and trust in his own existence. He is unaware of this growth and so fears the development. What is to be done? Love is the only possible alternative that can be tried here. Hence, life becomes a pilgrimage to the shrine of love. However, the inner shrine of love is not open to each and everyone except for those who know how to be intimate with the other being from the centre of their existence. As Erich Fromm says, “Love is possible only if two persons communicate with each other from the centre of their existence…. Only in this “central experience is human reality, only here is aliveness, only here is the basis of love” (The Art of Living). And if we believe Paulo Coelho, “…important meetings are planned by the souls long before the bodies see each other….when we need to die and reborn emotionally…. The unknown reveals itself, and our universe changes direction. (Eleven Minutes, p140-141). “The Twin Soul” (Ying & Yang) theory also suggests that at some magical moment in cosmic time, each of us reaches a point during personal growth and evolution where the soul reunion awakens the spirituality igniting the divine spark within. The Sufis, and Bhakti Poets, like Kabir, Sur and Mira also refer to this indescribable, connection between two individuals that can go beyond everyday love. John Donne also refers to this union that does not depend upon eyes and ears and makes the circle complete like the twin foot of compass, even when going far away from the other one.
The word intimacy comes from the Latin root ‘intimum’ which means interiority, the innermost core. Intimacy is an essential and existential need of man. Human child is the most fragile child among all living beings. He needs someone to take care of him physically as well as emotionally. He cannot live by bread alone, according to The Bible. It is with the help of others that he knows himself and manifests the divinity of his soul. He needs other beings to develop the blue print of his own being. His life arises from the womb of earth and permeates through the sky outside. Man wants to know the darkness of the womb with the help of the dazzling light outside. The dichotomy has to be understood and resolved to see the darkness with light. A Herculean task has to be done. It is not easy even to jump into darkness. A man must be trained to see through darkness. In darkness only, in secret moments alone, the spiritual cord reveals itself, illuminating the spirit in a blissful state. It cannot be visible in the dazzling light outside.
The problem is not how to realize the existence but how to get rooted back in existence and to know that we are part of nature. It is really challenging. This knowledge posits intimacy with nature and godliness reveals itself to real friends of existence. The modern man is uprooted from his existence. He is alienated not only from God and society but also from himself. As Carl Jung writes in his article, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, “Modern man is an entirely new phenomenon; a modern problem is one which has just arisen and whose answer still lies in future.” (?). As rationalism fails and he realizes the futility of inauthentic existence aggravated by the “boundary situation”, a terrible sense of isolation and alienation from the social, moral or metaphysical reality is obvious. It is the destiny of modern man. He inevitably feels abandoned and homeless, and finally sees himself as a stranger who has been, in Heideger’s language, “thrown” into a world painfully foreign to him and wholly unresponsive to his ultimate questions and deepest longings. We hear the shocking cry of Nietszche “God is dead” and so the human values. A spiritual crisis is obvious in a world full of unauthentic, artificial people devoid of human values. As Dr. Rienx observes, “They know if there is one thing one can always yearn for and sometimes attain, it is human love.” (?). I-thou relationship explicates the need for communication with another “being” as Buber opines. Maria in her quest realizes:
Everyone knows how to love, because we are born with that gift. Some people have a natural talent for it, but the majority of us have to re-learn, to remember how to love, and everyone, without exception , needs to burn on the bonfire of past emotions, to relive certain joys and griefs, certain ups and downs, until they can see the connecting thread that exists behind each new encounter; because there is a connecting thread. (EM, p141).
The ‘connecting thread’ if found in life helps us establishing link to the divine soul. The spiritual cord that lays hanging just above each human body at times, gets connected with it and we start receiving signals and experiencing ‘trance’ that Wordsworth felt in contact with Nature. “When desire is still in its pure state, the man and woman fall in love with life, they live each moment reverently, consciously always ready to celebrate the next blessing.” (EM, p135)
To establish the missing link to the spiritual cord, to the soul above that unites man to atman, to immerse in paramatman, the Supreme Being or Supreme Consciousness, the jeevatman (the soul caged within the body) is always restless. The one and the only thing we can do, is to remain authentic and sincere to our own beings. The intimacy with other beings will spring forth naturally. Spiritual practice is needed to be conscious of the cosmic consciousness, a realization that one is everywhere and can find oneself anywhere. As soon as he learns how to look deep into things, the consciousness begins to pass from him to the object and comes back completing a circle. The lake is visible in the eyes of Narcissus and vice versa. Upanishads promulgate the very message of “Tattvamasi”, ‘Thou art That’. But thinking creates barriers. Barriers must be dropped to realize the existence. Deep and true love helps us. With the help of true love one can float on the cosmic consciousness feeling coddled and confident. Meeting with love is a beginning. It is an arch where through gleams the fading margins of the divine world. However the desire is to be one, to be intimate with God yet while staying on earth and in this body we still have a chance to experience “the limited abundance” with men and women on earth, as Lisa Graham McMinn puts it in Sexuality and Holy Longing..
However, the condition becomes deplorable as we do not know how to be intimate. We are not open to the people around us. We fear intimacy but we cannot live without it. Intimacy needs to represent a subset of larger group of human needs like needs for achievement, power, affiliation with others, recognition, status, and autonomy. (Leary, Maslow, Murray and Rotter). Maslow and Wilson argue that fulfillment of these needs is associated with well being and good adjustment while frustration and deprivation of needs are linked to adjustment to problems and symptomatology. (Deiner). Without intimacy we are unable to be with our own Self as we need other’s eye to see our own visage. Even the Lake in the prologue of The Alchemist weeps for Narcissus. It weeps not because Narcissus was beautiful, but weeps because “each time he knelt beside my bank, I could see, in the depth of his eyes, my own beauty reflected” (Coelho xiv). The lake is searching its self in the eyes of Narcissus. That is the beauty of the earthly existence that we are interdependent. We need other beings to manifest our inherent attributes.
The crux is that the concerns with the self and identity cause people to develop intimacy with others. Unlike primitive cultures, man no longer lives as a part of a large family or community where there is a sense of comfort and safety, a network of people to share and care, to feel at home with. Maria discovers “Human beings can withstand a week without water, two weeks without food, many years of homelessness, but not loneliness. It is the worst of all tortures, the worst of all sufferings.” (EM, p92). A man chooses a partner as a source of affection, love, support and more than ever a best friend. A beggar is begging from another beggar. Both get irritated as they are not rooted in their existence. A relationship based on illusion gets disillusioned and ends in confusion and chaos. What is needed is to be honest, as Kierkegaard exclaims, “Quite simply I want honesty … I am neither leniency nor severity: I am – a human honesty.” (?).The man who is a rational animal of Aristotle, the homo economics of Adam Smith, and a Marxian specimen of class consciousness suffers the pangs of alienation, loss of human values. His immanent existential fear needs intimacy to satisfy the basic needs- to be attended to, understood, and, ultimately, known deeply by another while still being accepted and valued.
Intimacy, thus, may be visualized as eternal and universal search of Man for his existential roots. He is constantly in search of the missing link to umbilical (the human) and spiritual (the divine) cord, satisfying him at different levels of his being and existence. As man’s existence is multi-layered, from physical body to spiritual body (Annamaya Brahman to Anandamaya Brahman), from gross body to subtle soul, human life is a journey towards attaining a blissful state. How to attain this blissful state? Love, intimacy and awareness of his existence are the broad categories under which all his feelings, demands and desires (physical, mental and spiritual) can be categorized.
The concepts of love and intimacy have undergone through a transition from tradition to modernity. The world is so much with us that we are looking for solutions of emotional and psychological problems in physical and material things. Sexual revolution has taken place sweeping all emotions aside. It is through “plastic sexuality” (Anthony Giddens) that man is trying to satisfy his psychological needs of intimacy and roots. “ …whether it is hidden away in pretty little love stories or discussed in serious tomes on human behaviour , it appears to be all anyone thinks about.” (EM, p138). But the “matter” is failing us badly. “Seven Minutes” or “Eleven Minutes” that too has disillusioned humanity, though, body is now more open for sexual dissection anytime, in the name of love, intimacy, tension release, revenge or even rape gratifying the animal within. Ralf Hart mourns the situation and wonders “Is it possible to know why, after gods had split the four legged creature in two, some of them decided that the embrace could be merely a thing, just another business transaction, instead of increasing people’s energy, diminished it?” (EM, p160). The point is not sex and its commercialization but what man has been looking so far.
The intimacy gives strength to survive in difficult conditions. The Literature Asian or Indian is replete with sex themes. The desire to be close to someone especially in Indian contexts has been extended to lesbianism and gay theories also. India, where sex has been a taboo, particularly for women subjugated under male oppression, the things have changed a lot as we find in Dharmveer Bharati’s “Gunahon Ka Devta” (Hindi), and Kanta Bharati’s “Ret Ki Machali” (Hindi), Manju Kapoor’s A Married Woman, Gitanjali Shree’s Tirohit and, Rajkamal Chowdhary’s Machali Mari Huai. India already had examples of intimacy in its traditional texts, as Radha playing with her sakhis (friends) in Yamuna, though, at different levels. Indian traditional Sanskrit literature also boasts of intimate depiction and Erotic emotion has been given the most prominent place among all permanent emotions numerated by Bharata Muni, the writer of dramaturgy, The Natya Sastra. Love has been celebrated and compared to Brahmanand even, if refined.
Today, people have choice to look for their partners from homo or hetero circle. Society has accepted and legalized it as an alternative available for the moment, so far as this wider choice helps to provide a congenial environment for “disclosing intimacy” between sexual partners. But such an intimacy lasts for seven or eleven minutes only. It is not a ‘genital embrace’ as seen by Paulo Coelho, “when two bodies meet, it is just the cup overflowing. They can stay together for hours, even days. They begin the dance one day and finish it the next, or – such is the pleasure they experience – they may never finish it. No eleven minutes for them.” (EM, p160). Love is much more than sexual contentment, gratifying desire of physical body. It can’t be one night together. It may move to Sat-chit-anada level if the lovers can transcend beyond the body-needs. As Sri Aurobindo says, “Thus it can transform the conflict of our dualised emotions and sensations into a certain totality of serene, yet profound and powerful love and delight.” (SY, p405). He believes that the supreme state of human love is the unity of the soul within two bodies.
The desire to know other in a free environment obviously turns to sex for its fulfillment though that was not the aim. Man has been looking for a union to escape from his loneliness and existential fear and “…sex has come to be used as some kind of drug; in order to escape reality to forget about problem….” (EM, p176). Paulo Coelho, here, heralds, epoch-making shifts to the existing concepts of love and intimacy prevalent today diving deep into the abyss of individual and collective consciousness. Combining love and sex with spiritual quest cannot be the theme of a cheap blockbuster but an exploration of a real penetrating insight into human consciousness. The realization comes, “Love is not to be found in someone else, but in ourselves; we simply awaken it. But in order to do that, we need the other person. The universe only makes sense when we have someone to share our feelings with. (EM, p118). A concept of “sacred sex” emerging from “the centre of existence” of two human beings, let it be outside marriage, is a new construct very close to the heart of all human endeavours and his search for true self. The ultra modern theory nurtured by ancient Indian texts, emanates the scope of evolution of human consciousness. It gives a chance to human beings to evolve like a saint from the role of a playboy. When sex becomes physical expression of inner soul and the direction changes and everything turns inward. And Eleven minutes of sex unfold the possibility for a prostitute to rise above the physical level and to explore something eternal at conscious level.
In the very beginning of his celebrated book, “Eleven Minutes”, Paulo Coelho proclaims:
Like all prostitutes, she was born both innocent and a virgin, and as an adolescent, she dreamed of meeting the man of her life (rich, handsome, intelligent), of getting married (in a wedding dress), having two children (who would grow up to be famous) and living in a lovely house (with a sea view). (EM, p1)
She was pure enough to be a medium of a new dimension and combination of two different needs of man finally merging into one.
I am two women: one wants to have all the joy and passion and adventure that life can give me. The other wants to be slave to routine, to family life to the things that can be planned and achieved. I’m a housewife and a prostitute, both of us living in the same body and doing battle with each other. The meeting of these two is a game with serious risks, A divine dance. When we meet we are two universe colliding. If the meeting is not carried out with due reverence, one universe destroys the other. (EM, p153)
Maria recognized the dizzying game of her life as ‘roller coaster’ and surrendered herself to God. She refused to bother about anything though many a times she had to struggle not to lose her soul in the pages of her diary, as she wrote. She knew well that everyone was in search of happiness and nobody had it. She also felt that it was not sex for which men were crazy but it was happiness that tantalized them. She was intelligent enough to make it that men paid ‘thousand francs’ not for sex but for the hope of happiness. Maria was little different from other prostitutes. She was sensitive to the intimacy needs of man. She knew which points to touch- on both body and soul but mainly the soul- with her clients. During her search for ‘Self’ and happiness she had to face harsh realities of life, that too in a foreign place. But she was determined to overcome all the difficulties purely by dint of her own intelligence, charm and willpower, as she declared. Though sometimes she was caught in a quagmire and waited for the time to pass to “resume her search for Self in the form of man who understands her and does not make her suffer.” (EM, p92). She believed that the signals sent by passion can guide her through her life. So she was keen on interpreting them. She was looking for true love that could promise her freedom.
Going through the course of her journey she learnt the art of giving rather than asking or expecting. She had to answer her conscience (her invisible friend) but she preferred to be “an adventurer in search of a treasure than to be a victim of the world.” (?). She developed a detached attitude towards her profession and continued her search. She became an observer (Drshta), as recommended by Lord Krishna in Bhagvadgita. She was not a “Split Personality” of the psychologists but she could rise above to the level of souls, to find sense in the metaphor of the birds of Upanishads, one doer (participating & enjoying) and one observer (not participating & detached). And, she could preserve her ‘special light’ (light of the soul), to be seen by Ralf Hart. Her soul was getting stronger while going through all types of pain and humiliation with her body, so much so that she could imagine herself “as a soul that has a visible part called body.” (EM, p75). She came through different types of pain, one that awakened the body and gave pleasure but the other awakened the soul and led it to peace. She was aware of the fact that suffering if confronted without fear is the passport to freedom. She had discovered a door onto a different level of consciousness, and there was no room now for anything but implacable nature and her invincible Self. Though, her journey from body consciousness to soul consciousness through body is, of course, not straight, yet it has labyrinthine ways to lead up to the aim of self realization and ultimately the summit has been attained, a human summit with human body melting into spiritual consciousness of man. Paulo Coelho sums it up as:
…it wasn’t eleven minutes, it was an eternity, it was as if we had both left our bodies and were walking joyfully through the gardens of paradise in understanding and friendship. I was woman and man, he was man and woman. I don’t know how long it lasted, but everything seemed to be silent, at prayer, as if the universe and life had ceased to exist and become transformed into something sacred, nameless and timeless (EM, p264)
Here love becomes the Silence (Stillness) and “Samadhi”, where conscious presence merges into the ‘beingness’ itself (Maitri Upanishad). It may begin at physical level but goes much beyond and never ends without touching the soul, and sex becomes a divine dance, a sacred experience. Though, this state of Samadhi does not come without the feeling of Advaita that emanates from the inner core of being. There is then the possibility of the supramental transformation that might change our sense of sight (physical, spiritual) also and give us a natural sense of unity which is the need of today’s fractured world.
Rare is the cup fit for love’s nectar wine
As rare the vessel that can hold God’s birth;
A soul made ready through a thousand a thousand years
Is the living mould of a Supreme Descent.
(Savitri, Book V, Canto II, p398)
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Author's Bio: Dr. Pratyush Vatsala is an Associate Professor with DBS (PG) College, Dehradun.
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