February 24, 2016

The Myth & Reality of “Going Deep” in Relationships: How to Avoid Self-Judgment.

Greg Rakozy/Unsplash

How Rumi & Sham Teach Us to Embrace Diverse Paths to Emotional Depth.

If you have ever been judged, or have yourself judged, because your relationships were not deep enough, you’re not alone.

There is an unspoken assumption that if our sexual and emotional life doesn’t match the common standard of committed, long-term relationship, then we “can’t go deep.”

This is a myth.

Yes, there is a certain form of depth that comes with time. But the truth is, there are infinite ways we can go deep in the heart, including in solitude, or through brief, sporadic intimate connections.

Let’s consider a non-sexual example to illustrate different kinds of depth. Some people decide to stay in their hometown all their life, while others are nomadic and change places every few years or months. The former get to know their town deeply and intimately. The latter get to know a bit of the whole world. Can we really say that of those two lifestyles—the “sedentary” and the “nomadic”—one is deeper than the other? I believe it’s obvious that both can provide beautiful experiences and foster personal growth.

In the same way, some people are “emotional nomads” while others are “sedentary.”

One person can also switch from nomadic to sedentary multiple times in the course of a lifetime. Establishing a long-lasting connection with someone, or moving from one lover to the next every few weeks or months—both choices can be practiced with consciousness, honesty, integrity and love. Furthermore, both being emotionally nomadic and sedentary can lead to deep realizations. While it is clear to most that sticking to one intimate relationship can be a path of growth, the “emotionally nomadic” people are often considered to be shallow and immature. But a time of emotional nomadism can be a deep experience, too.

For example, having a diverse and ever-changing emotional and sexual life can be one means of practicing non-attachment in relationships—a sort of reminder that life is a carousel of experiences and that everything is temporary. Or, it can be a springboard to realize that, beyond all personal differences and characteristics, we humans are all connected.

In a similar way, people who move from one city to another can develop a freedom of their own, the ability to travel light and tread gently on this planet, with an open mind and an open heart. It’s not for everyone, but it is a dignified lifestyle. Yet, the nomadic way of living is seldom appreciated.

In our times, nomadism of all kinds isn’t too well regarded. Our societies tend to favor the sedentary. We give a lot of value to security, stability and predictability. For this same reason, depth is associated with time, as if being in the same place or in the same relationship for years were the only way to experience the depth of existence.

Now, undeniably, sharing a long-term relationship does provide a certain kind of depth, which is unique and extremely valuable. Yet, the true depth is inside each of us, and however we choose to live our life is just one of a myriad of possible paths to access it. It doesn’t matter whether we have one, multiple or no relationships at all—each of these situations can be conducive to exploring the depth of the heart.

The story of Rumi and Shams is a beautiful example of this complementarity of diverse lifestyles. One of the most important Sufi mystics, and also the author of beautiful poems on love that touch our hearts to this day, Rumi is often quoted as the champion of committed love. And indeed, he married twice and had four children. He was a fully integrated member of society—high society for that matter, as he came from a rich and powerful family. Shams, on the other hand, was a free-wheeling spirit, a wild and nomadic mystic, antisocial and unruly. We don’t know about his love life, but it must not have been too orderly, either.

When the two met, a spiritual companionship was born, and Shams became Rumi’s mentor. Rumi was so inspired by Shams that he dedicated to him one of his two major works of poetry.

These two men, Rumi and Shams, had taken two extremely different paths in life, and yet each one of them, in his own way, had found depth. We don’t know exactly what their conversations were like, but we can imagine that they grew in each other’s company as each man prompted the other to discover new depths of truth.

To me, Rumi and Shams embody the amazing capacity of the human being for carving his own path through existence, reaching to the core of the mystery of life from a unique personal direction, and still being able to share his findings with the rest of humanity.

Bringing this back to relationships, for some, choosing a partner and staying together through the ups and downs of life, growing in trust and respect, is the preferred way to access depths of the heart. For others, roaming around like a free bird, tasting the variety of life and love, may be the path to profound realization. I have met beautiful examples of these two approaches—and everything in between.

However your love life looks, there is space for depth and growth.

Whether you are in a committed relationship or in an ongoing exploration of multiple love affairs, there is no need for self-judgment. Only you know whether your search is bringing you forward, or if it is time for a change of route—and only you know how deep in your heart you are going.


Relephant Read:

A Message to Single People: You Have Not Failed.


Author: Raffaello Manacorda

Editor: Toby Israel

Image: Greg Rakozy/Unsplash


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