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Center for Action and Contemplation

Undefended Love

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Therapists Jett Psaris and Marlena Lyons write about how it is only through a willingness to practice “undefended love” that we can experience intimacy with ourselves, God, and others:

To reach the unveiled part of ourselves that is deep enough to express the most profound and untamed aspects of our being means learning how to love and be loved without defenses and without obstructions. It means cultivating the capacity to be emotionally present even when we feel exposed or vulnerable; learning to relinquish the many strategies we have employed to feel safe and in control; and finding the courage to love without guarantees or requirements. Through developing the capacity for intimacy in this way, we discover love as an abiding presence in the emotional center of our being, our heart, and from that moment on, we will never again feel emotionally disconnected, incomplete, or unloved.

Most of us have defended and protected ourselves for so many years we have lost direct access to our hearts; we do not know how to love in an unguarded way. We keep waiting for the right circumstances, the right partner, the right moment to be vulnerable. We may go on waiting endlessly, missing the very opportunity before us. . . .

When we allow ourselves to be known and loved for our essential openness, which can feel both vulnerable and exhilarating, and choose to know and love another, totally and without reservation, we arrive at the heart of intimacy. We may embark on the journey burdened by past disappointments and fearing yet another failure, but we can trust the dual yearning of our heart. It will lead us beyond our current limits and defenses until we eventually know ourselves and another at our most vulnerable and authentic levels.

Despite what we sometimes fear, Psaris and Lyons are clear that true intimacy leads to greater freedom to be who we are, not a loss of identity:

Ultimately, intimacy is about the freedom to be ourselves. True emotional freedom means no longer needing confirmation, agreement, or validation from another to know our basic goodness. Knowing our intrinsic worth, we are able to be present with ourselves and our partners, whatever the circumstances. This freedom means no longer being defined by our personal history. It means being who we are essentially, unencumbered, and undefended. . . . When we open our hearts to the wonder of the journey and search through the pain for the truth of our experience, we begin to glimpse a new light that will guide us deeper into ourselves, below our insecurities and the broken dreams of our lives. There we will meet our whole, undamaged, and pristine essential self [or True Self]. In touch with this essential self, we can experience powerful levels of intimacy while engaged in the most ordinary behaviors. This is the promise of undefended intimacy. This is the satisfaction of the longing to love and be loved, directly, immediately, and without restriction.

Jett Psaris and Marlena S. Lyons, Undefended Love (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2000), 15, 22, 23.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 1 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States, used with permission. Jack Delano, View of crowd dancing to the music of “Red” Sounders and his band, at the Club DeLisa, Chicago, Illinois (detail), 1942, photograph, New York Public Library, public domain. Nathan Dumlao, Untitled, 2020 (detail), photograph, Unsplash, free use. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to core teacher Dr. Barbara Holmes as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. Her photos are featured here together with historical images in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: In the center photo we see two bushes, separate but entwined, touching and sharing space. Human intimacy requires us to come as ourselves, undefended, co-creating a space for connection. Friends, lovers, communities who share raw hopes for change: we welcome each other into the intimacy of authentic presence.

Story from Our Community:

I celebrate 50 years of sobriety today in Alcoholics Anonymous. My recovery is a miracle but it was not until I encountered the work of Father Richard in recent years did my spiritual life begin to thrive as my punitive Catholic background in my childhood had destroyed all belief in God. I am so grateful now for this spiritual connection/guidance in my old age. Thank you Father Richard and CAC.
—Helen C.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.