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BEST SELLING PRODUCTS
The Zones of Intimacy is a conceptual framework that helps us intentionally design and structure our relational lives for the most conscious outcomes.
The Zones of Intimacy are best described by the image of concentric circles making up five spaces or zones. In the very center of those circles is Zone 0 and each section outward is marked by numbers 1 through 5. The sections represent frequency of interaction in the social and relational realms. The closer in, the more regularity interaction. The further out the less regularity of interaction.
The Zones of Intimacy are adapted from the Permaculture zones. Permaculture is a design system that helps integrate human settlement into the natural world in a sustainable way. Often called ecological design, Permaculture studies patterns in the landscape and emphasizes integrated and creative design systems for land and home stewardship. Likewise, the Zones of Intimacy studies patterns in our relationships and maps them for more awareness and choice.
The Zones of Intimacy operate with a few core principles:
Zone 0: This is the zone of the self. The center of our lives is our relationship with our self. In the Permaculture zones, this area is represented by the house we live in. In the Zones of Intimacy we inhabit ourselves all day, everyday. This is the place of self-esteem, self-awareness, self-care, self-literacy, self-respect, self-direction, and self-determination. This is the baseline of our worldview, our navigation system, and our trust or lack of trust with the rest of life. The quality of all our relating emerges from this place. The healthier our relationship with ourselves, the healthier our relationships with others.
Zone 1: This is the zone of our primary relationships. The zone nearest the center gets our frequent attention, time, and interest. This is sometimes a primary partner or children. This does not have to be another person. It can also be a project or a state of mind/heart or a process. Regardless, this is often an external touchstone for us, a highly important relationship where many of our needs are met. In Permaculture, this zone is directly outside of the house, a place that one visits multiple times a day. Regular and ongoing contact is also true in the Zones of Intimacy. If it is a person/s there tend to be tight and direct feedback loops and “your happiness is tied to mine” mentalities. Separation can tend to blur here.
Zone 2: This is the zone of our closest allies. In Permaculture, zone 2 sits just beyond zone 1 and is visited regularly, anywhere from daily to weekly. It is the place of the garden, compost system, or chicken coop. These regular visits also characterize the components in the Zones of Intimacy as the people or projects in this zone meet significant needs in our lives. They could be business partners, best friends, a close relative, or a cooperative partnership. This zone is important for meeting needs and the touches here are regular but with somewhat less frequency than Zone 1.
Zone 3: This is the zone of community. In Permaculture, this zone is represented by field crops, nut trees, or pasture, and is visited less frequently. Depending on the makeup of one’s life, this zone in the Zones of Intimacy can come into play weekly or monthly or less. This zone needs peripheral tending and once established it provides support, interest, activities, and other needs with minimal intervention and intention. This is connection with friends, family, coworkers, and classmates through interest or affinity groups. Generally speaking this zone represents people that are in each other’s orbit but less regularly and less dependably. Interest in keeping things in harmony and ease here with very little input needed. Depending on the fullness or vacancies in the first three zones (0, 1, and 2) this zone may or may not feature fully in someone’s life.
Zone 4: This is the zone of acquaintances. In Permaculture this is a semi-wild area used for long term timber production, wild food foraging, or occasional visits. There is some interaction here, but minimal. In the Zones of Intimacy, there is very little engagement here and subsequently very little expectation. People in this zone could be friends of friends, classmates and coworkers with less connection, distant relatives, or even a neighbor. You may or may not know their name or even basic details about their life. This is someone or something that you would not depend on, not share deeply with, and not give much consideration to.
Zone 5: This is the zone of strangers. In Permaculture this is the area of wilderness and the only engagement is through observation and distant interaction. In the Zones of Intimacy this could be a store clerk or someone we read about on the news or in fact, most of the 7.8 billion population of the planet. For someone who is whole systems minded, this doesn’t need to lack intimacy. This zone can represent “my people” for example.
The benefits of the Zones of Intimacy are many. From intentionally designing our lives and taking more responsibility for our time to cultivating a deeper understanding of human nature, this model is exceptional at navigating the complex stuff of relating. Here are a few ways in which the tool can enhance our experience as a social and relational being:
There were times, in our not too distance human past, where our life choices were narrow. We were born into families, married off into other families, and embedded into communities that we depended on for survival and for meeting all of our needs. Within these more limited geographical, sociographical, and relational options our choices were largely prescribed and predetermined.
For many of us, the structure and function of our existence is still guided by habit, social expectations, and bonding within specific social groups. Our families, schooling institutions, jobs, and communities shape our lives in foundational ways.
Yet for better and for worse, our lives now contain much more range, choice, and personal determinism. And with this comes an opportunity for elements of conscious design.
When we play with the Zones of Intimacy and map our lives, it is usually quite an intuitive approach. Yet here are some factors that contribute to zone determination.
The Time Factor: Chronological time in relationship to someone or something doesn’t always determine the zone of intimacy. We can know a parent or other relative for our entire lives yet relate to them as a stranger. The amount of time we spent with someone however, often does determine the level of intimacy. In general, we give time to something in proportion to its importance in our lives. More time together usually equates to more shared literacy, more depth and richness, and certainly more proficiency in relating.
The Nourishment Factor: The more nourishing a thing is, the more sustainable it is and usually the more time we devote to it. Nourishing relationships take less effort and often meet a range of needs. The less nourishing, the greater the pressure to move it to a further out zone. There are significant exceptions to this that have to do with trauma bonding in abusive contexts that can keep us compelled to stay in a harmful, toxic, or unsatisfying situation. In an ideal world we will all get the support we need to craft a life where all of our relationships are based in holistic choice.
The Limitations Factor: There are built-in limitations to all of our lives and they include time, energy, and interest. As our lives fill up we learn to discern where to put our attention. This is a sign of a maturity and adulthood. We consciously recognize our limits and navigate our lives for the good of the whole.
The Commitment Factor: There are instances where we have a strong commitment to a relationship that overrides our desire for closeness. We can be committed to a marriage or a relative or a situation because our intention is strong. For example, I have a commitment to health and therefore exercise is in my Zone 0 for self-care. I may not always like it but I do it regularly.
All of these factors and more form a complex and often unconscious algorithm that feeds into the choices we make. You’ll notice there is no love factor. It’s because how we feel about a person or project can vary from moment to moment and day to day. But our actions determine how we presence our actual lives.
Movement between zones happens regularly and throughout our lives. Transitions are shifts or adjustments to the level of intimacy and can happen in either direction. There are a few factors to consider:
Some examples of transitions include:
As we move towards more mindfulness in our lives, managing our own and others’ expectations becomes a crucial part of conscious relating. The Zones of Intimacy give us language for communicating about those expectations. The more we communicate, the less apt we are to have confusion. Some examples of zone confusion include:
In all of the above scenarios, confusion within the self as well as with others can be rife. It’s easy to see how this can easily lead to disappointment and conflict. Consciousness, clarity, and communication are the keys here.
Play around this with concept as it applies to your life. Feel free to draw circles on a paper or print out this zones map. Use small sticky notes (I use these) to represent each person or project in our lives. Experiment with moving the notes around. Notice where you would ideally like this person or project and where it actually is. Notice where you might have zone confusion, zone vacancies, or an overly full zone. Notice what kinds of awareness emerges from this exercise. Discuss this with friends and partners.