What to Do with Shame


I used to set a hard limit on how far I'd let a relationship go. At a certain point, I would always hit the eject button. I knew that eventually, if the other person asked enough questions, I would have to tell them about something I did once that changed my life and haunted me with shame and guilt. 

When I was seventeen, I sexually assaulted a friend of mine. I crossed a boundary without consent, and I felt horrendous about it. The next morning, I honestly had no idea what to do or what to say or who to talk to. The girl reached out to me to talk about it, and I pushed her away. We finished our senior year of high school going to three or four classes a day together and not speaking to each other. I tried to make myself invisible.  

Since I couldn't find any way to come back from the unforgivable thing I had done, I gave up on being as good a person as I thought I could be. Therefore, I wasn't showing up fully in any of my relationships. That was the disconnected world I lived in for a long time.

In college, I studied music, which seemed like a way out of my hole. I thought music could give a voice to the painful part of me that no one seemed aware of. After graduating, I worked as a tour manager for bands. I liked it for a while, since I could stay behind the scenes and still express myself through my work. But eventually the stress of managing people got to me and left me feeling isolated.  

I landed a few jobs in recording studios in New York, and then the work dried up, leaving me anxious, with a fight-or-flight feeling a lot of the time. A voice of criticism was constantly nagging in my head, saying there was something wrong with me. I had a few friends, but I didn't feel like I could be honest with anyone about myself. I often thought, I just want to figure it all out. How did I get here? 

Desperate for change, I started taking yoga classes, did some drugs, and then found a Buddhist community that was engaged with philosophical aspects of spirituality. It was a place where I could have the conversations I wanted to have, and I could show up and be my weird self. Soon I was meditating half an hour a day and taking courses on Buddhist texts.

I kept thinking back to an article I'd read once about OM that made me think it was something I wanted to do. It seemed like these people were practicing meditation with a focus on sexuality, and I thought they might understand me. But I was worried if they didn't, then nobody else would, and I'd really be in trouble. So I put off checking it out. 

Intense one-on-one relationships gave me hope. I worked at developing communication to the degree of intimacy and safety that I needed in order to trust that it would be okay if I confessed my guilt. But the few times I actually told the other person what happened, they were shocked, and we never spoke again. I felt lost, boxed into a corner. 

Eight years after reading the article, I finally started to OM. The first time I tried it, I was really tense and tight, and not much sensation got through. Then I got on the subway on the way home, and I loosened up a little bit. Everything rose to the surface. My heart was pounding, my palms were sweating, and a grip in the center of my chest started to relax. As I let it happen, a soft, warm feeling oozed out from my chest. I couldn't believe how much sensation had been released, and I realized there must be a lot of power to the practice.

I talked to men who were OMing, telling them how tense and self-conscious I'd felt, and they said to keep trying, that I'd be able to push through. I tried to OM as much as possible, so I could work on the skill of it. I learned to confidently hold my position in the container – the structure that defines an OM – which reduced my vigilance around being intimate with women. From there, my attention was free to focus on the highest spot of sensation on the clitoris. 

There's a truth in the OM connection that makes it hard to fake anything. If I think I'm on the spot, but I'm actually not there, it just doesn't work. The connection dries up and disappears. So in that way, it's like meditation on steroids. It brings me back to the moment, to find the spot. When I'm not on the spot, I have faith that there is a spot I can find. 

OM gave me a sense of being of service and holding the container, which provides a sense of safety for both partners. There had been a voice in my head saying I did not associate myself with safety. But OM allows me to offer safety, holding the space for that out-of-control, involuntary part of our nature to express itself without harm.

I used to try to make women feel safe by pretending the sexual side of myself didn't exist. In OM, there were moments when I would let that part of me come out, and it added energy to the connection. OM gave me the visceral experience that all parts of us are wanted and necessary, and it gave me a space to consciously navigate them. 

Eventually I told some men I'd met through OM about my secret from the past. I felt from them a sense of permission to speak and an acknowledgement of that hidden part of us all. Then I wrote up my story and put it on Facebook. I don't think I expressed myself perfectly, but it was a relief to know I could go to people and talk about painful, shameful feelings and not be ostracized. I would still be seen as a worthwhile person to have in their lives.

It's not the first thing I tell anybody, but it's part of my story. Now when I'm getting to know someone, I'm confident that if this person wants to know about my past, I can share it with them. 

When I met Jessica, I thought she was annoying and stuck-up. She didn't have much use for men, including me, except as OM partners. After four months, something clicked between us, and we entered a relationship that was way more powerful than either of us. 

In an OM, when the experience wants to move in a particular direction, I don't have to judge that direction. I let it go where it wants to go. Instead of worrying about where our relationship was heading, Jessica and I let it pick us up and sweep us along. 

Now we're living together. She's direct and confrontational and fiery, and she wants me to show up and be direct and honest. Even if we have to say things that are uncomfortable, it's all right as long as they're true. 

I'm seeing a whole new possibility for the world.