A Search for Intimacy

BY ALEX HAYWOOD

I was already in my late 30s when I came to OM. I met some people who were engaged in self-improvement and self-inquiry—people who were wanting to know what makes a difference in a person's life. One of those people had gotten introduced to OM, and they introduced me.

My upbringing was long on practical and functional support. But my family was in no way nurturing. As a result, I didn't grow up with models for intimacy. I had no sense of what it means to engage with another person vulnerably and authentically. And I was beginning to see the impact of this in my dating life. I was finding that it was easy to date, but it was hard to care. It was rather like being an actor. I auditioned fantastically, but I could never really get the part and deliver the performance. 

In relationship, I found it was hard to generate and then maintain a commitment to the other person. And I realized this was most likely the result of a lack of intimacy. I would spend my time wondering, “Am I being my authentic self in the relationship? Am I saying what I think they want to hear? Or am I saying what I truly feel? Do I believe them when they say they are being authentic?” I didn’t have a clue. All my models of intimacy came from books and movies. I hadn't really experienced it, so how could I recognize it?

I decided I needed to find people who knew how to explore intimacy and be with them. When I was introduced to OM, there was definitely an authenticity aspect to it. I saw a bunch of extraordinarily comfortable, free and open people getting real in relationships, coming from that place of heart, not head. And I knew I needed to be in that conversation. That was my goal … my frame of mind when I got started … a frame of mind that persisted throughout my whole time with the practice. 

Going into my first OM session, I assumed it was what I thought it was. I thought it was an intimate practice that would bring me into close communion with people, especially women. But I learned something surprising. I learned there is no fixed concept called intimacy. I learned that engaging in a really in-depth conversation with someone could actually be so much more intimate than OMing. I learned that touching a woman’s genitals, although it could be intimate, wasn’t necessarily intimate at all.

I'd always been really good at sympathy, but not necessarily good at empathy. My attempts to get a sense of what my partner was feeling, my attempts at understanding what was working for them and what wasn’t was muddied by the fact that sometimes they didn't want to tell me, and then I would be thinking, “What does that mean? How do I feel about myself in this moment?” and all of the mental noise of that was going on within the realm of performing this incredibly “intimate” activity. Having that experience deflated some ideas I had about what I thought I wanted and needed,

I think what I got out of OM is that intimacy and authenticity is a negotiation that is between you and the person that you're engaged with—a negotiation that might mean something entirely different with someone else. I went into OM wondering, “Well, what's the recipe? What are the things I'm supposed to do versus the things I’m not supposed to do?” And I think what I got out of the whole experience was, there's no right way or wrong way to do it. Intimacy depends on the situation and the people involved.

What does it mean if I ask someone to OM and they say “No.” Can I not take it personally? Should I take it personally? What does it mean if I’m having this extraordinary OMing relationship with someone and want to have a different type of relationship and they’re not interested? I worked with the practice for about three years, and it was definitely confronting and made me look a lot deeper into myself and relationship.

I've left the whole experience notably broadened. Both the practice itself and interacting with other people who practiced OM unwound some things that had been wound pretty tight. I like to think that I now have a broader and deeper appreciation for all the women in my life and for people in general.  Today, creating intimacy with someone is a joy that is available to me outside of romantic relationship. I can have intimacy with women who are not family. I can have intimacy with friends. 

OM opened me up as a person. Not long after I stopped OMing I met the woman who has become my wife, and we got monogamous pretty quickly. I have such fond memories of OMing and all the people I met through the practice. I wish I had found OM earlier in my life. If I had, I might have been able to go even more deeply into the practice than I did. But I have no regrets, only appreciation.