The Body is the CompassBY DENISE HARRIS
I grew up Mormon. There’s a lot of shorthand in saying that. There were beautiful things about my family growing up, but for the most part, it was a cage. I grew up without a sense that my pleasure mattered. I was there to serve, first my parents, then my husband, then my kids. I got married young – and by some miracle, got out early.
The thing about growing up trying to do the right thing in the eyes of others is that when you finally extricate yourself from that world, it’s not as easy to figure out what you want as you might think. I left the church and became a seeker. I tried being Jewish for a while, then a Buddhist. I moved around, and for a while, lived in Buenos Aires.
It was liberating not to be married or bound to any man, but it was scary too. I didn’t know the rules for dating, either in the States or Argentina. I wanted sex, I realized – but I still had all these filters on that told me I could only have sex under certain conditions. So, I ended up marrying one of the first men I had sex with after my divorce; I was still stuck in the church’s programming even though I’d moved thousands of miles away. I soon got divorced again.
I kept seeking and opened up new parts of my sexuality. But that opening was still mostly about my partner’s pleasure; I got good at performing whatever I thought would make men happy. The fact that the culture I grew up in wouldn’t approve of the sex I was having didn’t change the fact that I was still having it the way they’d taught me to have it: to please someone else. I could feel the contradiction, but I couldn’t seem to get myself out of the pattern.
I went back and forth between hope and hopelessness. People say you have to have hope, but that’s actually such a trap. You just keep waiting to be rescued, then giving up on being rescued, and then hoping again for a rescuer – and you never rescue yourself.
What happened was I tuned into this podcast. It wasn’t about sex or relationships, it was about extreme sports. They had this guest on who did insane things, like skiing down a black diamond slope blindfolded on a moonless night. The guest kept recounting these stories, and they were fascinating and scary. I knew if I tried one of those things once, I’d be dead. The host finally asked his daredevil guest where he got the calm and the certainty to do these things. “Orgasmic Meditation,” was his reply.
I was rocked to my core. Just the phrase sent a bolt up and down my spine. It was like my brain stopped and restarted, and could only think of one thing. I Googled, and soon found out how I could try OM for myself. Within days, I had my first experience.
That first OM started as such a disappointment. I was shocked because I didn't feel anything. Is he even touching me? I kept asking myself. I was totally numb and nowhere near an orgasm in the traditional sense. But when I got up from the nest, I did feel a sense of well-being. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t much, just a crack. And that little chip in the armor was enough to keep me going.
It took three weeks of OMing almost every day to start to feel the strokes on my clitoris. It came first as a pinprick, but then it started to steadily expand. And one morning, I could feel that pinprick point expanding so fast that it lit me up inside. I could feel my eyes go wide. I finally felt the strokes, and felt my whole self open up. I’m so glad I was patient enough to stick with it after those first few weeks of what seemed like nothing.
After that, there was no way of stopping me. I haven’t stopped yet.
The best way I can describe it is that from the time I came into this world, my whole body was wired with this incredibly elaborate circuitry, like the kind you’d find in the control room of a state-of-the-art skyscraper. And until I came to OM, it was as if that electricity only flowed to one single floor of that skyscraper. All the wiring was there for the other floors, but no one had ever flipped the switch. OM turned on the lights, one floor at a time, until the whole 100-story building was lit.
I remember living in Buenos Aires, wondering how the hell I’d ended up there. I had no compass to guide me. I could just as easily have ended up in Tel Aviv or Tokyo. OM changed that. I was working with a healer who had some OM experience, and he was doing some energy work when he said, out of the blue, “I’m getting a strong read on Bali.” I looked at him. The only thing I knew that was connected to Bali was the song “Bali High,” from the musical South Pacific – and that’s not even about the real Bali. “Bali,” he repeated. “I think you’re meant to go to Bali.”
And I realized he might be right. When I say I realized, it wasn’t intellectual – it was that he said the name of this place that my body had told him, and when he said it back to me, everything in me said, “okay.” I went home, packed my bags, and the next thing I knew I was on a day’s worth of flights to Indonesia. Bali turned out to be exactly where I needed to be. Everything worked out for me to be there. It wasn’t that I was unhappy before my body sent this message to go. I didn’t have that restless sense of dissatisfaction; I was living in Los Angeles and everything seemed perfect. My body knew, though. It still knows: sometimes it will tell me, “Now, it’s time to see your family,” and I’ll go. Before starting this practice, I was always just guessing or depending on something outside of myself; whereas now, I have an internal compass to guide me.
The number one thing I've learned through OM is that my body is a direct conduit for the divine, what I call God. It knows where I belong and where I’m supposed to be. My job is to listen. In some ways, it’s brought me to a new appreciation of how I was raised. I’m not a Mormon anymore. What I realize, though, is that I have these deep sensitivities to the divine I might not have had if I hadn’t grown up in the church.
My father died recently, and when he passed, there was a part of me that grieved that I didn’t belong to his world anymore. I could hear the voice of my family saying, “You’ve forgotten who you are.” And after a moment, my body responded, “No, it’s the opposite. I’ve just finally remembered.” I’m still a believer – I just have a different kind of faith now. Every time my body lights up, I’m reminded of who I am.