Taking Down WallsBY JESSICA KOTA
My mother taught me to live in two worlds. There was the white world and the Native world, and as Ojibwe Indians living apart from the reservation, we had to find a way to straddle those two worlds. From a young age, I watched her fight for Native rights in our small, white farm town. She ran an Indian education program and was always in the newspaper. We went to ceremony, and I danced at powwows. As soon as I got out of high school, I was always working in my community for health services or culture or education.
My mother is quite dark, but I have light skin, which means I often pass for white. People would say things to me that they would never say in front of my mother, calling Native people drunks and worthless. I had to learn when to listen and when to speak up. I've danced with that balance throughout my adult life.
Colonization, which affected the lives of all my family members, still has an impact today. A lot of services come through church or government, two institutions that past treatment has taught Native communities to distrust. When I was training as a therapist, studying how people form their identities, I was struck that 500 years of colonization had effects similar to the experiences that happen within the gender and sexuality realm. I felt inspired to become a sex therapist, but my Masters Program didn't have any curriculum to guide me in that area. When I discovered OM, I felt it would give me insights I would need to help people address sexual issues. What I got from the practice went far beyond therapeutic training.
At that point, I was raising three teenaged stepchildren and my own baby, and I had an open relationship with my husband. My first relationship with a woman had just ended. I was still recovering from that painful breakup when I had my first OM, and my first OM partner was a woman, she was the stroker.
As we began the stroking, angry heat surged through my body. I had an urge to run away or pull my skin off. At the first touch, I felt a big whoosh, and the heat rose up and then started to move out of my body. A force seemed to be vacuuming all this stuff out of my chest and my heart, and it went on and on. I know now that this experience made room for other sensations to move in, but at the time, it was intense and painful and incredibly weird. It also showed me how powerful OMing could be.
I was determined to keep learning. As I continued to practice and learned to stay focused on the sensations in my body, whatever they might be, the thoughts that interfered with that focus lost their urgency. The shift in focus extended into the rest of my life. I felt like there were old pieces of my identity that I didn't need to carry around any more, and they dropped away. I became lighter, and everything changed. I saw the colors of the world differently.
My life had been overwhelming, with the financial hardship of two people being in grad school and raising four kids. The teenagers were getting in trouble and struggling to find their place in the world, and sometimes I didn't know how I was going to get through the day. But OM changed my approach to everything, I was able to receive things as they are and find the beauty in them. I could marvel at watching the teenagers grow into themselves, becoming who they were going to be as adults. When the baby woke up crying at two in the morning, I was no longer thinking, This kid is keeping me from my sleep, and I have an exam in the morning. Instead, it was an opportunity to hold my baby close to my chest and let him know everything was okay with the calmness and love emanating from my body to his.
I wasn't just going through each task of my day, giving away all of my energy until I’m running on fumes. There was more of an exchange. I learned how to receive other people's energy and use it as fuel for a better day. I got better at boundaries, sensing when people were giving me an extra weight I wasn’t meant to hold, and finding a healthier way to interact so I didn’t feel so drained. I was no longer running out of steam at the end of the day, feeling resentful towards people for taking so much from me.
Before OM, I had a space inside dedicated to sex and sensation. I felt it was a healthy, good-sized space but it was guarded and compartmentalized. Now I don't feel there's a wall around the space anymore. That energy is something I experience and connect with all through the day. Whether I'm working out or saying hello to people, I do everything with fullness, no longer limited by that wall. It’s like I unlocked and inexhaustible resource.
I'm currently working with Native youth who've been traumatized or had to deal with substance abuse, so sex therapy is not part of my professional practice. Instead, OM has given me the capacity to hold sensation while staying present. I watch this skill come into play when I listen to horrific stories while holding space for young people. I teach them to experience their feelings in a way that helps them heal from the trauma and understand who they are at this point. Sometimes they have to learn to let go of who they thought they were before things happened to them, so they can find a way to be happy and healthy in the skin they're in now.
When I meet the families I work with, they often have the reaction that I'm not Native, that I'm white. OM, with its directness of communication, has led me to make this issue one of the first things I put on the table. I explain who I am, describe my background, and ask them to decide if they want to work with me. Very few people respond to that straightforwardness by walking away. Being able to talk about things in a real and honest way is soothing to people. Sometimes they're taken aback, but ultimately, truth is the best practice.