From Anger to AdventureBY MATT BRAND
I was really shy and sensitive as a little kid, and I would cry easily. Then one day when I was about eight years old, my mom took me to a movie. I had a bag of popcorn and dropped it on the floor and started crying. There were these three kids, older kids, standing next to me. I looked up at them and they looked at me and just started laughing. And I remember feeling such shame about it. I think that was one of the last times that I ever cried. After that I would just bottle my feelings up. I was super sensitive and emotional, but I wouldn't let it show.
My dad was the same way. He had a pretty big temper and would get really angry if he didn't have things his way. He never hit me but he would push me, and it had a huge effect on me. When he did that, my whole body would get all hot and sweaty. One time I even threatened to call child abuse services on him. My mom didn’t express a whole lot of emotion either. Challenging issues and uncomfortable moments were either glossed over or dismissed.
Not surprisingly, a whole lot of my life was about control. I was kind of intense, and had a lot energy invested in people around me doing things my way. If things didn’t go my way, people would suffer my anger. At the same time, I was very controlling of my emotions. Things like joy and love—I would feel these emotions but I definitely withheld them too. And I would have a lot of intense thoughts, but I couldn't express them. I would hide parts of myself in order to be accepted and liked by others.
When I was dating, I was really good at just showing the softer parts of myself that I wanted to reveal—my kindness and love, my caring and all of those things. But when my first wife, Joann, and I got pregnant and we got married, things changed pretty quickly.
We were honeymooning on the island of St. John, and I was expecting things to be really special—physically between us I pictured magnetic and hot—because that’s how a honeymoon should be. And it didn’t happen that way. Joann was pregnant and totally turned off of sex and wouldn't even really kiss me. I remember, one night, just feeling so sexually charged for her with nowhere to go with it that I didn’t know what to do. She went to sleep and I walked the beach looking up at the stars wondering, “What is happening?” I didn't know what to do with all the charged energy in my body, and all these repressed emotions started coming up.
After that we started bickering and fighting, and that set the tone for our entire marriage. We had our daughter and we started a family, but the underlying thread was anger, and fighting became the form of our communication. I felt constantly unfulfilled and rejected sexually, and that gave me a lot of fuel for my anger and justified my mistreatment of her.
The breaking point came when we were in the kitchen one night. I remember I got so angry I smashed a bottle of water on the counter and the top flew off and all the water started spraying everywhere. I felt shaky and totally out of control. In the moment I was ashamed of my anger, but I still had zero control over it.
Losing it like that with someone, especially someone you supposedly love, takes a lot of healing and forgiveness to come back from it. Not surprisingly, at that point I started drinking and doing drugs and really getting into porn—anything to keep the demons at bay, take the edge off and give my sexual energy some expression. Porn was an outlet for me where I could have what I wanted at no apparent cost.
When we split up it made a big impression on me because I got to see, first hand, the impact of my anger and repression and lack of communication. But I couldn’t do anything to change how I was. I dated other women, but I was afraid of opening up to any of them. They always wanted more from me, but I had closed off access to the emotional, softer parts of myself. And then I met Cara, my current wife.
When we first started dating, she emailed me asking, “Would you would you like to try this OM practice with me?” I think she was so nervous that emailing about it felt easier. She included a video link and I watched the video and emailed her back: “Yes! This is something I think I've been waiting my whole life for!” It really felt like that.
I was nervous the first couple of times because I didn't know how to really do the practice, but even so I remember my whole body filling up with sensation. There was this deep, soft opening throughout my whole body—like a crack opening in the top of a bottle—and this sense of acceptance started leaking out. For the first time in my life, I had access to a woman's body in a way that wasn't tied to shame somehow in my mind. I hadn’t even realized it, but sex had always been associated with secrecy and hurt feelings and all this baggage around sexuality. But with the OM practice I was looking at, touching, experiencing and feeling a woman's body without any of that.
It was amazing. As soon as I started feeling open and accepting of my sexual desire, suddenly it wasn't just sexual desire I was accepting, it was like I was consciously accepting myself and all of my feelings for the first time ever.
It’s a very powerful thing, tuning so deeply into myself and my feelings and sensations while I'm looking at and have access to a woman's genitals. There's a safety to it. The woman feels safe, and I know the parameters of the practice, and we know exactly what's going to happen. I don't have to perform anything. I don't have to be anything that I'm not. All I have to do is this one simple thing and focus my attention on it.
Cara and I have been OMing now for seven years, and it has changed me. I have learned to be very present to whatever arises in the practice, and that has helped me to learn to be present with whatever is arising in my life. Instead of having ideas about how I want things to go and being attached to them, now I let life unfold, moment to moment. Just like when I’m OMing, I'm simply experiencing and tuning into what's happening.
The practice has changed my relationships as well. My daughter, who is now 20, had basically closed herself off from me as a teenager. Recently she told me, “Growing up with you, anytime that something happened that you didn't like, you became quiet and withdrawn and disconnected. That doesn't happen anymore. Now, I'm able to tell you things that are scary to reveal. And you’re there for me.”
At work, if something goes wrong, I don't get bent out of shape. I'm able to roll with the punches and even have a sense of humor about things. I have a trust that we'll find our way to a solution. Overall, I‘ve realized that by letting go of control, anything can happen. And that’s not scary anymore. It can actually be really fun. Life can be an adventure—the fun ride it was always supposed to be.