Rewired to Think About Other PeopleBY RICHARD
I had been struggling with depression and unhappiness for years. Not the kind of depression that puts you in a hospital, more of what I remember a high school teacher of mine calling an “existential crisis.” Why am I doing this? What’s the purpose of all this work for just a little bit of fun, and then you die?
I was at the peak of that mid-life angst when I went on a retreat at the Asilomar Conference Center, near Monterey. My wife had been pushing me to find something, anything, that would get me out of my rut, so I signed up for this spiritual journaling weekend. On our second night there, we had a bonfire at the beach, and soon it was just me and one other guy, talking about our frustrations. All of a sudden, about a dozen happy, glowing men and women surrounded us and asked if they could join us. They seemed almost gleeful, but they weren’t drunk or high. They told us they were also at Asilomar, taking part in an Orgasmic Meditation retreat.
I stayed up until 2AM talking to these OM folks. I was amazed at what they were describing, but mostly, I noticed how they acted. They were all these people of different ages and backgrounds, but they seemed so deeply content. As soon as I got home, I looked up Orgasmic Meditation, and signed up online for a workshop. My wife was a little stunned when I told her, and wary – this didn’t sound like the kind of spiritual path she had had in mind for me. Still, she was excited I was enthusiastic about something.
I remember at that introduction to OM, I saw the same kind of glow I’d seen around the Asilomar campfire. These people were so alive! I, by contrast, felt very nervous. Everyone was talking so openly about their feelings and their lives, and I was almost tongue-tied. I can’t remember what I said. Later, I somehow found the courage to ask a woman if she would like to OM with me. She laughed: “I was just about to ask you!”
Initially, I got incredibly turned on. It seemed so sexual to me, this idea of a woman taking off her pants and lying back on pillows for me to stroke her. I worried that my arousal wasn’t normal, but how could a man not be horny when he saw a beautiful woman like this? Once we started the OM, though, it began to shift. This wasn’t sexual in any way I had ever experienced before. This wasn’t foreplay. This was something else. No, I didn’t feel an instant magical connection, but what I did feel was that the heat soon wasn’t confined to my genitals. It wasn’t that my arousal went away during the OM, it was that it spread to my chest and down into my legs. I’d never felt anything like it.
Afterwards, what I wanted most was to give the woman I’d OMed with a hug. Not as a way of signaling anything, but just as a kind of celebration, like “Wow, look what we did!” I didn’t because it’s not part of the container, but I remember wanting to rejoice.
I won’t claim my life has completely transformed since I started OMing. My marriage still is rocky at times, and my wife and I struggle to feel intimate and connected. OMing, though, has helped me be more accepting of what I can and can’t change with her. I just focus on what is in my control. And the basic logistics of OM, starting with asking a partner to do it with you, arranging a time and building a nest? All of those are good practices for me. They help me stay focused and disciplined in a way that I wasn’t. It also pushes me to be more outgoing; one of the symptoms of my depression was an intense shyness. In OM, it’s okay to be shy, but you have to break out of your own cage if you want to have connection.
For me, having a practice where I didn’t orgasm was a game-changer. There were a couple of times I was so aroused during an OM I felt an unbearable tension from not ejaculating. The thing is, to have this experience and not focus on your own orgasm gives you both so much more energy and so much more compassion. I realized how often in my life I had seen other people, especially women, as here to take care of me. I had seen anything that looked like it might be sexual as an opportunity for my pleasure. OM rewired me to think about other people, whether it was my wife or a co-worker. It made me bolder in terms of asking for what I want, but also more restrained in terms of putting other people’s needs on a par with my own.
To put it another way, not getting what I thought I wanted let me have more than I knew I wanted. That’s invaluable.