Opening My Voice


Outside the windows of the rented van, hills and meadows were flashing past. Inside, my college classmates were chatting and laughing, and I was sitting there in the middle, unable to say a word. They were talking about the destination of our field trip, so I was interested in what they were saying, but I didn't know how to contribute. My body felt clenched, and my jaw was so tight, it ached. Finally a sentence came into my head and wound its way to my tongue. After I closed my mouth, the girl next to me said, “Yeah, sure.” Then the conversation proceeded without me. My thoughts hurled themselves against the walls of my skull. That was a dumb thing to say. Why should anyone pay attention to you? I spent the rest of the trip curled up silently inside myself. It seemed like the safest place to be.

I was able to get along with people, but it was hard to get close to anyone. I didn't have enough trust to let people in. As a young adult, I was supposed to be exploring new experiences, but by my late 20s, I had stopped reaching out into the world because so many things felt too intense to stay engaged with.  

One way I coped was to organize my environment, and that's why I went into design and became an architect. As a kid, I spent a lot of time in my bedroom, constantly rearranging it, painting the walls and making my own lamps. I took all my negative feelings and poured them into making the world around me look good. I thought if I got everything perfect and created something great in the world, I'd be recognized for it. Then I'd have a community as well as a place of my own, a beautiful world to inhabit.

I realized my coping strategy wasn't working when I bought my first house, at the age of 34, with my partner of 17 years. I was with him because he was the one person who seemed to understand and approve of me. He felt like family, which also meant I hated him like family. There were so many unresolved issues under the surface, cloaked by a liberal relationship ideology. I didn't buy into the mainstream idea of romance and partnership. I was an independent woman, and I didn't need anybody. We lived together because it was economical, but there wasn't a heartfelt commitment. 

In reality, I was scared. He was the only person I had ever built that level of closeness with, and I didn't know how to find it anywhere else in the world. He filled a basic need for safety and approval, and we lived in a little bubble.

Our sex life, however was unsatisfying. I didn't want to have sex very often because it felt like so much effort for so little return. My partner was frustrated we weren't having more sex. So I was on the lookout for something that would help me enjoy sex.

When I saw an interview with the founder of OM, I immediately wanted access to what she had. Just listening to her speak about the practice, I felt my whole body light up and come alive. I had a longtime interest in metaphysics and Zen Buddhism, so many of the spiritual concepts weren't new to me. But the things she was saying about OM and the way she emanated care when she spoke, had me feel the connection between “God,” “universal truth,” “goodness,” and my own shadow side I had been avoiding. All the feelings I had labeled bad or not appropriate – anger, resentment, fear – felt like they could find a home in OM. After consuming every possible video online, I decided to try OMing.

I was self-conscious about taking off my pants, so for my first OM, I got my pubic area waxed. It caused a horrible rash, with the hair follicles turning red and puffy. I was afraid it would look like had a disease. A woman who had experience with OM was giving me advice, and she told me, “It's no big deal. Just explain to your partner ahead of time what's going on.” That's what I did, and it was totally fine. It was my first lesson in being direct and matter-of-fact and letting go of self-judgment.

My early OMs felt scratchy and sharp, and I would just endure the discomfort. I was getting a lot of energy from the practice, so I kept OMing. It took me a while to realize that I wanted the stroking to be softer and slower. I always knew I could ask for that but I needed time to attune to exactly what my body wanted. When I started making adjustments by asking for a different kind of stroke, my whole body opened, and the level of pleasure deepened. I had taken the first step in learning to express what I wanted.

After four months of OMing, I had a serious conversation with my partner, who wasn't really on board with the practice. We OMed three times together but it was clear he wasn’t interested in OM, he was really focused on sex. We got in a huge fight, he wanted more from me and felt I wasn't trying hard enough. I hadn't been thinking about it, or planning what to say, but when I opened my mouth, the truth came out: “I don't want to have sex with you. And I don't want to have children with you.” We were both shocked. We cried for the rest of the day. It was sad, but there was so much energy running through my body because I had told the truth. 

Saying those words made me feel like I had come to life, like I finally existed as a person on the planet. At that moment, and for weeks following, I felt solid and big. Nowadays, I have a level of comfort in my own skin that I never had before. I can communicate authentically, whether it's talking about myself or speaking up about what I'm experiencing with a near-stranger. In relationship, I can stay with myself and not be easily knocked out or taken on somebody else's emotions or opinions. I know what's good for me in the moment and how to stay true. 

At a recent business meeting, I brought a design to show a potential client, and her boyfriend was there. I could tell she'd brought him to be the pants, to be scrupulous and critical and point out things I'd missed. In the past, I would've felt defensive, and I would've shrunk into withdrawal and been unable to think clearly. Instead, I wasn't triggered in the least. I could see the service he was providing for her, and I didn't feel victimized. I answered his questions confidently, knowing I had done an excellent job. The client hired me, and it's been a successful project. 

Expressing anger is still challenging. But I have a much shorter timeframe between when I realize that I'm resentful to where I decide I need to say something to the other person.   

I see OM as a practice where I learned softly and slowly to open my body, far enough to be able to listen to what's actually there. It's created an open channel between the deepest parts of myself and my voice.