Unwinding the Teachings of the ChurchBY NIKO
When the Matrix came out, 20 years or more ago, I realized how much I identified with Neo. Like Neo, I knew that something was off in the world, something didn’t add up, but I didn’t know what it is. In the movie, Neo has Morpheus to guide him, to tell him the path to the truth. I spent a long time looking for my own Morpheus, and I think I’ve finally found him.
I grew up in a small Pentecostal sect. We were raised to be separate from the world, to do all we could to live apart. There were strict rules about what we could read, what music we could listen to, and whom we could invite into our lives. Television was forbidden, so we had very few windows into how the rest of the world lived. I was raised to interact only with my family and others in the sect. Anyone else was a potential threat. We were taught that we were God’s elect, but that even we chosen could be easily deceived. The greatest fear the parents had was that the children growing up in the sect would be led astray by the culture. We were always reminded of how important it was to keep ourselves separate from the rest of the world.
When I was in my early 20s, I left the sect. I knew fairly early it wasn’t for me, and though it was hard, I was able to separate. I’d grown up playing music in the church, and I had become a fairly skilled musician. I was able to make a living playing music in the secular world, and even make some money on the business side of the industry. What I didn’t realize for a long time, though, was that the suspicion of the world that I’d marinated in as a kid was affecting every part of my professional and personal life even after I’d left the church. I could only play music alone, could only create alone. At one point, I joined a band with some really talented people, but I couldn’t make it work. I was unable to make a connection with them. I knew how to play, they knew how to play – the only problem was that I was totally unable to open up to them creatively. I didn’t trust.
I had that same blockage in my personal life. I didn’t lose my virginity until I was nearly 30, and I didn’t have my first real relationship with a woman until I was 36. It wasn’t because of lack of opportunity. It was that I was so terribly shut down. I could leave the church physically but the teachings were still welded onto my insides. When I finally did get into that first relationship, I had no clue how it was supposed to work. I was 36 physically and intellectually, but I was a teenager in terms of my emotional skills. I had a mother-son relationship with that first girlfriend, because even though we were the same age, I was so behind in so many important ways.
If you had met me then, you would have found me to be warm and charming. I was good at letting people think they’d gotten close. In reality, there was a stone wall that kept them outside.
Women were drawn to my persona, and I initially seemed very confident – but inside, I was so damn frightened.
I was playing a gig in San Francisco, and a bunch of us went out to dinner before a show. I sat next to this woman about my age, and out of nowhere, she announced that she was a virgin until she was in her 30s. She too had come out of a very strict religious background, and she too had started her musical career as a worship leader in church. We had so much in common – and then, she told me that OM had changed everything for her. When she explained what OM was, it blew my mind; I couldn't imagine that something like that existed. When she was done, I asked her to tell it to me again – I was so excited and amazed. I knew I had to try this.
My first OM brought up so much anxiety. I was scared I was going to do it wrong. I convinced myself I was going to ruin it for my partner. Perhaps I’d repulse her, or she’d feel my inexperience through my fingertips, my brain just ran wild for a while as I started. With some practice, though, I was able to work through a lot of those fears. I was able to stop making it about me, and to stop being so goal-oriented. OM has this concept called goallessness – there’s nowhere to get to, no climax to make happen – where you are simply staying present in each moment and experiencing each stroke. That’s easier said than done, but the precise steps of the practice really did help shift my mindset.
To be more accurate: following the steps shifted something in my body first. It wasn’t just about a new mindset, it was a body connection, me with my body, and me with my partner’s body. I’d never experienced that before. By the end, I felt I was breathing in and out with her. My finger was a conduit between her chest and mine. It was unlike anything I’ve ever known. It still is.
When I think of how OM shifted things for me, the first word that comes to mind is “honorable.” For the first time in my life, I felt like I was completely honest with myself about who I was. I wasn’t a divided person, hiding this dirty thing behind a wall. I was a sexual being, a connected being, and my insides and outsides were congruent. I had stopped denying what wasn’t true.
I didn’t have a relationship until I was 36 because I had been raised not to be vulnerable. OM drew out my authenticity, it led me to vulnerability, and that let me connect with others. Not only did that change my romantic relationships, it changed my business. As I’d said, I always struggled professionally because it was difficult for me to work closely with others. I’d started a business before OM, and lost it in no small part because of my inability to trust and connect with others. After I started OM, I rebuilt the business. Just now, it’s finally coming together. There’s this guy I’d daydreamed about working with; he’s just a great talent. I had a phone call with him recently, and we’re going forward in a partnership, and he’s bringing in another person who is also brilliantly creative. Not only is my music liberated, my capacity to open up to possibilities has been completely transformed.
I was raised all my life to say “no,” and that “no” hid behind every “yes.” Now, my “yes” is real, and it comes from my full, vulnerable self. I’m so excited to see what’s next.