Acceptable Answers

BY SARAH

Whenever my grandmother came to visit, there was a list of things I was not allowed to do. According to Grandma, children did not help out in the kitchen. They had to be quiet, and they couldn't run in the house. I would try to be on my very best behavior when she was there, because she wasn't shy about telling me to sit still or pull my dress over my knees. After one visit, I was proud of myself that I had been so good, and I pointed out to my mother that Grandma hadn't said a word of criticism. “Well, honey,” Mom replied, “she said something to me.” I was devastated. I had not been good enough.

My mother had miscarried several times, and I was an only child. “We wanted more kids, and we got you,” my parents told me. Because of their disappointment, I felt pressure to live up to their expectations and was always trying to make people happy. That attitude continued into my career, where I was always careful to not make people angry or say anything that would be unkind because it might upset them. I agreed to do many things that I didn't necessarily want to do. If I made other people happy, that made them like me, and then I felt loved.

The need to please meant I had to keep tight control over myself and my emotions. Once when I was working in a law office, something really upset me, and I lost control in front of my boss. The look of fright on his face was absolutely heartbreaking to me.  

One Christmas, my father gave me some old home movies that he'd converted to DVDs. I saw myself as a child, with brightness and joy bursting out of me. I wondered what happened to that person. I had become so serious, so lacking in spontaneity. My life revolved around taking care of other people: my dad, my boss, my godbrother, who was always creating messes. None of them ever seemed to hear me when I said I was overwhelmed. Meanwhile, I dreamed of finding a partner who would love me, someone who would take care of me for a change. 

My friend Franny told me about a new experience she had tried with her boyfriend, Jacob. She described the OM practice, and I said, “I'm so glad you can do that with your boyfriend. Too bad I don't have a boyfriend to do it with.”

“Oh, but he does it with other people too,” she said. 

I thought that was beyond weird at first, but the more Franny told me about the practice, the more I began to understand how it was different than anything sex-related. When she described the energy she got from OMing, I was even more interested because I was feeling low-energy at the time. I had just explored a romantic relationship after seventeen years of celibacy, and it had been so toxic, I was wondering why I had bothered to abandon celibacy.  

My first OM, with Franny's permission, was with Jacob. At the beginning, I didn't feel anything. It seemed like nothing was happening. And then, all of a sudden, my whole body was streaming with electricity and heat. By the end, I felt spent. It seemed clear that my body had been holding onto a lot tension that was released by the OM. Afterwards, I felt cleansed.

As I went on with the practice, I found that OMing brought clarity and centering. After a session, it was easier to focus and stay present with whatever was happening. In fact, now my husband, Harry, and I use OM specifically for that purpose. When we're both in town, we do a morning check-in, and we typically have our OM session first. It makes our communication flow better.

My OM practice showed me that if I didn't take time for my own fulfillment, it didn't matter how much I wanted to do for somebody else, since there wasn't anything to give. Setting boundaries was a loving thing to do. I also saw that I needed to give from a desire to give, not because I wanted people to like me. And that meant saying no sometimes.

When I met Harry, he invited me to spend the weekend with him. He explained what our time together would look like, and then he added, “And 'no' is an acceptable answer.” I was floored. No one had ever said that to me. Of course, I said yes. 

OM gives me practice in asking for what I want and deciding when to say no. If the stroker's finger isn't right on the spot, I don't have to say he's doing something wrong. I just say, “Please move a little to the right.” Then he says thank you, and I say thank you back, because he's acknowledged my request. And then he moves over to the right. 

Maybe he's on the spot now, but if not, I can go ahead and ask for another adjustment. “Can you stroke a little lower?” 

“Okay, thank you.” He never says, “No, you can't have it,” or, “Are you sure?” But he can make an offer: “Would you like a faster stroke?” I feel into it and say yes or no. I always have that choice, and no is always an acceptable answer.   

When Harry and I had just moved from St. Louis to Austin, my dad had to go to a rehab facility. So I went up to St. Louis, and I was getting stressed out being his caretaker. I told Harry I really wished he was there with me. He kept saying he'd see me soon when I got back to Austin. He wasn't hearing me because I wasn't being clear enough. Normally, if I wasn't getting through to someone, I'd just give up. But in this case, I persisted, just as I did when a stroker wasn't dialed into the right spot. I finally texted Harry in the most direct way possible: “I need you to come up here.” Soon he had made a reservation and was packing a suitcase. It was such a relief.

I still have work to do. I can't sew a hem on a dress because I can still hear my grandmother's voice in my head, saying, “You did it wrong. The stitch shouldn't show on the other side.” I haven't gotten rid of that one yet. But I know that even if I can't do everything right, I'm still lovable.

OM has given me many wonderful tools that enable me to get through the ups and downs. My life isn't continual smooth sailing. But the ups are always wonderful, and when I'm down, I know how to stay present and be aware that there's power in that down, momentum that will eventually create new learning. It's like in an OM, which starts off slow and mellow, and then it builds. You have that rise, and then you come back down and ground with downstrokes at the end, knowing something has changed in you. OM is a metaphor for life.