Turning On
by Shilpa

I've always been a very practical person.  From the time I was a little girl, I needed to see things to believe them.  I’ve always been very much in my head, for as long as I can remember; my intellect was how I protected myself.  I grew up in a traditional household, with conservative values about things like dress and sexual openness.  I found refuge in science, logic, reason – and a lot of hard work.

When I reached my 30s, I realized that I had achieved a lot, but a whole aspect of me was shut down. I realized that it was time to start exploring my inner terrain, as it were.  I wanted intimacy in my relationships, and I knew that in order to achieve that, I had to start focusing on myself. So I began to try out various paths and traditions, and that soon led me to OM.

I went with two friends to an introductory lecture here in London. My friends were scandalized and laughed nervously; they were quite clear that OM wasn’t for them.  I wasn’t so easily put off. I felt a particular connection with the speaker, and after her talk, waited in a line to chat with her.  Again, I’m a rational person; the woman who spoke was both so calm and so clear that I was convinced that OM could make sense. 

I signed up eagerly. Right away, I was confronted by own struggle with vulnerability. I have, or had, a lot of defenses and a lot of cynicism, particularly around men.  I am very grateful that before I ever did an actual OM, I got to connect with women practitioners. I went to women’s meetings and listened intently, and eventually I started to open up as well. No one pushed me or said that I had to follow a particular timetable.  I needed to take my own time, and this loving and supportive group of women let me do just that.

The real breakthrough came when I told my mom about OM. I don’t know what possessed me to be so honest with her; even as I was explaining it, part of me was bracing myself for her to be shocked and upset.  To my amazement, my mother was quite calm. I couldn’t believe it.  My mother has always been traditional to the point of being prudish, but here she was, not only accepting of the premise of OM but even applauding it.  Okay, I thought, this is interesting; I really need to do this now.

The first time I OMed, all I could sense was my partner’s nervousness.  It was his first time too, and he was so anxious that I felt I had to send him constant energy to calm him down. It’s hard to feel anything when you’re in that state.  I didn’t get too discouraged, though; I knew I would find someone with whom I was able to get out of my head and into my body.  In time, I found exactly the right person. I OMed with many people, but this one partner proved to be ideal.  We had this great compatibility in the nest, but almost no relationship outside of it.  We were friendly, but not friends.  There was no pressure to grab a coffee or speculate about each other’s inner lives.

Because there was some distance between us, I was free to connect with him on a whole other level.  That may sound like a paradox, but for a woman who found it a distraction to have to take care of men, it was just what I needed.  Without that pressure to see how they were doing, I could concentrate on myself, and on descending deep into my body and into what I was experiencing. The distance enabled me to let down my vigilance, as it were.

It was remarkable that other people saw the changes in me first. It came as a shock to me when I realized that other people could tell that there was something different about me when I walked around.  At first, I didn’t realize what they were looking at.  They weren’t staring at me with evident lust or anything like that, or giving me dirty looks. It was that their expressions were a mix of the quizzical and the appreciative. I remember once, sitting in my car in London traffic, and this pedestrian in the crosswalk stopped and stared for a moment, then blushed and hurried on. It took me a few minutes to realize what had happened, and then I said to myself, Of course. This makes sense.

There’s genuine confidence that comes with OMing. You might expect that.  What was more surprising to me was the way in which a regular OM practice rewired my brain. That lifelong caution I spoke about above had made it very difficult for me to stay in the present. I could never live in the moment – I was always ruminating on past mistakes or worrying about what would happen in the future.   It wasn’t about being sexually aroused.  It was about being awakened to the present moment. I became more alert, more aware, and more observant.

I had always been confident, but before OM, it was what I can best describe as an embattled confidence. Part of it was the fear of not being taken seriously as a woman, so I put on this almost masculine intensity in order to be taken seriously.  OM shifted something in me and allowed me to find this strength within the feminine rather than the masculine parts of myself.  Where I had had to work to be perceived as legitimate, now it just seemed to come so much more easily. 

Not long ago, a colleague told me that I have this “wonderfully calm authority that everyone respects.” The best part is, I know I have it, and I know what it’s grounded in.  That’s the greatest gift I’ve had from OM.