Finding Space to Listen

by Ethan Feerst

In my twenties, after working on a low-budget feature film, I turned to developing an underground theater company into a major regional company. Our group, Sledgehammer, went from one adventure to the next as we put together shows and raised money. I found all sorts of validation from being in that river of activity, which flowed through fifteen years, 45 productions, and 1200 performances, mostly in San Diego but also in New York and Los Angeles. Having an outlet for my voice made me feel powerful. I adopted a flamboyant persona and relished flirting with actresses and crew members. 

In that position, I was fortunate to have many good relationships with wonderful women, but I didn’t really understand how to communicate with them. Despite a lot of appetite and intense desire, there was always a place where I went off-track, lacking the vocabulary to be clear with my partners about what I wanted.

Lifestyle Realization

I was also playing out a Bob Fosse-esque fantasy, partying, drinking, smoking pot, and constantly squeezing out creativity and pleasure. We helped many people and launched many careers, but at some point, I recognized the illusion behind the activity. When I was 35, I realized I’d run my course. It was time for me to go.

I went back to L.A., moved in with my parents, and ended up starting a computer company, falling back on my early years as a gearhead. With the help of a business partner, the company flourished, allowing me free time to engage in self-exploration. When I met a group of people involved with OM, I found they had a genuine openness. I'm not good at small talk or idle chitchat, and here were people who talked about emotions and had depth. 

Discovery of OM

Asking for an OM for the first time was nerve-wracking. I thought I might get smacked in the face. But the OM process had rules laid out, with the right way to ask and reply, so I could feel safe whatever the woman’s response. The container, which sets out steps for OMing, has an architecture of clear boundaries for the entire process. 

I was nervous in my first OM, but it struck me as funny afterward. It’s such an out-of-the-box experience. Over time, I found that OMing could quiet my mind. When I had a regular OM partner, we would both come off a particular day or a particular event feeling buzzy, with fragmented energy flying off. Then we’d OM together, and it would ground us, quieting everything down.

My OMs are always the same. At first, it is difficult for me to drop into my body. It takes a while for me to stop looking at it from the outside. There’s an internal dialogue: Why am I doing this? What is this really about? My brain is rebellious. But after a few minutes, the static winds down, and I can drop in. My neck relaxes, I can feel my breath, and my mind gets quiet. From there on, I feel still and present. 

In theory, I could get to the same place by meditating, but I have a lot of resistance to meditation. I can do yoga, but I won’t sit and meditate. OM has so much to galvanize my attention, and it only takes those fifteen minutes of stroking to bring me to a place of internal quiet. I also like that it's a practice that happens in connection with another person. 

OM and Relationship Skills

When the strokee asks me to make little adjustments in how I'm stroking, it helps me stay conscious of her needs and connect to her energy. When I bring a similar awareness to my relationships, I can listen more effectively and be more accepting of adjustments offered in other settings. For instance, I have a client who’s successful and strong-willed, which means we butt heads sometimes. When she makes a suggestion on the work we’re doing together, I might get tense because I don’t agree with it or because something about it feels threatening to me. OM has taught me to stop and listen to what’s being said, to let go of my reaction, and really hear what she’s saying and feeling. It often becomes clear that there’s no reason for me to battle with her. There’s nothing for me to fix.

In conversation with a friend, I sometimes catch myself not listening mindfully. Maybe I’m trying to turn the discussion in a direction that's not working, and then I’ll notice it's being twisted into something it doesn’t want to be. It’s better if I follow the stroke or the voice or the tenor of the conversation. It's more harmonious if I can just let it be.

Desire as Fuel

Stroking raises energy, and the process of following the energy taught me to see desire as a fuel that propels life forward. I work with my desires by following them wherever they lead. This spirit of exploration has taken me into a crazy business venture and some exciting personal adventures. When I become aware of a ball of desire, whatever it is, I don’t try to contain or maneuver it. Whichever way the energy wants to flow, I go ahead and ride the flow. All sorts of possibilities open up.

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