When I came to OM in my mid-40s, I learned to fully feel my body, live from a place of desire, and ask for what I want, rather than puzzling out what other people want. This translated to all areas of my life, from my relationships with women to my professional life as a software engineer in New York City.
It was a spiritual shift—because I had been brought up in a family that practiced an orthodox form of Transcendental Meditation (TM). Although my family was from the UK, we lived in Malawi, East Africa, where my parents taught college chemistry until I was 7.
We were followers of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which sounds very hippie, but it's actually more conservative than many forms of Christianity. There is a program and principles to adhere to, and you had to meditate every day. It almost felt as if you were a sinner if you didn't do those things--you were wasting your opportunity to become enlightened.
This kind of orthodoxy had the effect of shutting down my desires. When you’re a kid, you feel desire in your body. Everything is so bright—whether it’s disappointment or anticipation; it swells inside you. My upbringing tamped down those sensations. The message was, “whatever happens, don't worry, meditation will take care of it.”
The TM philosophy teaches that no fulfillment comes from things in the world. The things that happen out there are going to be distracting and lead you down the wrong path. They're okay, but they're not where the juice is. The juice is in meditation. And there is a certain bliss to it. But you're not embodied.
I am sure that played into the difficulties I experienced in asking for what I wanted, or even reading my own desires, when I got older. I was denying myself constantly. This really showed up in my dating life.
I had one date with a woman where we ended up playing guitar on her stoop in Brooklyn. She fascinated me, but I spent the whole time trying to figure out what she wanted. Was there going to be anything physical or was it just about having fun together? I was so in my head that nothing happened. I don’t think there was a lack of chemistry, but the desire went unexpressed. After that, we had more missed connections, and, ultimately, I felt disappointed.
When I found OM, things changed pretty quickly. Part of the OM practice is getting to see how other people behave. I met people who were taking small, unusual risks in social settings. There was an intentionality to the way they acted on their desires. So, I was getting information from others’ behaviors as well as from the OM practice and principles. That combination was very powerful.
There was a lot of open talk about our desires. We would be asked, “What do you actually want?” And sometimes it takes five repeats of that question before someone realizes they are not saying what they want. They're saying what they think they should say, or what works, which is very different.
When I went on a date with someone who practiced OM, it was unlike any I’d had before. We started by saying what we wanted, and she said, “I need affection.” Previously, I would have taken that in the abstract sense—that she needs affection in life, in general. Now, I took it to mean that she wanted affection from me.
Accepting this was a new behavior for me. I never would have been bold enough to respond to a woman's desire, especially in the first 10 or 20 minutes of a date. It was fun and refreshing not to have to work stuff out. There was more honesty and connection, and a different kind of presence.
It’s not that I wasn’t present before OM. I knew how to be present, but I would watch a person’s body language to interpret things. I would be aware of sounds and sensations. But I wasn't aware that there was this sense, in my belly, saying, “Do this.”
These new behaviors found their way into my work life, too. I work for a big company and have a team of about seven people. In the past, I was a mild presence, hardworking and a good team player. But I didn't usually say what I really felt or wanted. I would just do what was cooperative. This meant that other people would take opportunities and promotions that I didn't think were available.
What I realized is that it actually wastes other people's energy if you don't say what you want. We’re a bunch of techie people at work, and we're not sophisticated communicators. Yet, if someone is doing something in a way that doesn't work for you, and you don't say so, it doesn't help anyone.
During a time when I was OMing regularly, I actually had a few arguments at work, where I didn’t have any previously. It felt good to be angry and passionate, even if it didn’t always feel dignified. It felt like I was living. After one such episode in a meeting, a colleague said, “Well, it's good to know what you want, because we don't usually know.”
I had always thought that people wouldn't like you if you got angry, or they’d avoid you or be unhappy with you. But that isn't really the case. Sometimes people like you and appreciate you more, because you’re being honest and real.
There’s an aliveness that comes when you’re moving from a place of knowing what you want and being able to tell it to others.