The following is my personal account the One Taste workshop and does not intend to express the views of YogaCityNYC. I thought long and hard before writing this, and kept coming back to the idea that our stories are only useful to the extent in which they may help someone else.
I have a lot of walls around my sexuality. Social, familial, personal, historical… and they’ve keep it all contained in a rather neat and tidy package. I recognize that this might not be the most expressive way to enjoy one’s body; and when offered the opportunity to cover the Mindful Sexuality and Orgasmic Meditation weekend at Reflections Yoga, I accepted with excited terror. If I had any clue what I was in for, I most likely would have chickened out.
We began Saturday morning at 10am, after signing a lengthy waiver. Led by Robert Kandell and Cristina Berkley, we were welcomed into a “clean well-lit room to talk about sex and pleasure”. Robert explained that usually such conversations take place in the dark and dirty places, and as such carry with them the need to be hidden - bars, the internet, glossy magazines, porn. By turning this on its head, we open sex up and are able to lay it out on the table. No hiding, no darkness, no shame.
What most of us seem to be missing most from our sexual lives is real intimacy, connection, and communication which is difficult to achieve in the shadows. One Taste, based in San Francisco, seeks to provide people with a forum and the tools to fill this huge void.
The group is comprised of 6 men and women, straight and gay. Half of us are not from this country and only two of us live in NYC. Some are sexually expressive and adventurous, some shy and reserved, some curious but afraid.
Cristina describes to our motley group the way in which mindful sex is related to the “slow” movement by explaining its 6 core principles: 1) Slow: which means that we are present enough to what feels really good and have an awareness that this will change every time; 2) Conscious/Mindfulness: where we put all the attention on the present moment; 3) Whole: we integrate all parts ourselves so that we are the most real versions of who we are; 4) Local: having the direct experience yourself (vs. over the internet, tv, phone); 5) Simple: all there is in the experience is sensation and connection (there is so much there if we don’t hide it); 6) Connected: we all want the same thing, to love and be loved, to see and be seen for who we are.
And this makes sense; I am completely on board with all “slow” movements. Mindfulness and presence are what I have been working on with each yoga class. It’s what we do.
We then discuss the different parts of our brain and how they directly affect our experiences. Our cortex, or thinking part, Robert offers, is rarely in concert with our limbic, or sensing and feeling part (the lower portion of the brain). He instructs us to each do a private improv speaking from both and we set up two chairs facing each other. For 20 minutes we debate an important topic in our lives with ourselves by flipping back and forth between the chairs. This exercise seemed unending. I became rather frustrated during the battle between my sensible, organized controlling self vs. my wild and uninhibited emotions. But I stuck with it and with each switch became more dexterous at thinking and speaking from that particular center.
I’m surprised to discover that it’s my feeling side that is more afraid of my thinking than vice versa. In order to not have my better sense cortex keep me from living passionately and freely, I tend to make impulsive and rash limbic decisions.
Learning from my mistakes (such as getting involved too quickly or ignoring red flags) has often been painful however, and in many cases could have been avoided had I married the two even a tiny bit more. We are given the exercise over lunch to spend 45 minutes making decisions from the cortex, and 45 from our limbic – so if we feel the need to do anything crazy we must allow it.
Lunch passes rather uneventfully, as most of us decide to relax and the craziest thing I feel like doing is rolling up my pants to sunbathe without SPF. I found it interesting when given the freedom to go wild, I didn’t care to. The freedom, Robert explains, gives us the space to take care of ourselves and listen to our needs and desires.
Fed, rested, and vitamin D infused; we return to the task of speaking about our relationship to our sexuality for 2 minutes. Panic sets in. I let a couple people go before I find the courage, which is more likely simply the need to get it over with.
Limbic brain engaged, I spew my sexual history with little regard to the fact that I know none of these people. Unfortunately, my tale begins with sexual abuse as a child. As the abuser was my cousin, it was decided that the best course of action was to never mention it again so as not to upset our grandparents. And let me just say, that the shame and guilt in a child’s mind from something that can’t be talked about builds exponentially with each passing day. Full of confusion and self-hate, the list of inappropriate and harmful choices I made navigating my sexual self… is long.
In this clean well-lit room with two sex counselors and five attentive strangers I feel some relief through my tears. Maybe healing really can be retroactive. Maybe I can finally find the freedom to knock down some of these walls and consciously enter into a deep and connected intimate relationship. And maybe, just maybe… I’ll learn to forgive myself for some of my more disastrous choices.
Sunday is devoted to Orgasmic Meditation; a practice I naively assume entails finding some type of blissful Samadhi on a cushion. I couldn’t have been more mistaken.
It is a technique designed to create the greatest possible amount of sensation with the littlest amount of story; meaning history, baggage and relationship. It is practiced between friends, strangers and lovers in weekly meetings. The pairings can and do consist of partners from every sexual orientation, but as it’s taught in relation to one male and one female, I will simply relay the information in this article as it was described to me.
A woman has 8,000 nerve endings in the upper left quadrant of her clitoris. Through a very specific set of almost scientific instructions, the male uses his left index finger to stimulate sensation in this area. The purpose here is to feel the exchange of energy between these two points. It isn’t about our goal-oriented “masculine” understanding of orgasm, but purely a practice used to create deeper sensitivity, sensation and connection between two people. Over time, we learn how to let go of more and more layers, become better at giving instructions, asking questions, and reading Meta messages; what is said beneath words through body language and energy. When we then move ourselves to “the bedroom” we find an increased ability to be present, vulnerable and real.
Before lunch, Robert and Cristina give a demo. A couple more people have joined us today, including 3 or 4 seasoned Orgasmic Meditators, or OMers, for support. Cristina takes off her clothes and lies on a massage table in goddess pose as Robert begins the 15-minute “meditation” practice. I’m horrified. I’ve never seen anything like this and immediately I am sure I’ve landed in the middle of some cultish practice. In the same instant, I recognize that my tightly wound upper-middle class WASP background has hardly produced a satisfied sexual being. My mind is blown. I don’t know right from wrong, good from bad, back from front.
The whole group is charged up. We’re angry, suspicious, excited, scared, and curious. We know in a couple more hours it will be our turn. We come back from lunch and Robert leads us through partnered exercises. I like them. We explore communicating as the men touch our arms. Relaxing music is played. We look into each other’s eyes and breathe. Some of us cry.
There were only two rules for the weekend. 1) That everything said here would remain confidential, and 2) that no one would do anything they didn’t feel comfortable doing. Allowing myself the freedom to change my mind, I was pretty clear from the get-go that I wouldn’t be OMing. For better or worse, as connected as I feel to my wonderful group, I am as yet unable to separate the desire to be touched only by a man that I feel extremely close to. Participating in the lab would have, for me, been more abusive than liberating.
I am allowed to stay and watch as the 5 brave pairs set up. I don’t think I’ve ever had such the variety of emotions running through my body as I sat there that Sunday afternoon. I’m scared, jealous, excited, suspicious and embarrassed. As some of the women, naked from the waist down, begin to vocally express sensations of pleasure, I wonder if this scene might not have been so uncommon in some ancient matriarchal societies.
As I am flooded with images of goddesses; a huge paradigm shift takes place. My earlier horror is replaced with the sensations I am getting from the room that these men are here purely to learn to connect with women, not dominate them. And the women in all their glory are expressing their willingness to be connected to through sounds of pleasure and vocal instruction. I am witnessing the communication of yin & yang energy before my very eyes.
It’s safe to say that this practice will not appeal to most of us. It’s also safe to say, that most of us have some potential opening to do around the topic of sexuality and what it means to be a sexual being. I feel strongly about the need to communicate about sex; I know that stuffing my own pain for 27 years hasn’t resulted in the freedom I am so desperate for. If we actually had safe spaces to explore these issues, to speak openly and freely, and to unleash some of the horror that some of us through no fault of our own are forced to experience – I wonder if we would also find peace. If the incidence of rape, incest, child abuse and adultery in modern society is any indication of our inappropriate relationship to our collective sexuality, I’d say we’re desperate for palaces of clean and well-lit rooms.
I consider myself lucky to have been unaware enough to happen upon the workshop; the universe does work in mysterious ways. I have more tools, I have a plan, and most importantly I have an unwavering desire to have this be my turning point. And now, the only wall I am concerned with… is the one I want to be thrown up against.