The first time I met a member of the experimental spiritual community called One Taste was at a launch party for this magazine’s “women’s liberation” issue. A woman struck up a conversation with me and began talking about the work she and her fellow community members were undertaking.
“What do you guys do?” I asked her.
“This,” said the woman with a smile, and she began moving her index finger up and down in the air. “We stroke. Like this.”
“The clitoris!” She moved her finger to her palm and began making quick but gentle strokes on it.
What the hell?! I thought to myself. We were surrounded by people, but she didn’t seem aware of them at all, showing no sign of embarrassment as she continued to demonstrate how she stroked women’s genitals to bring them to orgasm as a spiritual practice. I awkwardly blushed and stuttered my way out of the conversation as quickly as possible.
Over the course of the next year, however, I began to find out a little more about One Taste. The community at that time had over forty-five members, or “sensual researchers,” split between a main center on Folsom Street in San Francisco and a smaller center in New York City. They practice something called Orgasmic Meditation (OM), a fifteen-minute or longer exercise in which a man or woman strokes the genitals of another man or woman in order to awaken the energy or life force of the body. OM, they believe, is a way of accessing the Divine, a spiritual practice that along with meditation and yoga will become a sort of holy trinity for the “post-New Age” lifestyle. Indeed, orgasm is such a central tenet of the One Taste philosophy that they use the word to describe almost every spiritual experience. “Love, Bliss, Consciousness, the Void,” said Nicole Daedone, founder of the group. “Whatever you want to call this ‘it’ that is being heralded by many, we’re calling it Orgasm. Ultimately, it is some form of light and heat. It is motion. It is energy. It is a potent, ever-present, value-neutral force.”
For One Taste members, OM represents the next logical step in our spiritual evolution, a step that will liberate human beings from their conditioned relationship to sexuality. Indeed, they believe that traditional roles given to us by society, biology, and morality have repressed human beings and their capacity for authentic freedom.
Despite my first embarrassing encounter with a One Taste member, I was still curious about their work. Like most Gen Y’ers, I was raised in post–sexual revolution America, where sex ed in middle school and sex before marriage are the norm. Because of this, I’ve never thought of myself as being particularly inhibited. But after learning about One Taste, I questioned whether I was experiencing the deeper fulfillment Daedone claims is theoretically possible.
Curious as I was, I never could have anticipated what I saw the first time I witnessed an OM demonstration as part of a weekend workshop at the One Taste center in New York City. After spending the morning in a “share circle,” thirteen other attendees and I sat facing a massage table where a naked One Taste member lay down and spread her legs. A female instructor put on a pair of latex gloves while another set the timer on a clock for fifteen minutes. As the instructor began stroking the woman’s clitoris, the woman’s body started shaking. Within a few minutes she was practically convulsing while emitting a steady stream of “Ohs” and “Ahs” that turned into long, almost animal-like shrieks that filled the room. The instructor’s face was tensed in concentration as she sped up the strokes, her thumb resting in the woman’s vaginal opening. Despite what I had read about the power of OM, the scene began to make me feel extremely uncomfortable, as if I was a voyeur on the set of a pornographic movie rather than a witness of a sacred interchange. I could barely look in the direction of the massage table, as though doing so was deeply transgressive. I had expected to feel challenged by the demonstration, but I hadn’t expected to be so completely disturbed by it. After six or seven minutes, the second instructor asked us to begin sharing our feelings about what we were seeing.
“My pussy is tingling,” someone said from the audience.
“I’ve got a rumbling in my stomach,” said another.
“I feel like I have to pee.”
“I’m thinking about lunch.”
If there was spiritual energy flowing through the room, it seemed to be bypassing my fellow attendees and me. Finally, the instructor began to slow down before placing her palm onto the groaning woman’s vagina, pushing hard.
“I’m applying a lot of pressure, pushing all the blood back into her body,” she narrated. “She’s surrendered her thinking mind. She’s gone into her limbic system. It’s really important to bring her back into the room.”
The woman sat up with a peaceful, almost stoned look on her face and smiled at us. “It’s just like Zen meditation,” she explained. “You notice a thought but then you just come back. I just come back to sensation.”
As I tried with great futility to make the connection between an austere Zen monastery filled with silent monks meditating on emptiness and what I had just seen, the instructor added, “The goal is to touch and experience everything on a sensual level. I just focus on the feeling of her clitoris connecting with my finger. It’s not about the mind.”
Before we were let go for our lunch break, the instructors gave us advice on how to unwind or “come down” after the high energy that OM can induce in its participants.
“Fucking is a great way to come down,” suggested one of the instructors.
“Or cleaning is a great way to come down,” added another. “Cleaning is so, so good.”
Just then a woman in the back of the room piped in. “Wasn’t this really voyeuristic? These chairs are set up like a theater. There’s a sense that this is highly inappropriate,” she said.
Thank God, I thought. Someone finally said something! But the instructor just smiled and said, “Thank you for sharing that voice. This is highly unusual. It’s okay to feel that.” And then she let us go for lunch.
I left the center and walked out onto the street, realizing that I was so disturbed that I was physically trembling. Earlier in the day, the instructors had told us that practicing OM was like “vipassana meditation times a hundred.” It’s like entering the deepest problems in your life and “detonating the bombs, using sexuality as a way of freeing up other parts of our lives. The body doesn’t lie,” they said. As I walked around SoHo, I reflected on these claims. The experience of the greatest heights of sexual pleasure might feel like enlightened consciousness, but is it really? Can orgasm solve our deepest problems—the philosophical, existential, or moral ones?