“Oh god, what have I got myself into?”
“I thought it was a meditation.”
“So did I, but I just watched a video about it on YouTube and they said something about a sexy dance and shouting.”
“You said you wanted to come out of your shell.”
Steve was right, I did say that, and I did want that. I’m tired of feeling self conscious, but would doing a sexy dance with strangers help?
“You can always leave if you feel uncomfortable,” reminded Steve, and with that in mind, I ventured apprehensively to the AUM meditation.
Upon arrival, we had to fill out a form asking about our previous experiences with therapy and why we were doing the AUM. It made me question why it is I’m going to all these workshops and therapies, and I relaised the simplest answer was this: I want to become more present, open and authentic. I want to open my heart and let go of things that inhibit that. The AUM’s promise to ‘Reclaim the joy of simply being alive’ seemed like a good start.
Our group leader, Daniel, a self-assured man with piercing eyes, explained to us that there is nothing quite like the AUM. It stands for awareness, understanding and meditation, and was devised by Veeresh, a follower of Osho. This was an alarm bell for me. Osho is a highly controversial character, and while I’ve heard that his books are great, his lifestyle falls into the stereotype of guru gone awry, with stories of sexual scandal and greed. I don’t know enough about it to judge so turned a blind eye and decided to focus on the practice.
Before starting, Daniel and his assistant provided a detailed explanation and demonstration of the AUM. I watched as my ten fellow students started to shift uncomfortably in their seats. This wasn’t going to be easy for any of us.
What is the AUM?
The AUM is divided into 14 stages. With each stage, you are invited to delve into different emotions though dancing, exercise, role-play and expression. It’s meant to be a way to release pent-up feelings and stress, and reconnect with your true nature. Between each stage you have a moment to stand in stillness and reconnect to your centre, and there is music played throughout, matched to the mood of each section.
The stages of the AUM
1. Return to Hell
This first stage embraces negativity. You stand in front of another person, fists clenched and simply let rip, screaming all your frustrations and anger at them. Everyone shouts together and you’re free to move around and change who you’re screaming at. The idea is to connect to, and let go of your own feelings, rather than take personally what is said to you
For the brief second stage you apologise to everyone by saying the words “I’m sorry if I hurt you” and then hug.
As the antithesis of the first stage, here is where you hold hands with each person, one by one, look into their eyes and say “I love you” along with a few reasons for why you do.
4. Second Wind
Everyone runs on the spot with their arms in the air, going to the point beyond exhaustion.
5. Kundalini Rising
For the fifth stage, you stand with both feet grounded and let the whole body shake.
6. Cuckoo’s Nest
Here you are free to run wild and express your madness, doing whatever comes up – screaming, throwing a tantrum, rolling on the floor.
After the madness comes ‘Free’ where you move gently to the music, dancing, swaying, spinning, whatever takes your fancy.
After Freedom comes Meltdown where you sit by yourself, or with someone else, think of all the sadness and pain in your life and allow yourself to cry.
The AUM tends to move between polarities, and the Meltdown stage is followed by Laughing. You’re encouraged to try and make yourself and one another laugh, faking it until you make it.
10. Dance of the Lovers
After this comes the dreaded sexy dance – The Dance of the Lovers – where you dance ‘however makes you feel most yummy’. You can do that by yourself or with others(!).
11. Centre of the Universe
Once passed that, it’s on to the gentle Centre of the Universe stage. The group stands in a circle with their arms around one another and gazes at a candle in the centre while repeatedly chanting Aum.
After chanting, you take some time in mediation to sit doing nothing for the Wow stage.
13. Namaste and Hugging
The penultimate stage is Namastae and Hugging where you bow to each of your fellow students and say “The Buddha in me sees the Buddha in you” or whatever variation of namsate resonates with you.
Finally you get into groups of three for a debrief on how you found the whole thing.
After the explanation, we were all given the option to leave. If we stayed, we had to commit to doing the whole thing, because it’s not advised to leave the process mid-way. Shy by nature, the whole thing sounded nightmarish to me, especially the first and tenth stage. I’m softly spoken and never raise my voice. I also hate to be yelled at, and I tend be self-conscious. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it. Despite this, I decided to stay. It was a fear I wanted to face. Other people seemed equally nervous, which helped strengthen my resolve. We’d been told that: “like with most things, you’ll get back as much as you give in”. I was ready to go for it.
And go for it I did. I screamed, I cried, I rolled on the floor and I attempted a “yummy” dance. Dormant emotions arose and I relished the catharsis of letting go.
That’s not to say it was easy. When it began, I struggled to shout without a nervous giggle but, as the minutes went on, my inhibitions started to melt and I found myself screaming, not at the person in front of me, but at people from my own life – my Dad and people who’d upset me.
The easy and the difficult
Some stages were easier than others. I found it surprisingly easy to say “I love you” to people, and to come up with genuine reasons – the kindness in their eyes, the fact they were at the AUM, the effort they’d put into stage one. It felt good to give and receive such kindness.
Sadness also came easily. Within seconds I was in tears, huddled into a ball and sobbing, falling free fall into the sadness. It’s not often I allow myself to enter that zone, and it felt good to let it flow.
Laughing, however, was near impossible. We’d were encouraged to ‘fake it til you make it’ but I never got past the faking it stage. People in the group acted like clowns to make us laugh, but that form of humour has never tickled me. It felt forced and inauthentic. Interestingly, I started to chuckle as soon as the stage came to an end.
My favourite moment of all was the joint AUM where our voices transformed into chimes and creating a well of sound to fall into. It was the perfect entrance for the final meditation.
The dreaded sexy dance
And then, of course, there was the sexy dance. The music changed to a slow, sensuous beat and we were ushered into a circle. By that time, my fears had somewhat abated. I understood that everyone was in their own zone. We weren’t there to watch and judge one another. We were there to work on ourselves. Inhibitions had started to melt. I closed my eyes and let my hips move to the music. I can’t say I fully let go, and when the assistant tried to draw me into the middle of the circle, I quickly backed away (being the centre of attention was definitely one step too far), but I did manage to enjoy it in parts. It didn’t feel sexy to me but it also didn’t feel embarrassing.
And that was the joy of the Aum – moving beyond embarrassment and facing self-consciousness down. Instead of the nightmare, I had envisaged, it was a cathartic and revealing experience that left me feeling lighter and invigorated. The release of anger and tears were needed, and I was proud to have jumped the hurdle of fear.
This is the first thing I’ve tried in the ‘Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it’ series that I would wholeheartedly recommened to anyone.
Facing down self-consciousness
England is famed for being a nation of reserved, and some may say uptight, people. It’s a trait that stems from pride and self-consciousness, and is by no means unique to the UK. The ego gets all uppity and thinks: “Me, I would never do that. What would people think?”. It holds us – me – back from expressing ourselves fully. And for what? Because we’re afraid of embarrassment, judgment, ourselves?
Once past caring about the first two, which is of course no mean feat, I think it’s the final one that can be the hardest to overcome. Through years of preserving an image of how we should be in others’ eyes, it can be easy to lose sight of who we actually are in the first place. Letting go of the props that uphold that manufactured image can be frightening. What will we find underneath?
Through practicing the AUM, you get to face the fear that underlies self-consciousness. You practice not caring about what others think, and you get a glimpse of what happens when you truly let yourself go. For that reason, I think it’s something that everyone could benefit from – no matter how silly, horrific or scary they think it sounds. Some will get more out of it than others, and some will certainly hate it. But I’d urge anyone who thinks they couldn’t do it to ask themselves why. Is it because of fear or is it something else?
I love to hear your thoughts.
Would you do the AUM? Have you done it? Could you do it?
This post is part of the ‘Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it’ series
AUM meditation in Ubud
I did the AUM at Radiantly Alive yoga studio in Uud with Daniel Aaron and Acacia Jade. It cost 250,000 Rupiah for 3 1/2 hours