Authenticity, Satsangs, and a Sex Party.
To live authentically requires that we know and reveal the truth of who we are — not the abstract ideas of who we are, but how we are in our living.
That’s not always so easy. We have to embrace words — and corresponding behaviors — like integrity, transparency, intimacy, vulnerability, honesty.
I’ll tell you a story, which I’ve never before written about. You will take from this story what you want, and I’ll be happy with that. It’s when I first came face to face with authenticity in my role as a spiritual teacher.
(Warning: graphic sexual content follows!)
Many years ago, I lived in Marin County, California. I had just finished leading a week-long meditative inquiry retreat in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I met a lady there, who shortly afterward became my girlfriend. She lived in nearby San Francisco.
When we recognized we wanted to get together, we went for a long walk in Muir Woods, sharing with each other what we wanted, what we were able to give — you know, let’s start with some conscious communication and go from there.
In this conversation, Sarah (not her real name) told me that she was bisexual, and that she and her previous boyfriend of some five years (she had recently split from him) liked to go to the “sex parties” that were sponsored by a local and reputable sex education organization. Would I be willing to go with her?
What, exactly, do you mean by “sex parties?” She told me that perhaps 200 or so people would get together, by invitation only, in a south of Market Street (SoMa) warehouse to, well, hug it out, so to speak. Participation in sexual activities was not compulsory. Again, would I be willing to attend one?
Well, I hadn’t exactly been a choir boy, being Jewish and all. I had experienced some “communal” sex in some of the places I’d lived in while traveling throughout Europe when I was in my twenties, but as far as I could remember, there were never more than half dozen or so people. And, if my memory serves me right, we were all pretty high on one thing or another. 200 people was, damn, that was a lot of people!
I told Sarah that I would not say no to a “sex party,” or to anything that she wanted to do, without at least trying it once, with her, so as to not let a pre-existing prejudice get in the way of exploring our relationship. Then, I’d tell her the truth of my experience. She was happy and satisfied with that.
Fast forward a few months. We are now in the adventure of “relationship.” One day, she said, “Hey, guess what? There’s a sex party this Friday. Wanna go?”
“You betcha, honey. Can’t wait.”
I should mention this here: on Saturday, the night after our looming sex party, I was to lead a meditative inquiry evening in Sausalito — popularly known as satsang. These evenings, with around 20 or so people, would proceed like this: words of welcome, silent sitting, a spontaneous talk by me, then my responses to questions. They usually lasted for two to three hours.
I wasn’t fully aware on Friday what I’d become aware of on Saturday, that the labels in my head — the sex party being “sexual” and the meditative inquiry evening being “spiritual” — would cause me to come face to face with authenticity.
Friday night: Sarah is getting all dressed up in all kinds of fancy female fetish gear. I was sadly under-dressed, although she did put some makeup on my face. She stashed some condoms and sex toys in a bag, and off we went.
Entering the unmarked door in a dark and empty part of south of Market Street, San Francisco, we walked up a long flight of stairs. We were met by a smiling gentleman who greeted us warmly, and gave Sarah a big kiss. They knew each other. We went deeper into the huge space.
Holy mother of god! We were not in Kansas anymore! Easily, there were 200 people: every size, shape, gender, race, ethnicity, in various states of undress.
In the vast main room, grey padded mats covered the floor. Another room was a well-equipped dungeon with all kinds of BDSM paraphernalia. In the third room was a long table full of all kinds of food, a buffet worthy of a cruise ship. That seemed very incongruous to say the least.
The main room action heated up pretty fast. Straights, gays, lesbians, transsexuals — I’m sure a few ETs were in the mix — solo, couples, groups, bigger groups. Oh my!
Sarah and I fooled around with each other pretty much in the middle of things. All of a sudden, she gets a big grin on her face and says, “Hey, how are you guys?”
Well, the guys she greeted was a lesbian couple she was friends with, who had just come from Friday services at their Jewish synagogue. I was introduced and as we chatted, they stripped down. One put on a strap-on, and proceeded to have Biblical knowledge of her girlfriend not two feet from us.
At some point in the evening, a sonic boom went off in my head: What if someone I know sees me here?
I went into a quiet panic about losing my spiritual teacher card and credibility. What if someone I know sees me here? I’d be done for! No one wants to have a “spiritual teacher” who goes to sex parties! People wanted holy teachers, pure teachers!
Notice, I did not mind being there. My inner realization was intact. My spiritual soul was unbothered and uncorrupted. In the transcendental realms, all was well. However, in my mind all hell was breaking loose. While I was fine with what I was doing, I suddenly became a hot mess of fear: what if someone I know sees me?
After a few hours, Sarah and I went to her place. We debriefed. I told her about my fear. She understood. We went to sleep.
Saturday evening: I was greeting people coming to my “spiritual” evening of meditative inquiry. I scanned each set of eyes to see if they knew, if they had maybe seen me.
Then, something else came into my consciousness. It was a bit like a voice, but more an intuited one than a heard one. “You chicken-shit coward. Why are you afraid of something you did?” I heard more, but all basically the same thing.
I didn’t regret going. I didn’t feel bad about being there. I only was afraid that someone would see me, and that I’d lose credibility as a spiritual teacher. I have never been so sick to my stomach as when I realized this. I had encountered plenty of fears before, and I’d pretty much dissolved them all. I’d been in war zones, jail, overdosed, lost in the mountains. I’d faced many inner fears. This one, mother of god!
I sat in my chair, looking out at the people who had come for spiritual community and dialogue. I was sick to have discovered I had wanted to protect an image, a persona, of spirituality, rather than living in the truth of my life. But, I couldn’t risk people knowing, could I? What if I never went to another one? I swear, I promise, I’ll be good.
What would you do?
Here’s what I did. I told Sarah what I need to do, and was that okay with her? Sure.
“Good evening everyone, and welcome. Most of you have been to my other talks; for those who have come for the first time, you have picked a good time to have any expectations you may have about spiritual teachers and spiritual gatherings be somewhat challenged. Now, most of you know Sarah, over there; she’s my girlfriend. She knows what I am going to say; she won’t be embarrassed.
I expect of myself, and I think you expect of me, that I tell you the truth of my inner experience, and my outer behavior. Usually, we confine ourselves to spiritual truths that we discover by diving deeply into our inner being. But tonight, I want to tell you the truth of what I did last night. I went to an orgy.”
I proceeded to tell them a bit more about it. I told them that I was afraid that I would be seen. Isn’t that crazy? To be afraid of being seen for something I had freely chosen to do.
I’m sure that many did not have the kind of silent sitting they had hoped for.
That is my story about how I truly understood what authenticity is, at least for me.
If you hide yourself from others, you are also hiding from yourself. How can you know yourself, how can you live authentically, when you are hiding from yourself and others? The only thing that will live will be a persona, a mask of falsehood and fear.
I know there is always a perceived risk in such authenticity. I am not advocating indiscriminate disclosure; there is the matter of situational appropriateness. I am not advocating that you tell the Monday morning staff meeting at work that you took a hit of LSD and ran naked through the forest, covered in mud, and married a tree. You could if you want.
I am not saying that this kind of disclosure is a prerequisite to authentic living. However, if someone happened to see you running through the forest and asked you about it, what would you say?
There is ambiguity in what I’m saying. You will have to sort that out for yourself. I’ve sorted it for myself and it looks like this: I do not indiscriminately disclose the minutiae of my life; I might even say, “It’s none of your business.” But I am, at the same time, not afraid of any part of my life being discovered by anyone. I am not hiding from myself. I am not hiding from you. I am not afraid of myself, my life, or of what I do.
This is why I do not feel a disconnect between my inner and outer lives. I have only one life: whole, unhidden and fully visible, without apology or pretense. Yes, there is an opportunity cost in this way of living: because I live and speak this way, some opportunities are not available to me.
And I would care because…?
Robert Rabbin began his professional journey in 1985, after spending 10 years living and working with meditation master Swami Muktananda. Since then, he has developed an international reputation as a radically brilliant speaker and public speaking guru, as well as a distinguished self-awareness facilitator, leadership adviser, and personal mentor. Robert is the creative source and director of Speaking Truthfully, through which he offers masterclasses and private mentoring in authentic self-expression and public speaking. He has published eight books and more than 200 articles on authentic living and public speaking, leadership, self-inquiry, spiritual activism, and meditation. In January 2012, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, and was told he had a few months to live. However, in keeping with his contrarian nature, he continues to thrive past the predicted use-by date. He lives in Los Angeles, and can be contacted via his website.