What ensues when 2, hippies and a cult leader descend on a sleepy retirement community in the middle of nowhere Oregon is stranger than fiction: But then my roommate started watching Wild Wild Country, and when I walked in the room, a bunch of people were jumping around on the screen naked, breathing heavily.
Instead, all that spiritual work is just an illusion in service to a crazy megalomaniac. Lost souls and broken spirits end up at these places; people running from the responsibilities of adulthood, running from their shadow or running from the greed, cynicism and emptiness of a society in the grips of late-stage capitalism.
I witnessed and to a lesser extent, experienced people who were broken down psychologically, stripped of all defense mechanisms and remolded in the image of the Guru. Mind you, this was pre-Airbnb, and Sydney Trust Fund Boy basically shrugged his shoulders and told me I was on my own. So I had no idea what to expect when I was picked up by an almost too-jovial-looking ginger wearing all white. He drove like a bat out of hell. It was especially aggressive for someone who was supposed to represent peace and love, and I was scared as we careened away from the beautiful beaches of Byron Bay into the jungle.
Everyone else in the car had wide, clear eyes that unnerved me and that goofy fucking grin of a fool whose brain had been washed. It occurred to me that I had no idea where I was going, that I might never see civilization again and that I may have just inadvertently joined a sex cult because I had no place to stay. Oh fuck, I thought. One of the things that struck me was the mandatory HIV test before your stay.
Osho was controversial for many reasons, but his most controversial concept was the idea of sex and the spiritual going hand-in-hand. The guy had Rolls Royces, after all.
My Guru took me aside on the first night and asked me if I had any questions. No one has to have sex, but you are free to have as much sex with as many people as you like.
We listened to some Osho recordings and danced. We were a five-hour walk from civilization on acres of wild Bush. The only two people who had the internet were the Guru and his secretary. There was no service, and if we were caught on our digital devices, they would take them away.
The Bush took some adjusting. The weather changed on a dime, but when it was hot, it was muggy, sticky, sexy heat. We were in the rainforest, so there were no lack of critters. Geckos, lizards and salamanders slithered out of your way all day. Bats and mice squeaked in the rafters all night. Porcupines ran for cover in the labyrinth.
The Huntsman spiders were fucking gigantic and all looked deadly, despite most of them being completely harmless. There were snakes all over the place, although their appearance was rare — everything from pythons to deadly brown snakes. I was bound to find a leech somewhere on my body everyday from trudging through the jungle, especially with all the heavy rain.
A large, colorful toad liked to inhabit one of the bathrooms at night. The kookaburras laughed hysterically and maniacally throughout the entire day. A peacock wandered around the property, shedding his plume.
The Cat Bird sounded exactly like a crying baby left somewhere deep in the forest. But when it rained, it fucking poured. So hard you thought it would come through your tin roof. The toads loved the rain and croaked excitedly as the earth got one solid drenching after another. Like clockwork, no matter what the weather, the minute the sun dipped below the horizon, the cicadas started their hypnotic hum.
Right on their heels came a symphony of toads, frogs and other insects and birds, their perfectly timed sunset serenade defying all musical description. I lived for that sound, the purring engine of the jungle itself.
I still hear it in my dreams. It had the potential then to be paradise, a very deadly one, but paradise nonetheless. Except for the fact that this Bush was also populated with humans. Messy, complex, diverse, irrational humans. Whenever you take groups of people from all over the world and ask them to co-exist, problems are bound to arise, especially in an extremely small system that encourages polyamory. The partner swapping caused huge problems because despite how elevated in consciousness everyone likes to imagine themselves to be, women and men are still prone to jealousy and suspicion and love.
And so, it was nearly constant drama. So much so that it felt like a reality show sometimes: People would get banished only to return a week later and beg to be let back in.
There was a revolving door of travelers, wanderers, seekers, hippies, lost souls and couch surfers. Some came for what they thought would be three days and stayed six months.
It warped your brain or broke it. Something about the reverence with which everyone treated the Guru. He told them how to think and they obeyed, treating his words as scripture. All ashrams have their own culture and theology. He focused on it so intensely, though, that there was something unnerving about it. When there are no distractions? No one to affirm your existence, stroke your ego, favorite your Instagram? Who are you when you can no longer hide from the loneliness, the fear, the pain and the insecurity?
What happens when you let your old self go? You go bat-shit crazy. In other ways, the mouthy, sarcastic, East Coast cynic in me flies in the face of all they believe in — not to mention that their hippiecrite rhetoric and magical thinking usually drive me nuts.
All of our conveniences have robbed us of the ability to ever sustain an existence in alignment with the natural order of things. The grass we mowed became mulch for the garden. The weeds I pulled out of the garden got tossed at the base of the banana trees. After six months, the poo composted into MANure for the fruit trees. Showers were short, and dishes were done the way you would on a boat, sparing every drop.
I got in touch with my love of farming — a love I never knew I even had. Ashrams are designed specifically to remove all the hundreds of thing we use to escape the inevitable encounter with our Self. We drink away our pain. We bury ourselves in work, television, porn, Facebook or a million other distractions so easily at our fingertips. We go on weekend retreats and expect the effects of those two days to counteract years upon years of social conditioning.
Osho developed a type of meditation that was highly physical, as opposed to the traditional mode of meditation in which you practice stillness. This was optional as well as clothing ; I chose to partake out of morbid curiosity. The people in charge of the kitchen started the fire at 6 a.
It was a massive effort to get the wood-burning grill going. We had boatloads of banana trees and mango trees, so there was always some kind of fruit.
This changed daily depending on the weather and what work was the most pressing. After a week of sweltering heat and baking sun, we were now dealing with persistent, monsoon-like rain. Because the ashram sat on acres of some of the most gorgeous Bush in Australia, there was constant cleaning, weeding, mowing, raking… the upkeep of paradise truly endless.
All local grains, beans and vegetables, most of them right out of the garden. There were designated cooks for the ashram, and it was a full-time job. As soon as breakfast was over, they were dealing with preparing lunch.
Like all intentional communities, there was an obsessive amount of talking about food and water. On some days, the ashram offered different activities we could choose to participate in — for instance yoga, sauna or a Kundalini meditation. Nothing in the afternoon was mandatory however. This struck me as weird, seeing as how we were supposed to be going within, but he seemed to think too much alone time was bad for the ego. The Guru led these evening meditations, and I never knew what to expect.
Everyone retreated to bed. I was usually asleep by I immediately jumped into all of it: Upon awakening, I decided to give the Dynamic Meditation a go. Then it was free-form dance for another 15 minutes after that.
The entire process took about an hour, and it was emotionally and physically exhausting — and this was how you began your day. During the freak-the-fuck-out phase, I started crying. The crying turned to sobbing. The sobbing turned to rage. Get off of me! Mind you, this is 15 years later.