One of my best and most free-spirited friends recently texted me, “I totally would’ve been a Rajneeshee.”
On my recommendation, she was watching the extraordinary new Duplass brothers documentary on Netflix, Wild Wild Country, which chronicles the too-crazy-to-be-true story of Indian mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (later known as “Osho”) when he comes to the U.S. in the early 1980s and purchases 65,000 acres on which to create an “intentional community” called Rajneeshpuram. What ensues when 2,000 hippies and a cult leader descend on a sleepy retirement community in the middle of nowhere Oregon is stranger than fiction: a story of sex, controversy, conspiracy and power.
“I’ve been,” I reply.
“Of course you were a sannyasin,” she texts back.
Until recently, I’d happily repressed all my memories about my three weeks as a “sannyasin” — Sanskrit for “devotee” — at an Osho ashram in Australia. 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.
“Hey, I’ve done that!” I exclaimed.
An ashram is a spiritual hermitage, usually in a remote, isolated, pristine place reminiscent of Eden, where hippies (apparently “seekers” is the politically correct term) like myself go to do yoga, meditate and get in touch with our inner Zen by trading about four hours of work a day — “meditation in action” as it’s rebranded on the ‘Ram — like gardening, laundry, cooking and cleaning around the grounds for room and food.
There’s something incredibly seductive about living that simply — if it was actually that simple. 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. What’s more godly than that?
“Classic Bridget,” my friend said.
It was “Classic Bridget” because the reason I ended up on an ashram fours days after I arrived in Australia not knowing a soul was, of course, due to a boy. I’d accompanied a Sydney trust fund kid on a road trip up the coast to Byron Bay, where he was meeting some of his best mates for a boy’s week of shenanigans. He’d assured me I’d love it there (I did) and that lodging wouldn’t be an issue. But it was Christmas break and there literally wasn’t a single room in town. Mind you, this was pre-Airbnb, and Sydney Trust Fund Boy basically shrugged his shoulders and told me I was on my own.
The only option I found — the ashram — was on a WWOOFing website. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and it can be a great way to trade about four hours of work for lodging (and sometimes food) if you’re trying to travel the world on a limited budget. It was advertised as “an ideal atmosphere to relax and reconnect with yourself.” Leaving the beach to go work in the Bush didn’t sound ideal to me, but I was desperate.
I’d never been to an ashram despite being a yogi and all that other shite. 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.
It wasn’t until I arrived that night I realized it was an Osho ashram.
Oh fuck, I thought. I didn’t know much about Osho, but I knew enough to realize I had no idea what I’d just gotten myself into. Before I left for my two-year globetrot, I’d looked into staying at the Osho “meditation resort” in Pune, India. One of the things that struck me was the mandatory HIV test before your stay.
“Why is that?” I asked my yoga mentor in L.A.
“Because everyone is fucking,” he explained.
Osho was controversial for many reasons, but his most controversial concept was the idea of sex and the spiritual going hand-in-hand. He bucked the rigid system of traditional ashrams (and in fact, even today the Osho ashram in Pune doesn’t consider itself an ashram) and the notion that you have to renounce the material world in order to be spiritual. The guy had 120 Rolls Royces, after all.
If you’ve seen the documentary, our Osho ashram-not-ashram is a watered-down version of what existed in the 1970s — although on the first night, it became clear that sex was definitely encouraged. Usually there’s some type of “Master” or “Guru” or whatever he prefers not to be referred to as; he runs the place and guides the exercises, work and spiritual progress of us humble young grasshoppers.
My Guru took me aside on the first night and asked me if I had any questions.
“Yeah, is this a sex cult?” I asked.
Guru grinned. “I like you. You’re direct. But you’re too smart for your own good.”
He was charming in that creepy kind of way that makes you simultaneously crave his approval and his tough love. “No. No one has to have sex, but you are free to have as much sex with as many people as you like. People with shame about sex think this is a cult, but we’re just individuals experiencing the flow of love.”
The first night was relatively tame. We listened to some Osho recordings and danced. Okay, I can probably handle this until Sydney Trust Fund Boy can come get me, I thought. It wasn’t like I had much of a choice. 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. We were “free to go,” but I came to learn it wasn’t quite that easy.
I was basically only allowed to email my dad that I was fine and that I was at a “retreat” in Australia and would be out-of-touch for a while. “Be careful and don’t join a cult,” he responded.
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. It wasn’t for the faint of heart. 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. Huge, Jack jumper ants — the intense sting of their bite 10 times more powerful than any bee sting I’ve ever experienced — kept you “in the moment” while you were gardening. I was bound to find a leech somewhere on my body everyday from trudging through the jungle, especially with all the heavy rain. The cockroaches must have been at least 2,000 years old — that’s how big and full of personality they were. 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. And I’ll never forget the wallabies — small kangaroos, always leaping and bounding around the grounds like adorable velociraptors.
When it wasn’t monsooning, the sunsets were spectacular. 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: The Real World: Ashram Australia. 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. Others left and returned upon realizing that “out there” causes too much anxiety after spending enough time in there. Some arrived, and after two days and one kooky “Mystic Rose” meditation where the leader said without a hint of irony or comedy, “And then after the 15 minutes of jibberish, you will scream at the person nearest to you,” were hitching the first ride back into town.
Even after my first night, I got the sense that you can’t stay too long in such a place. It warped your brain or broke it. Something about the reverence with which everyone treated the Guru. I don’t trust anyone who allows themselves to be put on a pedestal, but it seemed most residents of the ashram had entrusted everything to the Guru. He told them how to think and they obeyed, treating his words as scripture.
All ashrams have their own culture and theology. A certain amount of indoctrination comes with any culture, especially a closed-system in the middle of nowhere like the ‘Ram. A large part of the Guru’s rhetoric focused on our identity, letting go of whatever ideas of ourselves we clung to the most desperately. He focused on it so intensely, though, that there was something unnerving about it. In particular, he asked, “What remains when everything has been washed away? When there are no distractions? When there’s nowhere to run to? 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?”
I’ll tell you what happens: You go bat-shit crazy.
I spent my first full day on the ‘Ram getting to know the residents and the routine. I have a love/hate relationship with hippies. In some ways, I deeply embody their free-wheelin’ ideals and nonconformist principles (this is completely by accident). 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. I’m not a conspiracy theorist — just deeply suspicious. I’m not a foodie — just grateful for every meal. I’m not aimless — just open. My deeply ingrained skepticism might very well be the reason I’m still not on the ashram to this day because for all its weirdness, life on the ‘Ram was blissfully, elegantly, effortlessly simple.
During the four years prior, I’d taken measures to simplify my way of life and thought I did a pretty good job considering that I live in L.A. But the truth was — it’s impossible to live an uncomplicated life in modern civilization. All of our conveniences have robbed us of the ability to ever sustain an existence in alignment with the natural order of things.
Everything about the ‘Ram lifestyle, however, felt instinctively right to me, as if living off the land was encoded in my DNA. Nothing got wasted. 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. Water was treasured. Showers were short, and dishes were done the way you would on a boat, sparing every drop.
Believe it or not (because I couldn’t), I actually found myself grateful to be using a compostable toilet instead of flushing away hundreds of gallons of precious water. 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 pop pills. 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. For me at least, that’s why the ashram’s rigid schedule was easy to adhere to — it was designed to minimize disruptions and work with your body’s optimal biorhythms (admittedly, that’s what they told me, but it seemed to be true).
5:30 a.m.: Dynamic Meditation. 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.
7 a.m.: Breakfast. Porridge or oats. Toast. Bananas. The people in charge of the kitchen started the fire at 6 a.m. to boil the water for coffee, tea and porridge. 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.
8 a.m.: Work begins. 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 100 acres of some of the most gorgeous Bush in Australia, there was constant cleaning, weeding, mowing, raking… the upkeep of paradise truly endless. Plus, we’re told (over and over and over again) that backbreaking manual labor was an integral part of our spiritual training, and ultimately, good for us.
12:30 p.m.: Lunch. Vegan. Always delicious. 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.
2 p.m. to 6 p.m.: Free time. 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. I tried to get some time to myself, but the Guru didn’t like us to spend too much time alone. 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. I came to understand it’s because alone time gave one a chance to reflect on how CRAY CRAY THE EXPERIENCE WAS.
6 p.m.: Sangha. Evening meditation. Always different. Walking meditations, sunset meditations, bonfires, Osho discourse, dancing, music or just good ol’ fashioned sitting and breathing. The Guru led these evening meditations, and I never knew what to expect. I’d seen people kicked off the ashram. I’d seen him encourage people to go make love.
8:30 p.m.: Light snack. Leftovers from lunch. You don’t eat much on the ashram.
9 p.m.: Everyone retreated to bed. I was usually asleep by 10:30, which for me was unprecedented.
I immediately jumped into all of it: The ecstatic dancing, the meditations, the work and the lifestyle (“hippie shit” as all the shallow Sydney men love to refer to it).
Upon awakening, I decided to give the Dynamic Meditation a go. The practice consisted of 10 minutes of active breathing, followed by 10 minutes of freaking the fuck out, followed by 10 minutes of jumping up and down saying “hoo” when you land. At the sound of someone yelling “STOP” you froze, exactly where you were for 15 minutes. Then it was free-form dance for another 15 minutes after that. You were given a blindfold and pillow — the blindfold so you didn’t get distracted by your neighbor’s experience (although the screaming was quite hard to ignore) and the pillow to punch in the event you felt an overwhelming desire to hit something. 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. Out of nowhere I was screaming, “Get off of me! Get off of me!” and reliving the experience I had of being drugged and raped at 18. Mind you, this is 15 years later. I’d been to rehab and hundreds of hours of therapy by this point. But what I hadn’t processed were the repressed emotions, the stuff I didn’t get to say because I was drugged, but felt in my body. I spent five minutes screaming, “YOU MOTHERFUCKER!!!!” while I punched a pillow. During the 15-minute meditation, I vowed I’d never do this stupid practice again. But by the time the dancing was over, I felt lighter and somehow better.
After a freezing cold shower and a hearty breakfast of porridge, it was time to work, but the Guru called me into his office. He explained that I wouldn’t have to work as hard as the live-in residents if I paid more per day. (I was already paying $30.) He wanted to know a lot about my finances. Did I have a ticket home? How long did I intend to stay? Did I want my own cute little cottage instead of sharing a room with a stranger? (I did, but lo and behold, it was extra.) How much money had I saved to travel? Did my family have money?
I hadn’t been on the ashram long, but I’d lived enough to know a grifter when I saw one. I explained I was broke, very happy to work and left it at that.
That said, the work was exhausting. It was a lot of hard physical labor such as chopping wood, creating paths through the jungle, gardening and endless fucking raking. At times I felt like I was in a montage from Kill Bill, training for some epic battle. Especially when I was hauling a wheelbarrow up a hill for the fifth time in the sweltering jungle heat, the Guru patiently awaiting me at the top, tapping his foot; or when I was raking the endless rows of lawn clippings from two football-sized fields and collecting them in a tarp that dragged behind me so that they could be used in the gardens.
Still, it didn’t take long for the euphoric, healing properties of the setting to start having an effect on me. The personality weakened. The heart strengthened. The soul soared. After just one day, I started thinking maybe I could stay here forever. Then I went to my first sangha.
One of the core group of permanent residents led us in Mystic Rose meditation. Another Osho meditation, there are many variations as to how you do it, and that night, we transitioned from jibberish to laughing to anger every two minutes for 20 minutes. It made me feel bonkers to experience such extreme emotions so rapidly. After the meditation, we had to crawl, slither or try to fully embody an animal. People were growling at each other and “pawing” at one another’s faces. I was crawling on my hands and knees but observing the spectacle, feeling ridiculous.
There were some English newbies who had just arrived that day. It was hilarious to watch them crawl around and struggle to get in touch with their inner animal spirits or really let themselves go. They left that night, but it wasn’t because of the jibberish or the animal-spirit guided meditations — it was because of what happened next.
The Guru entered to give a talk. We all gathered around, and he started preaching his usual message of in here vs. out there. He mentioned, “A lot of places like this get a reputation of being a cult. But I can assure you, it’s not a cult. It’s just a collection of individuals fed up with the superficial priorities ‘out there,’ and they’ve decided the spiritual path is the most important to them. The spiritual path is the only path, and if you don’t feel that way, maybe you should leave.”
Then, out of nowhere, he singled out a German woman who had been there for a while. I didn’t know what the backstory was or what ashram drama led to his rage, but suddenly, the Guru was screaming. “You’re a PSYCHO! You’re INSANE.” It was shocking to watch someone get so thoroughly publicly humiliated at a place that was supposed to be “spiritual.” The Guru ordered her to pack her bags. The rest of us were instructed to partake in the ecstatic dance party. The pasty Brits, however, had seen enough and left in the car he sent the German woman away in.
The terror took hold around day three. I completely hit the wall. The Herculean effort it took just to get out of L.A. and to Australia suddenly caught up with me. In fact, 20 years of running from myself, my pain and my heartache hit me like a bunch of bananas. I could see the ocean, but it felt like a dream. All I wanted to do is jump in the saltwater and be restored.
Resolved to leave, I went to the Guru and expressed my desire to get the fuck out of there. The Guru, however, sat me down and told me to pull a Rune. He then translated the meaning of the Rune from Italian (like the opera, Italian somehow makes the words more significant). Not surprisingly, I pulled the Rune that symbolizes STOP: “My heart is in a frozen Winter, and I need to let it melt into a flowing Spring.” The person I’d been no longer serves me. I had to let go and allow myself to become anew.
All of it, though, rang true. It was the reason I was on this one-way ticket pilgrimage with no direction in the first place. The Guru promised that I could go to the beach the next day after work. It was just enough hope to keep me hanging on.
As if on cue, that night, a boy showed up. We’ll call him “Wolf.” He came via Melbourne. Broody. Lanky. Intensely devoted to his music and exploring his edges as a spiritual being having a human experience. It was his third time on the ‘ram. Ostensibly, he was a pretty normal dude. An artist. An intellect. He was on break before returning to Uni for his PhD in Psychology. He wanted to escape the grind of city life and process a broken heart. In many ways, we were kindred spirits, and he became my oasis in a sea of crazies. He gave me hope that maybe this place was what it advertised — just a retreat with some quirky characters. Someone “normal” had come to the ashram and left changed but not broken. I followed his lead.
We spend the day working together, and we sat together that night at sangha — an action that seemed to upset the Guru, who went out of his way to single me out.
Guru: Out there, you are nothing. You are worthless. No one will hire you. You have no respect. Is this not the case?
Me: Well… um… yeah, I guess.
I was mortified that he would say such things in front of my new crush. I was even more disturbed that he was right.
Guru: You cannot listen to the words of others as they call you a scumbag. You’re a scumbag, no?
Me: Actually, you’re the first person who has ever called me a scumbag. To my face.
At this point, new Ashies shifted uncomfortably on their cushions, shocked. I, though, was laughing hysterically because I was nervous, uncomfortable and embarrassed. On the other hand, there was something extraordinarily liberating about realizing you’re a worthless nothing.
Guru: Say it. Say, “I’m a scumbag.”
Me: I’m a scumbag.
Me: I’M A SCUMBAG.
Guru: You don’t mean it. You’re laughing. What is funny about being a scumbag?
Me: (yelling) I’M A SCUMBAG!!!
Guru: Tonight, you let go of your old personality. It’s used up. So I give you a new name. I was inspired by your Rune. Are you ready for it? The full name is “Prem” which in Sanskrit means love and “Sarita” which means river. So you are now River of Love.
The primary purpose of a spiritual retreat is to put you in touch with your heart, your soul, your inner truth, your conditioning, your shame, your belief system. In order to do this, you’re removed from everything you think you know. Your family, your country, your name and your identity become irrelevant the minute you cross the threshold. To really ingrain this principle, you’re usually given a new name, your “spiritual name.” It sounds adorable, but it’s really the beginning of losing yourself forever.
At this point, I started crying, and Wolf grabbed my hand.
The idea of going to the beach was the only thing that kept me sane at this point. And so, I was planning my exit strategy throughout the next morning as we cleaned out cabins on another part of the property. It was muggy and sweaty, and my meditation had nothing to do with the moment and everything to do with how the saltwater was going to feel on my skin.
But as we were finishing work, the Guru announced, “There will be no van to the beach today.”
I was shattered. “But you promised!!!”
“Life makes no promises!” he yelled back.
“Please, please,” I responded, sobbing.
“No. You want it too badly. Look at how attached to this you were. You’re disgusting.”
I was now crying hysterically, those heaving cries where you can’t catch your breath. The Guru, though, was completely unphased, in fact, he seemed to enjoy the pain he was causing me. I did want it badly; at that moment, and even to this day, I’m not sure I’ve ever wanted something so badly and been more disappointed when I didn’t get it.
But from what little I’d observed in the short time I’d been there, this seemed to be the Guru’s method: cruelty. He was harsh. He broke you down, took away your defense mechanisms, wore you out physically and emotionally. It’s the exact opposite of what you’re taught to do in therapy. You can’t strip someone of their delusions without support, because those coping skills are the glue holding that person’s fragile psyche together. Without them, you start to unravel. Molehills become mountains. I felt my mind starting to unyoke itself from whatever sense of reality I’d constructed, and it wasn’t in a good way.
More than the saltwater, I realized I was craving civilization, a sense of being grounded in the world. The ashram bubble is intensive anti-civilization camp. Day after day of living in tune with the land is good for the soul, but slowly, it erodes your ability to live “out there.”
“I’m leaving,” I informed Wolf, back in my room, where I was curled in the fetal position in my room. “I hate him.”
Then, like clockwork, there was a knock at the door. It was the Guru’s secretary. “The van is leaving to go to the farmers market and the waterfall if anyone wants to come,” she promised.
Wolf convinced me not to be stubborn and to join him. In that moment, I surrendered — to all of it.
We headed out to the Mullumbimby Farmers Market. Wolf and I danced until we were laughing hysterically. We explored the waterfall and stripped down to our underwear for an ice-cold plunge. The waterfall was stunning. I felt both baptized and reborn after such an intense emotional purge.
That night, on the drive home, I placed my head on Wolf’s shoulder and stared up at the moon. I felt peaceful and calm, despite the fact that the crazy ginger was at the wheel. What will be will be I thought as he slammed on the brakes. A koala was crossing the street. Apparently koala sightings are rare and treasured in Australia. “We are very lucky,” the crazy ginger explained.
“That koala is very lucky it isn’t dead,” I whispered to Wolf.
“So are we,” he responded before squeezing my thigh.
After that night, I fell into the ashram life, having lots of sweaty sex with Wolf, and dramatic muddy fights where we both cried in the rain. I exchanged dynamic meditation for sleeping in and cuddling. The next 10 days were a blur of routine, infatuation and bliss. I was playing little ashram wife and making sure our cottage was clean while Wolf sat on the edge of the bed and sang. His voice was otherworldly and haunting. I never wanted the moment to end. The river of love was flowing, and I’d decided to go with it.
All the while, I was ignoring the non-stop drama amongst the other partner-swapping residents on the banks of the river. I was avoiding the bruises on the Guru’s secretary and the fact that she seemed more and more lethargic and dead-eyed as the days went on. He screamed for her all day: “Amari come to me!!!” He screamed at her behind closed doors, I could hear it. We could all hear it. But we all turned the other cheek. What could we do?
I also gave in to the constant guilting for more money and donated a bit more to the residence. My family started to worry I was never going to leave. I laughed it off, but truthfully, I was on the other side of the looking glass. I never wanted to leave.
Then Wolf left and my bliss bubble exploded.
The Guru (stupidly) allowed me to go into town to drop off Wolf at the bus station. I hadn’t been around people, shops or cars in almost two weeks, and it felt strange, like I was visiting an alien planet. Wolf made me promise not to stay on the ashram forever and to come visit him in Melbourne. I cried and cried and cried until I couldn’t cry anymore.
We needed to go to the shop for some supplies, and I stumbled upon a package store that was selling buy-one-get-one-free bottles of wine. The offer was too good to resist. I got a bottle and sat in a park and drank the whole thing while I waited for my crazy ginger to finish his errands. He found me drunk in the park and joined me.
“I need to get the fuck outta here,” I slurred.
Back on the ‘ram, I was hammered. It was sangha, and we were doing some kind of meditation. I don’t remember which one, but I do remember that I was crying and carrying on and making a scene and the Guru realized I was drunk.
“Do you have more?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, ashamed.
“Your punishment is that you must bring it here so we can all share it,” he said.
Later, after I did, he called me aside, though I’m the one who led the conversation.
Me: How are you?
Guru: How do you think I am? I’m great because I have no anxiety.
Me: I bet you never cry either.
Guru: That’s not true. I cry last night.
Me: You did not! Why did you cry?
Guru: I cry for you.
Me: That makes sense. I’m a bit of a lost cause. But I’d save your tears for the starving children.
Guru: I cry for you because the outside world still seduces you.
He was right. It did. I was dying to go see an opera at the Sydney Opera House. Australia Day was coming up, and I wanted to do a bunch of drugs and party. It was the NFL playoffs. The Australian Open was going on in Melbourne. And after 14 days of porridge and veggies, I was craving a steak and endless amounts of booze. New Zealand was three hours away. Southeast Asia and India were serenading my soul.
I texted Sydney Trust Fund Baby, “WTF, WHERE ARE YOU? GET ME OUTTA HERE.”
Two days later, I peaced out in a Range Rover and never looked back.
I binged the Wild Wild Country series twice, hoping to resolve some of the mixed feelings I had about my own ashram experience, but alas, many of the residents who experienced Rajneeshpuram in its heyday seemed to live with the same conflicting feelings I was left with. Were we just hedonists following our bliss? Or was there something evil lurking behind it all?
It’s possible that these environments bring out the best and the worst in humanity — and they’re a prime example of the road to Hell truly being paved with good intentions — but what’s always haunted me is how much of the bad I overlooked in order to selfishly experience the good.
Philip Toelkes, who was the Bhagwan’s lawyer until 1983, sums it up best in the docuseries when he remarks, “There’s darkness in all of us… doesn’t make you a bad person.”
After that, he laughs. Otherwise, he’d have to contemplate the alternative.