Written by Prem Shunyo
I am here
“Anything to Say?”
A voice inside is screaming “I’m here, I’m here,” but I am struck dumb. And then, the eyes.
When the Master looks into the eyes of the disciple, and he looks, and looks… he is seeing the whole story; everything, past, present and future. The disciple is transparent to the Master and he can see the unrealized Buddha. I could only sit there, letting him in, because it is the only way to find the diamond. Fear is there that he may see things in the unconscious that I would rather keep hidden; but he looks at me with such love that I can only say, yes. Sometimes, such a look can leave no trace in the memory – just an ecstatic feeling, an intense rush of joyful energy that leaves me fit to burst.
This was my first meeting with the Mystic, Osho. It was spring, l976, in India.
Almost a year before, I had stood in the neat white kitchen of my London flat, and I felt that my life, or the way I was living it, was finished. It was as certain as a feeling in the bones when rain is coming. And yet there was no apparent reason for it. Friends would ask me, “But, why?” What could I say? Why do the swans fly to Lake Mansarovar in the Himalayas, each summer? How do they know the way? It happened at a time when I had everything
I wanted. Life was easy, I was happy; I had good friends, a great boyfriend, I did exactly the work I wanted to; and I thought, “This is it, there is nothing more that I want to do.” I could smell the wind of change, but I had no idea what kind of change it could be.
I came across a book The Silent Explosion, by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, (fifteen years later he was to change his name to Osho) in a bookshop in Portobello Road. It smelt of incense.
I had been riding the crest of a wave for years and I knew the wheel would turn, and I wanted to be prepared. I went to Ibiza with my boyfriend, Lawrence. He was a tall, dark, handsome doctor in mysticism, who saw magic everywhere and was gifted with the ability to communicate it both verbally and through the medium of film and writing. He had just finished his first book Rhythms of Vision and was taking a well earned rest. Arriving at Ibiza airport, I saw Lawrence’s mother, Lydia, for the first time. She was standing with both her arms raised in the air in greeting to us and I still have the image of that first meeting in my mind, as though it was yesterday. Lydia is a spiritual mother to me and our connection is deep and ancient. She had been with a spiritual group in Indonesia for many years, and also studied with Gurdjieff people. In her beautiful traditional Ibiza house, the three of us sat by the pine cone fire and discussed The Silent Explosion. I wanted her advice about whether she thought it “safe,” and she said yes I should try the meditation techniques. The only doubt I had about the book was that at the back there was a biographical note that said Rajneesh had been in Tibet seven hundred years before in his last incarnation. This sounded too fantastic to be true, but I can remember how Lawrence raised his eyebrows, when I said, “Anyway, I don’t expect to find a perfect spiritual master, because how can he be perfect in my eyes, when I don’t even know what to look for.”
Anyone who has visited Ibiza will know that it is an island that brings up intense feelings. It is ruled by the Goddess Thanet, who takes care of women, and astrologically it is Scorpio. Depth and intensity, darkness and magic. Anyway, I was just on holiday, and I wasn’t looking for weird experiences; I was very happy working in Lydia’s garden all day. The connection with the earth felt good and I was not interested in going to the beach, or the usual tourist spots.
It was here that I had my first experience of meditation, of being in the moment. It happened out of necessity.
Lawrence and I went on a picnic with a few friends. I wandered away from the group to find some flowers to take back to Lydia. She had not been feeling well and so had not come with us. I came across a grove of bushy plants as tall as I was, on which were huge pink and white flowers. As I reached up to pick them I saw that they would not break easily, and so I had to tear the branches in a rather clumsy way that broke the bush. I looked at the wreckage I had caused and saw that the branch was oozing white sap, where I had torn it from top to bottom. I felt bad, it looked like it was bleeding. I said to the plant, “Well, if I can tear you open like this, then I can at least lick you better.” So, I licked, with my tongue, the weeping sap out of the branch, and walked back to the picnic with my flowers. My tongue and the back of my throat started feeling numb, as though I had had a shot of novocaine at the dentist’s.
As I approached my friends, who were seated around on the ground, one woman jumped up and said, “Throw those flowers immediately, and wash your hands – those flowers are deadly poisonous.” The white sap was inside me. I saw that if I tell these people what I had done, they are going to freak out. And if they freak out, then I will freak out, and I will get sick. “There’s no hospital here anyway,” I reasoned to myself, “And so what can be done? Better I accept the “poison” in my body and let it become part of me.” So I didn’t tell any of my friends what I had done.
It was a long drive back to the house in the car and I was very silent. My friends were telling stories of people who had died from these poisonous flowers. One family, the two parents and their two children, had died only a couple of months earlier because they had had a barbecue and had used the branches on the fire to cook their food.
It was very hot and crowded in the car and I was sitting on Lawrence’s knee. I bent my head and looked out of the window and felt the numbness in my throat, and told myself that I would be alright if I could accept the poison and relax. I made a deal, silently, with the flowers that their poison would lie dormant and would not harm me unless one day I poisoned myself. I don’t know what I meant by that, but that is what my mind was saying.
We reached Lydia’s house, it was early evening and I can still remember the colors of the setting sun on the blossoming almond tree. We prepared dinner. We ate dinner. I did not say a word. I was being moved into the here and now, because each moment was possibly my last. I felt a little dizzy and very high. Everything I did had great meaning and intensity. I was aware of everything around me like never before and I was aware of myself – my body, each heartbeat, each movement. I had the feeling to keep moving, so I spring-cleaned the kitchen. Lydia and Lawrence would call in after me to come and sit down and what the hell was I doing cleaning
the kitchen all the time.
I felt very calm. I was not thinking much about anything. I went to bed that night and wondered if I would wake up. I can still see the room as I took my last look at it that night – it has become an indelible impression. Anyway, I woke up, and was perfectly healthy. Later, I looked up the flowers in an encyclopedia, and it read:
“Oleander :…….and having a poisonous milky juice. The best known is the common oleander often called rosebay, a native of the Mediterranean region, characterized by its tall shrubby habitat, and is well described by Pliny the Greek, who mentions its roselike flowers and poisonous qualities.”
But that is not the point. I had had my first experience of how it feels to live in the moment, to be aware and conscious of each moment. I had one foot on The Path.
On another occasion, I was at a cocktail party with Lawrence and Lydia. The guests were an assortment of rich, titled and rather stiff people. Our friend, whose party it was, delighted in collecting interesting people around him and I guess that’s how we were invited, because we were rather on the “eccentric fringe” in comparison to the rest of the guests.
During the party, outside in the narrow street, a dog must have been hit by a car. Its cries and screams filled the open house and balconies, where titled guests were quietly sipping from their glasses, as they stood murmuring in polite conversation. Now, understand, I had never caused a scene anywhere. I am, after all, British, and am actually a “quiet type” of personality. The howls and cries of the dog hit me so deep that I started to howl in unison with the dog. No thoughts crossed my mind that “This is not ladylike, this is not sociably acceptable, or people will think me mad” – it just happened! I actually fell to the floor, howling like a dog. I was completely lost in the pain of the animal.
When I opened my eyes, the last guest was disappearing around the corner of the door. The room was empty except for Lawrence, Lydia, myself and our host. Even Lydia, who was pretty unconventional herself, looked embarrassed and a little worried as she kneeled beside me and asked, “Are you alright dear?” I had never felt better in my life. Something had been released and I felt wonderful. Our host was also happy. I think he was rather pleased that his party had been such a great subject of gossip.
I was having quite a holiday! During the next few weeks I was to see a few disembodied faces that no one else was aware of, and I heard, on one occasion, voices singing. I decided that as soon as I arrived back in London I would go to the Rajneesh Meditation Center and start meditating, because something was definitely unravelling in my life.
I had never been with any religious group, or teacher. I had read a book here and there on Zen, Krishnamurti, but I never felt myself to be a seeker. What is it to be a seeker? For me, it is when you know there is more than you are experiencing. A part of you is alive, and you know it, but you are not totally in touch with it. You know that the life you are leading is not enough – you know there is more. You know there is something to be found, and so you start searching.
Some part of me was stirring, as if turning in its sleep. Maybe I was hearing the distant call of an ancient seer. I have understood Osho to say that although we think we have found him, it is not like that. “I have been calling you,” he said.
I knew I was not seeing everything quite as it really was. I remember when I left my home in Cornwall to come to India, I went to say goodbye to the cliffs and the small cove where I spent a lot of my childhood. I looked up at the cliffs and the rocks and I said to them, “I won’t come back to you until I can really see you” – I knew I could not really see them.
The first time I visited the Meditation Center, I arrived late and the meditation had just finished. The center was in the basement of a building in Bell Street, London. Outside was a vegetable market and the streets were crowded. Inside, I entered a long white painted tunnel that was barely five feet high. Either side were cushions. This was the “sitting room”, as it were, where the sannyasins would meet and drink tea and gossip. I walked into the long white tunnel and encountered the meditators coming the other way. There were men and women and they were all naked and covered in sweat! “This is not meditation,” I told myself. I looked around and saw that the walls were covered in photographs of a man who I presumed must be Osho. So many photos, and people sitting at his feet! “Who do they think he is?” I asked myself, “A movie star, or something!” This was clearly not the place for me and I stormed out angrily, and stamped my feet all the way home. I was too fired up to even catch a bus or cab, and it was a long way.
That night I dreamt that I was working very hard. It was more a dream of feelings than visual. I was working in a determined manner in the dream, and at the end of two years I was given a gift. The gift was given to me by a friend who I had known and loved for years, and he had recently taken sannyas and changed his name to Rishi. I held out my hands to receive it and my hands were empty. A voice from somewhere said, “Well, I don’t think much of that! You have worked two years for that and you don’t even understand what you have got. You can’t even see it!” And I didn’t care. I knew I would work for another two years, and another two years. With that, I felt a wind sweep up behind me and I looked towards the horizon and could see forever into the distance. The dream was so strong it woke me up and I said to myself that it was the Meditation Center that had caused this dream and I must go back. I went back the next day and started doing the Dynamic Meditation.
Doing Dynamic Meditation changed my life. Everybody did the meditation naked, and I soon realized that there was nothing sexual in this. I had no feeling that anyone was interested in my body at all; on the contrary, we all wore blindfolds. The first stage is chaotic breathing to a background of taped music, and the second stage is cathartic, to release suppressed emotions. I thought I had no suppressed emotions, and I had nothing to scream about, so I gently danced about during this stage. It was a few days into the meditation that I was surprised one day, when in the cathartic stage, I witnessed myself as a tall Amazon female standing on a hill, and a scream erupted out of me so loud, so primordial, that it filled the whole universe. I was screaming into the darkness and it was an expression of the agony and pain for the whole of humanity’s past. But I felt detached and separate, as though I was watching and hearing the scream coming from someone else.
The catharsis is a cleansing process before meditation can happen. I knew I was not capable of simply sitting silently and letting meditation happen, because my mind was too busy. At this point in my life I actually thought I was my mind. There was no separation between the thoughts that moved constantly through my head, and my being. I had no feeling of consciousness. I knew only my thoughts. But after this experience I was beginning to understand that there is much much more to “me” than I think.
I had another experience during the cathartic stage some days later when I felt my body as not “me”. My body became that of a hunchback. My face changed, my mouth hung open and my eyes peered curiously sideways. My whole left side seemed to collapse and from my mouth came strange sounds as though I couldn’t speak. I crouched in a corner and had a feeling of being misunderstood, but the strongest feeling was of love. A feeling of love surrounded this “creature” that was my body. I felt male, and this deformed male was filled with tremendous love, such a sweetness and gentleness that it was a beautiful and touching experience. I needed no explanation for it, as once again I had felt myself separate, as though watching, and I felt no fear because in a strange way it had felt natural. However, I did not mention it to anyone until years later, for fear of being thought mad.
The third stage is to jump up and down with arms in the air, shouting “Hoo! Hoo!” for ten minutes and then “STOP” is shouted and you stop exactly as you are. In this fourth stage meditation happens of its own accord. There is nothing to be done. The final stage is to dance in celebration, and that too happens on its own.
I did Dynamic every evening for about six months. But I was caught the first few times I did it. I would come out of the Meditation Center, completely blissed out, like I was on some kind of drug. Bell Street is in one of the worst parts of London. It is off the Harrow Road and under a flyover. Trucks and heavy traffic are constant. It is near Paddington train station and the red brick buildings around there are old and ugly. I would come out into this grim chaos of traffic and grayness, looking up at everything and saying, “It’s all so beautiful.” Also, it was the first thing in my life that I had ever been on time for. Every night I would be sitting on the bus on my way through Paddington at exactly six o’clock, and I would say to myself, “What is the matter with me, I must be mad. What’s happening to me? I have never been on time for anything in my life, not school, not work, not any date.”
Sannyas consisted of three small commitments in those days. One wore a mala, which is a necklace of l08 wooden beads, with a plastic locket showing a photo of Osho. Malas (without the locket) have been worn by the traditional sannyasin in India for thousands of years. Orange clothes were worn at all times, and a Sanskrit name was given as a change from the old name and its associations. I was shocked when, in India, I saw my first “traditional sannyasins”. They were dressed just the same as I was in orange and mala and I could understand what a blow it must be for an Indian to see a Westerner (especially a woman) dressed as one of their “holy” men. The traditional sannyasin has renounced the world and is usually an old man and, of course, never a woman, and would never be seen with a woman. We no longer wear these colors or the mala now (at the time of writing!). It seems its “work” is done.
To wear orange came naturally, as I didn’t even realize that it was one of the “rules”. The mala became a necessity, as I was constantly feeling that I had lost something. This had begun to happen shortly after I started the meditation. I would gasp and clutch at my breast, as though I had lost a necklace. This became embarrassing, as it would happen anywhere, at any time. Eventually I thought, “Hell, I will have to get one of those necklaces.”
The sannyasins that I met at the center didn’t appeal to me as personalities. For instance, I had never even met a woman who didn’t wear make-up, and here were these women with the pale faces, and their soft white skin, and long shapeless hairstyles. And the men looked very feminine to me. They were not the kind of people that I wanted to take home and introduce to any of my friends. However, I was attracted to them in a way that I did not understand and I spent more and more time at the Meditation Center and went out less and less to parties with my friends.
There was a woman I saw each night sitting in the round white tunnel, knitting a multi-colored, ethnic patterned scarf. She was not a sannyasin, and from what I heard, her young and very attractive face and penchant for Afghani clothes and Tibetan boots, hid the fact that she was a successful businesswoman and lawyer. She was called Sue Appleton, and her name would soon be changed to Anando. Little did I know then that our lives were to become as colorfully interwoven as her ethnic knitting.
I met another woman called Susan, and her name was to change to Savita. She was an accountant, and her plain and homely looks disguised her well, as she was to become a main player in the destruction and ruin of many lives. Her talent with figures was to give her access to millions of dollars, and make her a criminal. We were doing a group together in a country house in Suffolk. Throughout the group we made no contact, but at the very end, in darkness, the group was told to take off all their clothes and place them in the corner of the room. We were then to take something from the pile of clothes and put it on. When the lights went on, I was wearing her dress, and she was wearing mine. We eyed each other warily, and I felt strange, as though unwillingly and ceremoniously we had become blood brothers. A bond I was not to honor.
It happened to me that doing the meditation not only gave me great joy, but I was also feeling increasingly aware that everything I had known was losing meaning for me. Whereas I was once thrilled to go out to night clubs and dinner parties with friends, I began noticing that all the faces I was dressing up for were empty and dead. Even the richest people looked like they had nothing. My intellectual friends had great discussions while vaguely looking over the shoulder of the person they were talking to. Once, while talking to a friend at one of his art gallery openings, I noticed that although we were talking, he wasn’t there! There was nobody home, behind those eyes! He didn’t even notice when I stopped speaking in the middle of a sentence and stood staring at him in wonder.
Everything looked false. I wrote pages and pages to Osho, asking, “Why is nothing real?” Luckily, I had the sense not to post most of my letters. These were the beginning days which were quite unsettling, because when I first started looking at my life, and the people around me, it was hard. I really saw some things that were frightening. So, during these first few months as a meditator there was a lot of unveiling going on. A lot of looking at things for the first time. Dynamic Meditation awakens a vital energy that brings freshness and clarity to the seeker’s eyes.
I was working as a secretary two days a week for some fashion photographers and an artist friend of theirs, who always wore blue, and lived with his blue-clad wife, and blue-clad child, in a blue house, with blue carpets, blue furniture, and blue paintings on blue walls. When I started to wear only orange clothes he thought I was mad! He rang the photographers and they discussed me, saying they were worried I had gone crazy because I was meditating. They said to me that of all the people they knew, I didn’t need to meditate. “You are always so happy and relaxed,” they said.
Two other friends took me aside, with serious faces and asked me if I was “doing hard drugs.” “No, I’m meditating,” I replied.
I worked for an actor one day a week, as what he called his personal assistant. Actually what I mostly did was listen to him when he talked. He was an extremely handsome, rich young man and yet he would periodically get drunk and destroy all the furniture and windows of his mews house with his bare and bleeding hands. He told me I was “wasting my life by meditating,” and that he would not help me in any way financially, even though he could afford to.
I needed to meet the man who had invented this meditation and had changed my life so much, and I couldn’t wait another day before taking sannyas. I took sannyas in London from Shyam Singha, a rebel disciple; a tiger of a man, with flaming yellow-green eyes. A man with tremendous charisma and wisdom and he helped me a lot, but then our paths were to take different turns. He gave me a name on a piece of paper written in Osho’s hand – Ma Dharma Chetana. There was a new moon eclipse in Scorpio, in the eighth house, and I felt this an auspicious beginning.
I wrote my first letter to Osho (addressing him as Lord of the Full Moon, which is the meaning of Rajneesh) saying that I had heard him talk of “The Path,” but I was so lost that I couldn’t even find my feet to put on the path. His answer was “Come, just come, with or without your feet.” So romantic, and right from the beginning a twinkle, a sense of humor.
I set myself a date on which I was going to leave for India. I had no money, but when that date came I was going to leave, with or without a ticket.
I packed up everything as though I would never return. I took my two cats to an eccentric old lady in the country, who had about two hundred cats. To my two, she gave a private caravan in her garden.
I took my Shih Tzu dog, “The Beast,” to my parents in Cornwall. They were very accepting of my “new fad that wouldn’t last,” and my mother even accompanied me to the beach early each morning where I did Dynamic. Taking me with her around our small town while she shopped, she proudly told neighbours and storekeepers that, “Our Sandra is doing meditation now.” But after a few days she was worried that to meditate every day was too often, and she prophesied that I would “either go mad, or end up in a nunnery.” My mother’s great beauty is her innocence. My father’s is his sense of humor. I said goodbye to my grandmother, my brother and my sister. I wept when I said goodbye to my parents, and hung out of the train window as it pulled out of the quaint old station on the hill in Liskeard. I thought I was going forever and would never see anyone again.
Lawrence took me to London airport to see me off on my adventure into the interior, as he was about to start his adventure into the exterior world: from Hollywood – to wild primitive tribes in New Guinea. We didn’t know when we would meet again, and through tears, I asked him, “Do you think I’ll be able to learn Yoga there?” He put his arm around me and said,
“Oh, I’m sure you will learn many things there.”