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Encounter Group, Poona, India

There are many ways to combat so-called mental illness. This was one I tried.



 

I remember the room as being all white, but that is probably not a true memory. It was sparsely furnished and had thick white mats covering the floor. In one corner sat the only piece of furniture, a small table on which was placed a tape player and several cassette tapes. There were no windows and the temperature ranged from a comfortable 70 degrees in the early morning to a sweltering 90 degrees by late afternoon. The smell was a combination of incense and human sweat. There were two doors, one leading to a large open balcony, the other to a hallway that led first to a bathroom and finally to freedom.

It was to that second door and its dual purpose of release that my eyes darted occasionally to avoid seeing the violence that was playing out before me. A young dark skinned man, powerfully built and with hair deliberately combed forward to hide his face had leapt to his feet moments before and was proceeding to attack an attractive middle-aged woman who had merely stated that she was feeling annoyed by the schizophrenic nature of the group process.

Her comment was not particularly offensive and was not delivered to anyone in particular, and there seemed to be no reason for the young man’s actions, yet as she cowered against the wall, he stood over her, screaming profanities in a foreign language as he rhythmically kicked the wall just inches from her head with the heal of his bare foot.

 We all watched in stunned silence, frozen to our spots on the floor as the attack continued with mounting fury. It seemed as if he would kill her, and yet each powerful kick landed tantalizingly close, without ever making contact with the object of his rage. At first she protested and begged for help, but as the fury of the attack grew, she slipped incrementally towards the floor and ever so slowly began sobbing as she buried her face in her hands.

Just as suddenly as the attack had started, it stopped. The young man stepped back panting heavily, staring down at his victim. For several minutes the only sounds in the room were the deep breaths of attacker and the ever more muted whimpers of victim.

And then….silence.

Silence has many forms. There is the dead silence between husband and wife, too long married. There is the silence of nature following a snowstorm. This particular silence was the most alive silence I had ever experienced. I was silent. My 13 fellow “lab rats” were silent. The group leader was silent. But, it was not a peaceful silence. All 15 were profoundly awake and aware. The blood was coursing through my veins, my heart was beating wildly against my chest and there was an ache in my stomach.

What would happen now? Where would we go from here? I gazed upward over the heads of my fellow combatants and rested my eyes on the face of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh captured in a large black and white framed photograph. The expression on his face was stern, his large eyes focused and penetrating. There was no hint of the loving, joking guru that I adored. This was the face of confrontation. The eyes burned through you, unmasked you, and left you naked and bleeding.

I glanced again at the freedom door and was comforted by the thought that it was not locked. I could run if I had to.

The young man returned to his place in the circle of “lab rats”, his breath now returned to normal, his hands relaxed upon his knees, his orange robe neatly tucked in -- the picture of meditative peacefulness.

Seated next to me, a long, lanky, bearded, rather homely and unkempt thirty-year-old Englishman named Prakesh began clapping. “That was so very fucking beautiful. I loved it. You’ve offered hope my friend. I thought this was going to be another of those meditative groups that have bored me to fucking death, but you have brought us down to reality, and I thank you. The only thing I resent is that you did it so fucking fast. You beat me to it. I was sitting over here doing a slow burn listening to that stupid cow bitching about how unfair life is. I felt like stuffing a fucking pillow down her throat.”

With this he was on his feet and moving around the room making threatening gestures to nobody in particular. Again my heart was beating wildly and I felt frozen in fear, wanting to run. Were all the men in this group insane? Was I the only peaceful one, the only meditator here? And why was the group leader allowing this meaningless violence?

Prakesh continued his tirade, making obscene gestures and remarks at random. He finally settled on a pretty young woman, leaned towards her and asked her if she wanted to fuck him right here and right now. She laughed and suggested that it would be more fun to watch him fuck himself. As he was continuing his mating ritual, a French gentleman, speaking broken English quietly suggested that Prakesh show some respect. Prakesh met his challenger face to face, and it seemed that a fight would surely happen. Instead, much to my surprise and relief Prakesh acknowledged the rightness of the man’s suggestion and with a laugh returned to his seat beside me.

I looked at the quiet assurance on the face of the Frenchman and felt relieved that I would have an ally for peace in this accursed group.

This was not my first group experience at the Ashram of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in Poona India circa 1977, but it was the first really heavy encounter group. The group leader, Rajen, was a slightly built, incredibly handsome, bearded 35-year old ex-professional family therapist and now second or third in command of the therapy network at the Ashram. He spoke quietly, but with conviction in a charming English accent.

So far during the initial hour of this three-day group called Gestalt he had spoken only briefly. His opening remarks consisted of laying down rules for the group: “There are two rules in this group. #1. Ask permission prior to going to the bathroom. #2. I am not to be used as your punching bag.” Those were the only rules. There was no mention of rules preventing the punching, kicking or killing of each other, and I had already heard of numerous group participants who had emerged with broken arms and legs.

Someone asked to go to the bathroom. Permission was granted and we all relaxed and waited. During the lull Rajen looked calmly through the music tapes.  “Before we officially begin, said Rajen, I’m just curious as to why none of the men tried to rescue Parmita when she was being attacked by Hamid, and why none of the women offered her any comfort following the attack?” There was a flurry of chatter as several of us attempted to speak at once. The sentiment that emerged from the group was that we didn’t understand the nature of the group and didn’t know what was expected of us.

His answer was chilling: “You are supposed to be human beings, not machines. You are supposed to respond to life; simply respond!”

He then suggested that we sit in a relaxed way and to make eye contact with him. Thus said, he proceeded to turn his gaze on each of us in slow succession. It seemed to take a lifetime to get to me. He began with the person to his left, an American woman named Prem Daya. I watched closely, wondering what was the purpose of this staring contest. Prem Daya met his gaze with unblinking eyes. Her body seemed to shudder slightly. Rajen maintained his relaxed posture and gaze as a slight, pleasant smile formed on his lips. In less than a minute Prem Daya’s body was shaking and tears were streaming down her face.

Rajen turned his gaze to the plump, middle-aged woman sitting next in line. She met his gaze with an open, quizzical expression, which quickly became one of gentle wonder. With a hand gesture towards Prem Daya he encouraged the woman to turn her attention to her right. With only slight hesitation she reached out and pulled Prem Daya gently towards her. There was no resistance as Prem Daya put her head on the stranger’s chest and silently cried.

It was so beautiful. It depicted the essence of what I sought in my own life, and here it was just a few feet away from me -- people lovingly nurturing one another, healing one another, with no need of endless dialogue and reasons for every action, people living in the heart instead of the head. I wanted to crawl over to the two women and nestle myself between them.

Rajen’s gaze moved from face to face. Some merely met his gaze and it seemed as if nothing of any significance passed between them. When he came to the Frenchman whose name was Adarsha, he spent considerably more time with him. Adarsha met the challenge with a serene unblinking gaze. Rajen nodded slightly once or twice, and then moved on to a very nervous looking young German man. Rajen laughed good-naturedly at the young man which had an immediate calming effect on him. Then, much to my amazement Rajen returned his gaze to Adarsha, paused for a moment and then said pointedly, “You’re a killer!”

As Rajen slowly moved from person to person I kept my eyes pinned on Adarsha looking for some reaction from him, but he remained in stoic, unflinching silence. My inner world was in extreme turmoil. I had not so much as moved during this group and yet I was feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. I was desperately trying to make sense of what I had seen and the effects those events were having on me. As my eyes locked on Rajen’s eyes I felt an extreme tightening of my stomach muscles and all moisture seemed to disappear from my body. My lips felt cemented together. I was afraid I was going to faint.

I made it through the staring contest and Rajen proceeded through the rest of the “lab rats. My mind was racing feverishly. I couldn’t make sense of what had happened. Who were these people? Could any of them be trusted? Was I all alone here? Was I the only normal man? Or was I the aberration? Is this what all men are like: violent, crude, insane killers?

As I emerged from my reverie, Parmita was speaking to Rajen while nervously keeping a close eye on Hamid who sat hidden behind his long brown hair. “I don’t know why I was attacked by him. I feel afraid and I want to leave. Rajen stated that we all had the freedom to leave, or we could stay through the process and maybe get down to the bones, down to the root causes of our life situations. He then spent some time with Parmita, suggesting that she take Hamid’s actions against her as a gift. “His reaction to you was extreme, not something you’ll experience out in the world very often, but I’ll venture to say that the anger that was brought up in him was typical of the emotions you bring up in others. You are in your head, locked up tight. You speak in a flowery, intellectual way, but I would venture to say that behind your sing song, airy front, you are a mess of tangled emotions.”

Parmita began to protest. “I’m not, I’m not. I know who I am.” Rajen stopped the dialogue and asked Parmita to sit in the center of the circle. “Just face each person, one at a time and asked them how they feel about you. Parmita did just that and was slowly chopped to bits by the almost unanimous response from the group. “You’re a phony.” “I don’t think you are a real person.” “You’re putting on an act.” “The only real thing I saw was when you thought you were about to be killed.” Parmita took in all the comments and appeared saddened by them. She shrugged ever so slightly and closed her eyes. Rajen then had Hamid move to the center of the circle facing Parmita and instructed him to simply sit there looking at her and promise not to attack her.

“Tell him what you are feeling” said Rajen.

Parmita collected herself, breathed deeply, and stared at Hamid. “I can’t see his eyes.” “Talk to him,” suggested Rajen. “I’m afraid of you. I don’t know who you are. I want to see who you are.” Parmita’s voice was rising in pitch. Hamid sat unmoving. Parmita reached out tentatively to brush back Hamid’s hair. With lightening speed Hamid’s hand flashed forward blocking her attempt and in the same moment leapt forward no more than 6 inches while shouting the sound “HAA.”

Parmita fell back screaming, covering her face in anticipation of an attack. Hamid relaxed totally, hands on knees, apparently no longer focused on Parmita, his breath normal, his whole body relaxed. Parmita, realizing that no attack was forthcoming, jumped to her feet and began to leave the room. Rajen called her back, a gentle tone to his voice. “Come back, sit with me.” Parmita reluctantly, slowly returned to the group and sat in front of Rajen. Rajen spoke very softly to her as if to soothe her, comfort her, but the actual words were not comforting at all.

Although he had no history on her, no prior knowledge, he spoke with authority as he described in some detail the course her life had taken up until this point. He told her that he saw an educated woman who had led a sheltered life as a child who had been sent out into the world with great promises of happiness and success, but that all she had found was a small measure of financial success, but a series of disastrous friendships and love affairs, and that now, in her late thirties she was nothing more than a pretty shell covering a dark emptiness. “Because the reality is’” stated Rajen, that your parents never loved you. They were incapable of love. Their relationship to you was formal. They were doing the job of raising a perfect girl and they never once cared about the essential you.”

Apparently his intuition (or guess) was correct for as his words penetrated, Parmita began to break down. She began sobbing and attempted to cover her eyes. “No,” said Rajen, “there is to be no escape here. Keep your eyes open and focused on me.” He then had her raise her arms above her head and instructed her to breathe deeply.

Parmita complied. Her sobs increased and her entire body was shaking. Several times she attempted to look away or close her eyes, but each time Rajen insisted that she remain with the feeling. “Stop running away. You’ve been doing it all your life. I’m not impressed with your little tears. It’s easy for you. It’s allowed for you. You have permission to shed those tears. What else is in there?” Parmita protested. “My arms are tired. I can’t keep them up.” “Just endure the pain,” suggested Rajen. Parmita obeyed, and began breathing deeply. Her tears had subsided and her facial features had changed from a look of sadness to a look of fierceness. “Keep the breathing deep and allow a sound to come out; no words, just sounds.”

As the sounds began to emerge from this woman’s mouth I could feel an energy rising in my own body and I became aware that my fists were clenched and that my breathing was as deep as hers. The sounds became louder, more ferocious until the entire room was reverberating with her blood-curdling yells. Her fists were clenched and Rajen instructed her to let out her rage on the heavily stuffed pillows that he was piling up in front of her.  There was no hesitation. Her clenched fists immediately struck the pillows. She continued pounding and screaming until little energy remained in her body. She collapsed on the pillows, breathing deeply. When she raised up moments later, her face, which had been severe, was now soft and available. Rajen motioned for her to come to him. Parmita moved effortlessly into his embrace. Rajen then suggested that we all take a 15-minute break.

Leaving the room with the others I glanced back to observe the tender embrace between therapist and patient, and envied them both.

The group continued in a relatively uneventful manner through the morning. During the lunch break all members of the group wore “silence badges” and were instructed to refrain from engaging in any dialogue with people outside of the group. I wandered through the Ashram by myself feeling lost and alone. There was such a sense of sadness in me and a very familiar feeling of wanting to give up, to anesthetize myself. My wanderings brought me to the book and video tent. I entered and spent a few minutes looking through Bhagwan’s books for guidance. I’m sure it was there, but it could not penetrate the walls that surrounded me.

Back in the group room Rajen had put on some wild drumming music, and with little encouragement we all began moving to the music. Perhaps the worst was over and the remaining two and a half days would be just pleasant fun and games.

The music and dance lasted for about 15 minutes and the air was hot and the room smelled of sweat. It was oppressive! People returned to their places in the circle. Rajen sat by the tape player looking bored. Minutes passed as I watched Rajen slowly relax and slouch against the wall. The dreaded silence. We sat and waited for something to happen. Nothing did. As the minutes passed, a feeling of agitation gripped us all. I looked around at the faces of my fellow travelers. Hamid’s face was still covered. Parmita seemed to be the most relaxed. Adarsha maintained his stoic posture.

The most animated of all was Prakesh who seemed to be taking silent pleasure in this very uncomfortable environment. Although he did not move from his spot, his body language suggested a cat ready to pounce. His right leg was in constant tapping motion and his eyes seemed to penetrate through us. When his eyes locked on mine I felt a tightening in my stomach.

With a sudden movement he was on his feet moving chaotically around the room. “I’m not paying 800 rupees to sit on my fucking ass while you idiots jerk off. Let’s have some action. This is supposed to be about fucking and fighting, isn’t it?” Then, looking straight at me he shouted, “I’ll fight the little guy first to warm up.”

I sat utterly still, glaring at Adarsha. Here it was. I was about to become a participant. All I could think about was how I would do in a fistfight with this ugly creep. I checked him out and noticed that although he was over six feet tall and weighed a good fifty pounds more than me, he had little in the way of muscle tone. As he approached me I backed up close to the wall in order to more easily rise to my feet, but by the time I was upright, Adarsha had moved on to another target, the young German man named Heinz.

I was relieved!

“Come on Nazi, I’d rather fight you.” Heinz lunged from his squatting position and threw his body weight against Prakesh. Both men rolled on the floor, neither of them throwing punches, but merely trying to contain the other. The peacemaker Adarsha moved silently towards the middle of the room to intervene, but was ordered by Rajen to return to his place.

“Chintan,” shouted Rajen, “go break up that fight. Be a hero.”

I had no idea why I was singled out for the role of hero, but responded readily. I approached the wrestlers and attempted to pull them apart. Instead Prakesh pulled me down into the mix and I was suddenly engaged in a 3-way pushing and shoving match.  From a distance I could hear Rajen shouting at the others, “Go with your feelings. Be free. Stop being machines.” Suddenly the whole group was in motion. Some joined the fight wielding pillows, fists and epithets.  With my leg painfully bruised by the weight of several people falling on me I managed to pull away from Prakesh and Heinz only to look up at two women flailing away at me with pillows. One of them was shrieking something about wife beaters. I grabbed the prettiest one and pulled her down on top of me. She was screaming and fighting to get the best of me. My shirt was torn and there were scratches on both arms as a result of the struggle.  The melee lasted for a good fifteen or twenty minutes with many of us receiving bruises and abrasions, but so far no broken bones.

What was the point of all this? What is this Rajen trying to do?

As most of us settled back into ourselves, there remained in the center of the circle only Prakesh and a rather plain looking English woman named Ravi. The pair were wrestling, or preparing to mate. It was difficult to say which. Ravi was wearing only a loose fitting robe with no underclothing. Prakesh was lifting up her robe and meeting only slight resistance. To the rescue came Prem Daya and Parmita, one of them pulling the robe discretely down while the other yelled at Prakesh to stop being such a pig. Prakesh’s response was to grab Prem Daya and pull her down on top of him. In the fray that ensued Prakesh seemed to relish being attacked by the three women. Some of their blows landed heavily on his face and there was one really well placed kick to his groin. Although bent over slightly by the groin hit he continued to delight in his role, avoiding as many hits as possible while grabbing breasts and behinds whenever he could.

The “party” was interrupted by Adarsha who grabbed Prakesh from behind and pinned him against a wall. I saw him whisper something in Prakesh’s ear. When he released him a few seconds later, Prakesh, with a hearty laugh and a lustful sneer at Prem Daya moved back to his spot on the floor “Thank you ladies, that was wonderful. You have all earned the right to fuck me tonight.”

I felt alive, wounded, but alive. I scanned the faces in the room and realized that my initial impressions were changing. Adarsha, who I had initially felt kinship for now seemed to be a dangerous, dark figure while Prakesh, who I had felt an instant loathing was emerging as an ingratiating character. As he sat down next to me I reached over and rubbed his head. He looked at me quizzically, but seemed pleased by the affection.  I was still very unsure of where this group was going, but I now felt connected to the experience. I was no longer on the outside looking in, and had the battle scars to prove it.

Day one ended and I slowly limped back to my apartment building. I slept soundly and awoke feeling refreshed and ready to get back to the war.

Prior to the beginning of day two of the group was the daily discourse by Bhagwan. I arrived early and managed to get a seat up close. Bhagwan’s discourse that morning concerned a wonderful story about the Buddha. For close to two hours I sat transfixed imbibing the story and commentary by this modern day Buddha. Bhagwan’s insistence was that we are all to become Buddhas and Christs. “It is beautiful to be a Christ, but just ugly to be a Christian.“ We were to have the courage to strip away all of society’s impositions and emerge as free, enlightened beings. I felt I was well on my way to realizing this, and vowed to not allow timidity and morality to keep me silently imprisoned.

I felt like a warrior entering the group room, ready to BE REAL!

Parmita looked particularly beautiful that morning. Her eyes seemed so much more alive than when I first saw her. Prakesh looked like he had slept in his clothes, and entered with an evil grin on his lips. The first to blast off was Ravi who asked to speak to Rajen. Rajen ushered her into the center of the room and told her to speak to the group. She had only a few words to say: “I let that piece of shit fuck me last night.” “I feel cheap and dirty.” “You got that right bitch,” said Prakesh.

I reached over and touched my ally on the shoulder and began to say something to him. He responded immediately by pushing me over. As I rolled onto my knees in an attempt to get up he pushed me down again and this time was on top of me swinging away. His fists landed as mere glancing blows off my arms and shoulders and I was unhurt. When I felt his body ease off I swung at him and missed as he was being pulled off me by several of the group.

The entire group was instantly involved in the scuffle. People were swinging at each other. Pillows were being thrown. Everyone was yelling.  As quickly as it had begun, it stopped. People once again settled back into the circle. Ravi resumed her place in the center and faced Rajen. Rajen said a few words to the group about freedom and responsibility and encouraged all of us to simply be real, to be in touch with the inner feelings, and then turned his attention to Ravi.

“What is your problem?” said Rajen. Ravi repeated her initial assertion that she felt cheapened by the experience with Prakesh. Instead of a gentle response from Rajen he simply glared at her and stated that her actions in and out of the group yesterday was merely a microcosm of her entire life.  “You act like a whore. The way you walk, the way you dress, the way you sat across from me yesterday with your skirt up and your legs apart was an open invitation to me and every other man in this room. And you’ve been doing this all your life. Prakesh did not cheapen you. Neither of you are capable of bringing the other any lower than you already are.”

“If you want to grow in this group, then you have to get real. If you want to be a whore and continue on in this fashion, then accept and embrace it as your life. Bhagwan doesn’t want phony people here, plastic people here. His invitation is for real people -- real saints and sinners, real courageous people as well as real field mice, but the emphasis is on the real. Be a real whore if that is what your nature is. Mary Magdalene was a REAL whore and Jesus loved her.”

Rajen’s words were magical and touched me deeply. This is what the group is all about -- not being a rescuer, not being nice, not being a hero or villain, but simply being real.  Was I real, or was I simply playing a role?

The group continued on in like fashion with me jumping into every fight. Rajen moved effortlessly in and out of the encounters, watching us, looking deeply into each experience, and seldom interfering with the chaos that we were creating. He seemed to wait for just the right moment to choose one of us to be ushered into the center of the circle.

Late in the afternoon of the second day it was the peacemaker’s turn. Adarsha had, as far as I could see, acted impeccably throughout the group. He seemed kind, intelligent, meditative, content to simply be himself. As I observed him during these two days, Rajen’s killer label was foremost in my mind. I kept looking for some indication that Rajen had been, as usual, correct in his analysis.

Adarsha moved effortlessly to the center of the room, sat down and faced the grand inquisitor. The room became intensely alive as we all leaned in to witness these two powerful beings go at each other. Rajen began by saying that he felt that Adarsha’s peaceful demeanor was merely a front, and that there was something lurking beneath the surface that needed to be addressed. Adarsha protested quietly that he had done significant work on himself over the years and that he had arrived at a place of peace. Rajen then challenged him by saying that real peace could not be destroyed, but that imposed peace could not endure. “I’m just going by my gut, but the feeling I get when I focus on you is not peaceful. There is something frightening in there.” “Bhagwan wanted you to do this group, and there has to be a reason for it. There always is. So just breathe, focus on me and allow whatever happens. I can see that this is difficult for you, but see if you can trust the process.”

Adarsha nodded ever so slightly, and Rajen moved closer and asked Adarsha to put his hands up with palms facing forward. Rajen then placed his fingertips against Adarsha’s palms and pressed against them. They remained in that position for several minutes with eyes locked on each other. Rajen kept encouraging Adarsha to breathe deeply. Ever so subtly Adarsha’s body began to sway and his mouth began to tremble. His eyes began to water and he began to cry, gently at first, then with gut-wrenching intensity.

Adarsha tried to look away or collapse to the floor, but Rajen kept him focused and upright. The sobbing continued and grew louder until the most ungodly screams filled the room. It was frightening to behold. It seemed that Adarsha had gone completely mad. His face was contorted and ugly and the sounds that emerged from him seemed more animal than human. Even Rajen seemed concerned that perhaps he had unearthed a devil.

It went on like that for an eternity as we all sat back against the wall fearing what would happen next. When the catharsis mercifully wound down, Rajen moved away leaving Adarsha sitting silently alone. No one dared approach him.

Slowly, without prompting, Adarsha began relaying his life story: “I came from a small village near Lyon in France. My parents both died when I was small. I was put in an orphanage with nuns who tortured me with their religion and their sticks. I ran away but was always found and brought back. When I was sixteen I escaped for good and hid out in a nearby village. I got small jobs, made a little money and drank a lot at the local bistros. I had many women and got syphilis. I lived hard and mean and got in many fights. In my last fight over a woman I couldn’t stop the rage and when I was finally pulled off this man, I had beaten him to death with my fists. I was in the jail and my mind just snapped. I couldn’t sleep there because of the walls and the bars and the horrible smell. I beat my head against the bars until I became unconscious. A judge decided that I was mad and I was thrown in the asylum and put in strait jacket and given drugs. It was the most awful place you could imagine; such dirt and ugliness. I was there for 10 years and then released. While I was there a book of meditation was given to me. I read it and practiced it, and when I was free I went to a Buddhist monastery. They took me in and I practiced meditation and stayed silent for years. I did yoga and all exercises I could do. I have tried to become perfect and without sin. I have tried to put my past life behind me, to become holy, but I am so afraid that the madman will take me over.”

With those words Adarsha began to cry. This time the catharsis was soft, and I could feel myself pulled towards him. Many others must have felt the same thing, and with Rajen’s encouragement we moved closer and formed a circle around him. A couple of the women moved even closer and made contact. Adarsha’s face broke into a shy smile. His eyes seemed to be looking at the world in a new way. The feeling in the room was so sweet and special that I felt close to tears myself.

Rajen spoke softly to Adarsha and advised him that it was good that he had come to Bhagwan because even with meditation, abstinence, exercise and all the other attempts to become perfect, unless the inner demons are addressed, there cannot be real peace, real freedom. “This was a good start. I’m going to see about you getting some one on one therapy with one of the primal therapists. It will help tremendously.”

By the third day I had witnessed just about every person in the group coming up against his or her inner demons while I sat back feeling somewhat assured that I was just not as fucked up as the rest and therefore didn’t need to take center stage. On the morning of that third day Rajen was efforting to “open up” a slender, very pretty 40 year old woman by the name of Yuthika, an Australian lady who had spent most of the group comforting others and acting as peacemaker. All of Rajen’s suggestions were met with a polite refusal to open up.  “I’m perfectly content to be the way I am,” stated Yuthika. “I think you simply like to see people jumping around like monkeys.” Rajen laughed. “Perhaps you’re right.”

Rajen then turned to me and said, “Chintan, you look like you are ready to explode. Does this woman annoy you?” He was so right. Throughout the group and particularly during this dialogue with Rajen I was aware of a gnawing feeling of rage every time she spoke or moved for that matter. I didn’t have a clue what was bothering me.

Rajen suggested that I go over to her and talk to her I did. I sat down cross-legged in front of her. She reached out to touch my knee in a sort of motherly fashion. I slapped the hand away. Instead of appearing fearful, she simply smiled pleasantly at me, and stated that she felt sorry for me, and wished I wasn’t so angry. The knot in my stomach intensified with her every word until I finally exploded and shouted at her, “DO SOMETHING!!!” “Get out of your fucking head!” The power of my catharsis had the desired result and she collapsed in tears. I stood over her challenging her to move. She remained motionless. The more she retreated into herself, the angrier I became.

Rajen called me over and had me kneel before him. He placed pillows on the floor in the space between us and urged me to continue my catharsis. I did, and with a fury. I punched and screamed and cursed. My parents’ faces appeared before me and I lashed out at both, especially my mother.  Exhausted, I opened my eyes expecting to see a look of proud satisfaction on the face of my mentor. Instead I saw that look of boredom that I had witnessed on the first day of the group.

“You’re a puppet!”

I began to protest, but he immediately repeated the words; “No, really, you are a puppet.” “What does that mean,” I said through clenched teeth. “Aren’t I doing it good enough for you?” “You are simply doing what you’ve always done. You’re good at rage. You’ve been doing it since you were a little boy, maybe secretly, but still acting out, kicking the can, torturing bugs. Now you’re a big boy, so you yell at timid women. You’re a puppet. All through this group I’ve watched you conjure up different emotions and attitudes; none of them anywhere near the core of who you are.”

The words stung, but I couldn’t believe them. He had to be wrong. I’ve just done things I’ve never done in my life. I’ve fought with men. I’ve got battle scars. I’ve been courageous. He just doesn’t see me. Rajen then put cloth around his wrists and instructed me to grab him by the wrists and demand something from him. I complied. I grabbed his cloth-bound wrists with all my strength and yelled at him; “See me, goddamn it, see me!” I repeated the words over and over and attempted to grab him even tighter. He simply looked at me with unchanged expression, and finally said, “You do the motions, but there is no energy coming to me. It’s all locked up inside you.”

With that I released him, called him an asshole and retreated to be next to my soul brother Prakesh. I spent the remainder of that final afternoon attempting to prove to Rajen and everyone in the group how real I was, but no matter what I tried I felt like an actor.

The grand finale late in the afternoon was another explosion of energy that involved us all in various fights and shouting matches, ending up with Rajen focusing his energy on Prem Daya who had been hurt in one of the scuffles. Her injury was just a bruised forehead, but it had stirred up horrible memories for her.

I listened as she bravely told her story of being physically abused by both parents as a child and how she had managed to survive by keeping quiet and living as much as possible in a secret world of her imagination. Something in the story touched my own inner life experience and I found, much to my delight, that REAL tears were escaping from my eyes, tears that I had always found impossible to shed.

Still listening to Prem Daya’s story I moved out of the circle and stood near the door and tuned into my inner world. Visions of parents and children came to me and I found myself silently weeping for all of them. When my dead brother’s face appeared the weeping intensified. I felt so good. I felt so real. I looked over to Rajen and hoped that he would see me and acknowledge the real experience that was happening to me, but he was otherwise engaged.

As the group came to a close I looked around at these now familiar faces and wondered whether all this fighting and horror had done any good. Prakesh still looked mean and ugly. Adarsha had not returned to the group. Yuthika still smiled sweetly. Heinz seemed to be a little less timid. Hamid was still hidden behind his long hair.

I spoke up to let Rajen know that I had actually cried when Prem Daya was telling her story. Rajen simply looked at me and shook his head. “So what. You managed a few tears. The puppet can cry as well as yell and pound pillows.” I closed down completely and spent the last hour of the group glaring at him and plotting revenge.

The group ended with a simple meditation. Rajen bid us all farewell and wished us good fortune and ultimate enlightenment. His last words were to me: “Chintan, I’ve been hard on you, and you didn’t get it, but don’t despair, it will happen for you. If you are going to be at the Ashram for a while, sign up for some more groups, and see if you can start out the groups by attacking the group leader. I think that‘s what you need to do! I laughed and immediately shared with him that by a stroke of luck or karma I had one more group assigned, that it was a group named “Samarpan” which was scheduled to begin in two days and that the group leader according to the printed schedule was Rajen.

Rajen nodded and advised me not to run away. With full macho posturing I assured him that I would see him in two days.

That night I smoked a pack of cigarettes, ate too much and fell into the bed of a girlfriend from a previous group. I pulled the covers over my head and fell into a deep sleep. I had a lovely dream in which I exposed Rajen as a danger to society and gleefully presided over his execution.

End of part 1.

 

 

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