Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Retreat, cult or loony bin? You decide.

"When you start dancing, the ego says, ‘What are you doing? You will look foolish. Such an intelligent man like you dancing like a primitive?’ The ego will say, ‘Do not do it! Control yourself!’ If you control, the ego remains. Be uncontrolled; do not listen to this controlling force. Just allow yourself for the first time to be simply alive without any control and immediately you will feel that the ego is not there. Existence is there, forces are there, but the ego is not there."


I’ve been neglecting my blogging duties, I know. It’s difficult to find a quiet space, functioning Wi-Fi and some free time (especially because I don’t want to waste any time in my remaining two weeks). I did go to Chitwan, as I said I would, and it will be the subject of the latest installment of my travel series. I will post that with photos when it's published.

As for this past weekend, I relaxed, spent some time in Thamel and went to a meditation retreat on Sunday. An editor at work recommended that I go to Osho Tapoban, a retreat on the edge of the Royal Nagarjun Forest, which is guarded by the Nepalese Army (Don’t ask me why. Maybe the forest contains a population of centaurs). It sounded nice and peaceful, so I went on Sunday morning with Andrew and Adrian.

When we arrived we were given a schedule of the day’s events and burgundy robes to wear. My robe-dress made me look like a Mennonite, but I guess fashion shouldn't be my primary concern at a meditation retreat.

We had a few hours before the first meditation session, so we explored our surroundings. The area is beautiful, with wild monkeys, a small waterfall and green all around. We climbed up a hill and saw some horses, and I wisely stayed behind while Andrew and Adrian went closer. As unbroken horses tend to do, one of them charged at Adrian. I even captured the moment on camera.  

We crossed this unsafe-looking bridge


This is my "the hills are alive with the sound of music" pose.

On our way back to the retreat, I had another first-time Nepali experience: a leech bite. In Chitwan, I took such careful measures to protect against leeches. I tucked my pants into my socks like a kindergartener and wore my ridiculous red poncho, in case any leeches decided to make an aerial attack from the trees. And here I was, on dry soil at a meditation retreat, totally oblivious to the dangers of blood-sucking creatures around me, and I got bit. I wish it would have happened in Chitwan instead because we made a deal that the first person to get a leech bite gets a free beer. Talk about a missed opportunity.

I don't trust any creature that is smaller than my thumb but can draw that much blood. Slimy bastards. As if my legs weren't already pockmarked with scabs from mosquito bites. 

I should also mention that everywhere around the retreat were quotes from Osho, pictures of Osho, a statue of Osho. Who the hell is Osho? I had no clue at the time. But now, thanks to the good ole internet, I can give you some background on this interesting Osho character.

A photo in my room

Osho became Osho in 1989. He was born in India in 1931 as Chandra Mohan Jain, and he changed his name several times over the decades. Wikipedia (I know, not the most reliable source of information, but it’s good enough) describes him as a mystic, guru and spiritual teacher.

Some interesting facts about Osho:

He was against the idea of institutionalized religion (For which he gets bonus points in my book)

He was also a critic of socialism and Mahatma Gandhi (I take back those points. How can you not admire Gandhi?)

For four years he lived in the United States, more specifically Oregon, where he drove a different Rolls Royce each day and attracted a slew of wealthy followers. He was a self-proclaimed "rich man's guru" and believed that "material poverty was not a genuine spiritual value," according to Wikipedia. (Isn't materialism contradictory to the values of inner harmony? I don't think I'm buying into this guy's philosophy.)

I didn't know any of this at the time, though, so I was able to enjoy myself without feeling like I was taking part in some strange cult (that feeling came a little later).

Anyway, at our first meditation session we were greeted by a man who had hair longer than mine and a beard so thick you couldn't see his lips. Something about all that hair just radiates wisdom and enlightenment. Or maybe it was his calm demeanor. At any rate, this dude was a total free spirit. He gave us our instructions for our first session: "For 40 minutes we are going to dance. Don't think about the steps. Don't think about anything. Just feel the music and become like a child. Do whatever you are feeling. Then, for the last 20 minutes, we sit in complete silence."

Dancing and silent sitting? Got it. I could handle that. Yet when the music started playing, I immediately felt uncomfortable. A few people in the room closed their eyes and started dancing freely, not to mention poorly, but they didn't care. They were in their element.

I knew I had to drop my ego if I was going to make the next 40 minutes bearable, but it was difficult at first. From the ages of five to 13 I took lessons from a fairly strict dance company where dance was not about having fun. Dance was about memorizing the steps and performing them perfectly. It was about kicking higher than everyone else, pirouetting the longest and having the best splits in class. And have mercy on the poor ballerina who isn't pointing her pinky finger the right way.

With that said, the first 10 minutes of dancing were a bit awkward. I mostly swayed from side to side and glanced nervously around me, sometimes exchanging glances and giggles with Adrian, who was clearly feeling just as uncomfortable. And then it happened. I don't know how, or the precise moment, but I was able to let go of my ego. I closed my eyes, felt the music and danced. I wasn’t thinking about anything at all, and my only feelings were of relaxation and harmony and sheer happiness. The 40 minutes felt like five, and after it was all over I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

The other meditations weren’t as successful for me, however. During one session, we sat with eyes closed and listened to calm music for an hour. I felt relaxed to an extent, but my mind kept wandering to all the American food I missed (which is probably what I think about most during the day).

For the third meditation, we listened to this upbeat music and shook our bodies for 20 minutes. It was basically like twerking in place. Then we danced for another 20 minutes. If nothing else, it was definitely a great workout. Maybe Osho’s goal was to get people as tired as possible so that it would be easier to relax.

That evening, after dinner, a “celebration” was held. Everyone wore white gowns (except for us, because we had only purchased the burgundy ones) and crowded around the statue of Osho. People were burning incense, calling out “Osho!” periodically, singing along with music and more or less worshipping this statue. For a guru who spoke out against organized religion, it seems a little strange that his philosophy has attracted a cult following. But it is a happy cult, for what it’s worth.

Then we went inside the meditation hall and – surprise! – danced some more. It was actually a lot of fun, but also surreal. Imagine the worst dancers you know, remove all their inhibitions and then add a spiritual element. That’s what it was like. Plus, the white robes added a psych-ward feel, and if I hadn’t known better, I would have thought everyone was a raving lunatic.

We stayed overnight at the retreat, and the only noteworthy thing is that I spent a good half hour trying to capture this grasshopper/praying mantis/unidentified green bug in my room after it flew into my face.

I was honestly going to let it live, because I was feeling peaceful and what not, until it 
made a bee-line for my eyeballs. Bad choice.

The following morning, we ate breakfast – fresh mangoes, which are incredible here – and went to our final meditation session. It was quite the grand finale. 

After doing some boring floor exercises, we moved onto the active meditation, which has five stages. We started off by doing some more shaking/rapid breathing to music. Next up was 10 minutes of catharsis. Our instructor told us to “scream, cry, shout, do whatever you are feeling.” As the music began to change, signifying the second stage, a woman dropped to the floor and started sobbing. Then another woman started screaming at the top of her lungs. Within a few minutes, the whole room was a cacophony of screams, wails, curses and fists pounding against the floor, all while the music grew more frantic. 

Do you know that tunnel scene in Willy Wonka (Yes! The danger must be growing, For the rowers keep on rowing. And they're certainly not showing any signs that they are slowing!)
where it keeps getting more and more intense? It felt like that to me. One woman was even talking in tongues. It was overwhelming.

I didn’t know what to do, so I just watched and took it all in. I’m not an emotional person to begin with, so it would take a lot of practice for me to tap into my emotions on command. I wondered how these people could vent their frustrations in the same way every morning. Aren’t there some days when you just feel totally happy? Maybe this is a sign of how un-enlightened I am.

After that, everyone jumped up and down while shouting “Hoo!” almost like some kind of tribal ritual. Then came a totally silent period, and the last stage consisted of more dancing.

My first meditation experience has left me with mixed emotions. I caught a glimpse of what it’s like to lose yourself and achieve total relaxation, and I liked what I felt. I might try it again someday, but I don’t think I’ll be going back to Osho Tapoban any time soon.

1 comment:

  1. Nice photos I like this and also Nepal is very beautiful country and there are lots of place for wander.
    Thank you for sharing us.
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