A day with Chintan in an encounter group, in late 70’s Poona.
The following is a selection from a longer essay on encounter groups. With the exception of my name and the group leader’s name, all participants have been assigned fictitious names. The events, however, were pretty much as they happened.
“Have a little courage…”
Those were the last words spoken by Bhagwan at the conclusion of the day’s discourse. Leaving the Ashram, I checked my watch. I was going to be late! With only minimal difficulty I found the place, hurriedly smoked a cigarette and entered the space. Another white room! Another place of torture to be endured for the next five days.
This room was slightly larger and felt airier, more open and pleasant than the one that housed last week’s encounter group. Through a double door, there was a large patio, which overlooked an expansive garden. Local gardeners were lazily moving about. In the group room and out on the patio were close to a dozen people, most dressed in orange. There was a terrified looking young man of around eighteen years, and an old woman in her seventies. She was dressed conservatively in shades of brown and looked very out of place.
Rajen was not to be found, and so, uncharacteristic of me I began to mingle, as if I were a regular at a weekly cocktail party. There was no one from the previous group. There was one angry looking tall dark-skinned male and two severe looking, not very attractive 40 something women, but the rest were attractive young people with open faces, only slightly marred by what I guessed was fear.
My own fear seemed to be lost somewhere between Bhagwan’s aura and the entrance to the group room. I introduced myself as an American, and asked others where they were from. There were two Germans, two Americans, a gorgeous woman from France and a plain, though lovely woman from Australia, who immediately told me she was extremely nervous. I showed her my scratches and assured her that that would be the worst that would happen and that I would be pleased to be her protector. Maitri smiled, as the old woman, who introduced herself as Miss Elsie Cartwright of San Francisco, interrupted us. I could almost smell the diamonds and furs.
Looking around, I discovered that Rajen had entered unannounced and, with the aid of a very attractive female assistant, was trying to figure out a hookup for a tape player. Seeing him, the fear somehow snuck back into the room and began playing in my stomach. I took a deep breath and smiled at Rajen. He looked right through me and returned to his technological duties.
Minutes passed and we spontaneously began arranging ourselves on pillows around the periphery of the room until an almost perfect circle was formed. I wondered if Rajen would begin this group in the same manner as the Gestalt group. As he continued with his technical challenges I amused myself pretending to be a group leader, by looking around the room and focusing on the individuals. I wondered if there were any “killers” in the group. I observed body language and tried to guess what each posture was revealing.
Rajen dismissed his assistant with a long, sensual hug and turned to take his seat in the circle. He began, as is his normal way I surmised, by silently looking around the room, but this time his gaze was more detached, gentler somehow. He said nothing and moved quickly from face to face. When his gaze fell on me, he seemed to linger a bit longer before moving on. Seconds later, before he had completed his rounds, he returned his gaze to me.
“Chintan!” My stomach flip-flopped and I instantly prepared for the worst.
“Chintan, before we begin, I just have to share with you that following the Gestalt group I went to a favorite place of mine down by the river. I sat there for a long time, just feeling so bad, and then I cried. And I want you to know that you were very much involved in those tears. Gestalt was the most God-forsaken group I ever led. There was so much negativity and violence and it just never got to a place of healing for many of you. I’m very glad you came back.” I was speechless, and very, very pleased, encouraged and warmed by his comments.
“Okay, for those of you who are new to groups, there are only two rules: Ask to go to the bathroom and I am not to be used as your punching bag.” And so, it began.
Right from the outset I was involved in every action. I was a veteran, ready to fuck or fight. I watched the other participants and sensed that I was in a privileged position. I knew how Rajen operated and felt emboldened. As the morning moved slowly towards lunch break, Rajen was focused on a sexy English woman who was challenging Rajen’s authority and making derogatory remarks about men in general.
I could tell that Rajen was enjoying her, and that the more she fought the deeper was his enjoyment. The rumor around the Ashram was that he quite often ended up with the sexiest female member at the end of the group.
“This would be a good job,” thought I.
Without warning, he called me out of my daydream and asked me to assist him with the young woman. I moved quickly across the room and sat facing Asmita who looked at me challengingly. My mind was racing. One of the thoughts was “Gosh, I’m really moving up in the world. Three days ago, I was a thoroughly defeated, bruised and battered failure as a patient and now I’m embarking on my career as a therapist and group leader.”
I sat there looking at Asmita, glancing occasionally at Rajen, and realized I had absolutely no idea what to do or say. Rajen offered no help whatsoever. “Well, what was I supposed to do?” Rajen’s bemused look intensified. He was practically giggling. “I don’t know, Chintan. She’s a tough one. Very angry! Sort of like you, only prettier. Underneath her anger is probably fear, insecurity, lack of identity, inability to achieve orgasm and God only knows what else. What can we do for her? Can’t you help?”
His sarcasm was painfully obvious. I turned to Asmita and began my career as a therapist. “Asmita,” I said, “what can I do to…” “You can go fuck yourself.” I could fill 30 pages describing my inner world during the ten seconds it took me to process her remark and spring into action, but suffice it to say that thirty-five years of history conspired to make me feel trapped and ridiculous.
Rajen had set me up, just as my father had always done. I was in another trap with apparently no intelligent way out. This woman had no right to be angry with me. I was not to blame for her predicament. The thoughts piled up. My brother’s death was not my fault. I love my mother. I hate this fucking bitch in front of me. I could kill her. Shaking the thoughts out of my head I leapt at her like a crazed animal. The force of my sudden movement startled her and she fell backwards. I unleashed my fury, but although out of control emotionally, I was careful not to hurt her.
She tried to respond, but I wouldn’t allow it. I kept screaming obscenities at her, verbally reducing her to mush. Anando, the goofy looking Turk yelled at me to stop. I turned to him, not knowing what to say. I wanted him to understand and to be on my side. As I started to speak to him, Asmita sprang to her feet, ran into the bathroom and slammed the door. I raced after her. Finding the door locked, I vented what was left of my rage on the door. Exhausted, I crumpled on the floor and listened to the sounds of my heart beating and my lungs gasping.
The silence was broken by Rajen’s softer, yet still sarcastic voice. “Well, Chintan, good job. You’ve had another lovely catharsis. But where oh where has your patient gone?” I was too spent to be angry. I just sat there staring at him. “What should I do?” “Well, the first thing is to get Asmita back in the fold.”
Turning to the door, I knocked gently and called to Asmita. “Come on out, I won’t hurt you!” Silence. “What the fuck do you want me to do? Come out!” With that, I was finished. I walked dejectedly to the other side of the room and sat down in front of Maitri, who looked kindly at me but made no movement towards me. I turned back towards Rajen, feeling empty and alone.
Rajen turned slightly towards the locked door and gently called to Asmita. “You are safe. Come out.” Within seconds, a frightened English lady emerged, walked over to Rajen and gently sank into his arms. She nuzzled her head onto his chest and cried softly as Rajen cradled her and tenderly stroked her hair. I was left there absolutely alone with nothing but the thoughts racing through my head.
It’s amazing how many thoughts can co-exist. I hate all these people. Rajen is a sadist. I’m right; they are wrong. I wish Rajen would hold me that way. I wonder if anybody is secretly on my side. I wonder how my children are. Is my brother really dead? Those and so many other thoughts, feelings, remembrances and future projections were all there, all at once, competing for space. Meanwhile every cell in my body was pulsating. I was alive, and ready for anything…even death. As a matter of fact, if the truth be known, in that moment, death would have been a relief, because all I could see before me was a lifetime of anger, conflict and confusion.
It seemed that the session would end with Rajen and Asmita enjoying their special moment together, but Rajen had more work to do. Turning his gaze on me, he smiled and asked me how I was feeling. “I’ll survive. I’ll be okay.” There was no verbal response from Rajen, but it seemed to me that his eyes darkened slightly. He just kept his gaze focused on me. I was becoming more and more uncomfortable, and wished that someone would say or do something.
A thought formed in my head, something like a question for Rajen, a question to break the silence and perhaps give me some guidance as to what to do with the rest of this incarnation. But before the thought could become speech, something moved inside my chest. This movement was in an upward direction. The “energy” moved to my throat and was trapped there. I hoped nobody could see my extreme difficulty.
Rajen maintained his fixed gaze, and ever so gently said, “Chintan… breathe!”
Before my mind had a chance to stop me, I opened my mouth and breathed. The breath went all the way down, past my heart and stomach, down, down, down. When it reversed direction, it became a scream. I was aware of the intensity of the sound, and also aware that people in the room were moving back towards the wall.
No sound like that had ever emerged from me. It was not the familiar sound of anger. It was an ungodly howl of pain. And it just kept coming. There was no stopping the sound or the tears that were now flowing out of me. Through my tears, I focused on Rajen. His gaze was intensely focused as he verbally encouraged me to completely let go. I was aware that my body was thrashing about, my head rolling from side to side.
Then the words came… “No more, no more. Please. No more!”
Images of my brother flashed by. I was standing on the bridge in the dark, reaching out and not being able to stop him. The scene shifted and I was six years old and the ether cup was being forced over my nose and mouth.
“No more! Stop it!”
I couldn’t stop the sounds, the tears, the thrashing about. I was aware only of Rajen’s voice gently urging me on. Finally, the screaming stopped and I realized I was in the center of the room, flat on my back with tears covering my face. I was sweating profusely and aware that my body smelled bad. With closed eyes, I could see my children, my mother, my father, and especially my brother, and I felt so bad for all of them. And the tears began again and I could hear my voice calling their names, talking to them, asking for their forgiveness, wishing that I had loved them more.
When the tears subsided, I became aware of my present situation, emotionally naked in the midst of strangers in a foreign land. The room was absolutely silent. No one spoke. I began to feel ashamed. What must these people think of me? I lay there with closed eyes as the thoughts subsided and became aware of my breath. Bhagwan’s face seemed to hover over me and it seemed as if He was speaking to me, gently reminding me to just “Be a Watcher.” And so, I watched; watched and waited.
I was aware of subtle movements around me, but had no idea what was happening. My breath was now very relaxed, my mind still, and I was super aware of every part of my body. I imagined that I could actually feel the blood moving through my veins. I could acutely feel my fingers and toes. The feelings were immensely pleasurable. I wanted to just remain there in that space forever, but I knew I had to open my eyes and endure the stares and judgments of these strangers around me, and the fear that once again Rajen would give me a D-appraisal.
I was pretty much cried out when I opened my eyes, but the sights that greeted me started the flow once again, this time accompanied, I’m sure, by a smile on my face, because surrounding me was the entire group, smiling down on me, some of them wiping away tears of their own.
It was so unexpected and so beautiful to behold. How did I have it so wrong for so many years? I had always thought that to be loved I had to be strong, aloof, centered. Love was supposed to come as a reward for good deeds or good looks. But here I was, following a very unmanly display of emotion, bathing in the warmth of so many loving beings.
I sought out Rajen’s face and found him smiling. “Good,” he said, “See you all back here in two hours.” I lingered as the others left for lunch. I closed my eyes and thanked Bhagwan for this moment.
The remainder of the group was pure bliss; four and a half days of wonder. I was the same person, but deep inside there was an unshakeable feeling of a loving connectedness to life. I felt loved. It was that simple. I didn’t have to do anything, prove anything.
I could simply be.
Born and raised in Rhode Island, Chintan (David Hill) studied mental illness and became a stage actor. His first Dynamic propelled him into sannyas in 1977. In between prolonged visits to Pune and Rajneeshpuram he was co-director of the Rajneesh Center in New York (1978-1980) and later worked in mental hospitals. Now retired, he works as a writer and promotes meditation as a cure for mental illness. Chintan is the author of Mastering Madness. He currently resides in Deleon Springs, Florida. mentalillnessmyths.com