In the flow and in the fire

'And another story...' by Shivananda

An insider’s account of an encounter group, with an unexpected transformation through processes that would appear horrifying when watched from the outside – by Shivananda.

encounter group

In the previous episode, Shivananda talked about Osho giving him his new name: That’s my name!

Before I came to India, I was living in Africa, in Kenya. At a Halloween party the host had the idea of setting up a marquee at the entrance of his house and asked me to dress up as Gandalf, the wizard from the Lord of the Rings. My task was to give a new name to each guest when they entered. I chose names such as Diana. “Tonight, your name is Diana,” I would tell someone, and wrote the name on a tag which they then wore. The names just came to me; I was in a flow and it simply happened. I then also gave a little explanation of the name, with everybody enjoying the game. Finally, each person had a new name for that night.

In the end, I thought “Well, I played Gandalf, but actually I would also like to have a name with a meaning, because Heinz – my first name received from my parents – never had meaning for me, I never felt good with that name.

What I really liked to do in life was to flow. So I thought, “That would be a good name for me: ‘Flower’ (flow-er). Yes, that’s my new name. It’s written the same way as flower. Beautiful. That’s what I want in life: to flower and to flow.” From then on when people asked me about my name, I said, “My name is ‘Flow-er’.” That always started a conversation. But somehow it was not an easy name to pronounce.

Then I came to Osho…

During the sannyas celebration, after he had given me the name ‘Shivananda’, he asked me, “Would you like to do any groups?” I said, “Yes.” “The first group you do is called Flow.” When he said that, I thought, “Wow. Amazing. He knows what I am doing, that I am a flow-er.”

At that very same darshan Osho appointed an American woman to lead the group. He called her up to come to the front and said to her, “You are the leader of the group ‘Flow’.”

I was wondering how many people were already on the list of that group but I soon realized that the group did not exist yet. Of course I was very curious to participate in the group because I had seen so many people who had come out of one of the many groups, transformed in various ways.

On the first day of the group – there were about 20 people – the therapist said, “Welcome to the group ‘Flow’. I invite everybody to just flow. Whatever is happening, just flow,” and then said nothing else. People were just sitting there – for one hour. I became very disturbed because I had never done a group before and did not know what to expect.

“What am I doing here, just sitting? Nothing is happening, and I pay money for it. What can I do?” At last I had the courage to put up my hand and say, “Excuse me. Could we do something?” To which the therapist replied, “Well, what would you like to do?” And I said, “We could paint.” That was my idea. I could immediately feel from the participants’ reaction that this was not what should be happening. She then said, “Okay, you like to paint. Anybody else who would like to paint?”

There was a girl in the group, a Swiss girl, who had been sitting in a corner always giggling and sneering. I could feel that she had also gotten on everybody else’s nerves. I thought, “This stupid girl. And she also wants to paint…” I understood she was also new in this.

The therapist announced, “Okay. We now take a break and after the break I will bring you paint and paper – and then you can paint.”

During the break I met a few people from the dormitory where I was sleeping, and they asked, “How is the group?” and I replied, “Well, I don’t know what is happening. I have no idea.”

I came back into the group and the therapist gave me felt-tip pens and a piece of paper. I was happy; I could scribble and draw and paint, and people were watching me. Nobody else was painting and I could sense again that this was not really what should be happening. But I was so new at therapy.

Suddenly a German man stood up – I can still see his face and large frame – with an Afro look much like Jimy Hendrix’s. In the middle of the group room stood a vase with beautiful flowers. He went up to the vase and shouted with a strong German accent, “Thiss are chust flowers on shit,” and smashed it with all his force against the wall. The vase exploded, fragments scattered around the room, the water and flowers all over the floor. Simultaneously everybody in the group started to scream – except for me and probably that Swiss girl. All hell broke loose. People stood up and started to fight – and I still sat there with pen in hand – freaked out, shocked.

And suddenly a woman stood in front of me and shouted, “You just look like my father and I hate my father,” and started to beat me up – really strong. In my belief system it was written: you never hit a woman. So now I was getting all the punches, trying to defend myself until I was lying on the floor, she on top of me, continuously beating me, jumping on me – until finally the group leader stopped the whole scene, and asked us to sit opposite each other.

She asked me, “How do you feel, Swami?” I could not say anything. I was in shock. She then turned to her and asked, “How do you feel, Ma?” And she said – she said probably the worst thing I could have imagined – she said, “Now I feel like fucking him.” And this was like… this horror of a woman wants to make love with me? I was even more shocked!

Then somebody from the group – it must have also been a German, I remember the German accent, shouted, “He is not feeling anyzing. Let’s put him under the mattress.” I had no idea what that meant. But suddenly there were all these people jumping on me, starting to pile mattresses on top of me – and then everybody was lying on top of the mattresses, burying me. The only thing I could think of at that moment was, “At some point there must be lunch.” There was no way out. I could not move. Again I thought, “At some point there must be a break and then it’s all over.” Until I finally realized that I could not breathe, that I had started suffocating, and that “I am dying. Now it’s finished.”

In that moment something else took charge of me; some strength, some power took over. Suddenly inside of me there was this incredible power and strength; it came from the belly and went up and up until a scream came out of my mouth. It was like an explosion. I threw everyone off the mattresses and stood up. I was like a lion. I was on fire. I was not doing the screaming. It was an incredible, endless scream. More screaming and screaming came out of me.

Now looking back at the situation, I see that there had been many moments in my life where I wanted to scream. I always wanted to scream at school. This was one of my fantasies – it was so awful for me to be at school – my fantasy was that I would stand on top of my desk and just scream. Out of frustration. Also, in the army when we were standing in the rain for no reason at all, just to break our will and show us who was in power, I wanted to throw the gun on the ground and scream, and scream, and scream.

In the group all this accumulated frustration came out with this scream, and with it, an incredible life force emerged in me. I had never felt so alive in my entire life. Then immediately I saw that for the first time in my life I was really in the flow. And I understood why Osho had given me this group to do, not to confirm that I was in the flow – as I had thought – but to actually show me what real flow is.

To this day I feel so grateful for that moment, for that happening. Because of it, at the end of the group, I felt transformed, I felt like a new being. And I felt such strength in me, such power. It was amazing.

In the same group in the afternoon, we did some bio-energetic exercises. At the end we were all naked. The Swiss woman, the giggling one, made a stupid remark and somebody shouted – maybe it was the same person from the morning, “Let’s put her under the mattress.” When she heard that, she freaked out and ran naked out of the group room, which was located in the middle of the ashram, and screamed, “Bhagwan, Bhagwan, help. Help, Bhagwan!” She ran towards Lao Tzu gate, past the guard, and entered into Lao Tzu House screaming, “Bhagwan, Bhagwan!” with the guards chasing after her. They caught her, of course. I never saw her again; I don’t know what happened to her. But I can imagine that the story she has to tell is very different from mine.

I think that many of us had similar experiences; it felt like being in the fire. I was lucky to come out of the fire and be transformed. I saw so many people being transformed, and I also saw people escaping.

When I watched ‘Wild Wild Country’ and saw the footage of a (staged) encounter group I thought that an onlooker who has never participated in such a group cannot comprehend what is really happening. If somebody had been there, filming the incredible fight, me being put under the mattresses, all these people lying on top, and then suddenly this guy starts screaming, he could show it as a horror movie. You would think this is hell, it’s madness.

The Flow group was one of the biggest gifts I have received in my life; it was an incredible adventure. I had the opportunity to look at myself and go into my feelings. I wish every human being had such an opportunity to come in contact with that life force, that flow.

I want to emphasize that I am eternally grateful that I was put into that situation, that I was forced into it. Either I die – it was like a death – or come out with a new energy. It was a very important moment in my life and I feel grateful to Osho that he gave me that group. I feel grateful for the woman leading the group, even though after that incident with the naked woman who ran through Lao Tzu gate, the group was cut short after that first day. It was supposed to be three days long. And it was never scheduled again. It was just this one day.

Yes, one of the magical moments.

It was one of the ways Osho was working with to wake people up.

As told to Punya

More adventures with Shivananda in ‘And another story…’

ShivanandaShivananda was born in Switzerland. He worked as a trained typesetter and graphic designer, silkscreen printer, bookbinder and photographer. Twenty years ago he fully engaged himself as a painter, working in Brazil and Switzerland. Music, another expression of his creativity, has been his companion for all his life. He plays the guitar and sings. In summer he lives in Arillas on the Greek island Corfu, where he facilitates painting and singing workshops. – more of Shivananda’s stories and artwork on Osho News

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