Fifteen years ago, I was in the depths of despair. The one I thought was the greatest love of my life dumped me and I was a total wreck, beyond suicide, beyond life, beyond hope.
These were the days of MSN Messenger and I had an online buddy who I’ve still never met, and he would ‘listen’ as I wailed and moaned about how life wasn’t worth living. Finally, he told me to read The Art of Happiness. My immediate reply was “not another bloody self-help book”. Which of course it wasn’t, it’s by HH The Dalai Lama and when I eventually did stop whinging long enough to get it, I was on the path, and couldn’t get enough. I read so many books I had to get glasses.
The chain of books led me to Osho. I knew nothing of his history, I just liked the way the books made the tricky parts of Buddhism a bit more accessible to us Westerners. And I liked the fact that he told jokes. He seemed to be the antithesis of the po-faced religious leader. It was only years later I found out he had also been the ‘sex guru’, the Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh. Just as well really, I’d have probably quit reading there and then.
The years passed, the pain in my heart eased, and life happened. My Mum was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and I was reading Sogyal Rinpoche’s Tibetan Book of Living and Dying when she died. It helped me make sense of her passing and helped me make peace with our tumultuous relationship when she was alive.
And still I read.
In 2010, my Dad died unexpectedly and this time the books didn’t help. I made it through the rest of the year somehow, but I felt as if a volcano was getting ready to erupt inside me. I’d been left a small amount of money and rather than save or invest it, I decided it was time for a sabbatical from life.
I packed up and buggered off to India (as you do when you’re a woman of a certain age for whom life hasn't quite worked out as planned). I did some touristy stuff, but my main reason for going was to visit the Osho commune in Pune. I signed up for a three month Work-as-Meditation programme, bought my maroon robes and my white ones, and crossed the threshold. My closest friends back in the UK, were convinced I was joining some kind of Jim Jones’ type death cult.
They promise to align you with some kind of work that reflected what you did in the outside world. So where did they place a bawdy stand-up comedian? I was hoping for something very Zen like gardening or peeling veg for dinner, but no, they put me in the Personnel Department, doing ’spreadsheets’ on something called ‘Excel’. None of those words meant anything to me even after the training.
On day nine of my 90 day stay, I quit. I swapped programmes from working to ‘eating-chocolate- croissants-by-the-pool-as-meditation’ which was infinitely better.
OshoWorld didn't give me what I’d hoped for. How could it? On my first day, the welcome committee woman asked why I’d come and I replied ‘to find a reason to live’. So no wonder really, as good as they were, the chocolate croissants weren’t THAT good.
On my return to the UK, slowly I found I appreciated my time onstage more than ever. What better break from my own sadness than making others laugh? Four years later, I felt a yearning to revisit the Osho International Meditation Resort, so I tagged a five day visit onto the end of a trip to Goa. I stayed outside in a half decent hotel close by and picked and chose which meditations I did.
As before, the ‘chocolate-croissant-by-the-pool-meditation’ was the most rewarding, because I sat there in the shade, listening to the birds singing, and just staring at the water rippling but then I was overcome with the feeling that something was missing. After a bit of self-enquiry, I worked out it was anger. My anger was missing. On my previous stay there I’d stomped around being mad at the world and everyone else in it, and that anger carried on when I came back as I pushed away friends and acquaintances, isolating myself almost completely. That day, I realised those feelings had shifted.
This year, I went back for a third time, and stayed for a month to do a kind of stock take of my life. I threw myself into the active meditations, at one point I even woke up my long-dormant kundalini. I’d been sexually inactive since 2003, and early menopause meant that I no longer had any sexual desire. This was refreshing, because I was bloody mad for it in former times.
After the menopause, I felt free and happy to stay that way, so waking up in the middle of a saucy dream in the commune wasn’t something I was expecting. I shared the news on Facebook and one of my friends said: “Ooooh, now you might have to actually ‘do it’ again”. No chance! That would mean having to shave my legs more than once a month.
With this last visit, I feel like I’ve completed the circle with Osho. I’m wise enough this time not to say ‘never again’ again, but it’s like I’ve come to the end of this particular stage of the journey, in a safe, loving and peaceful way. There’s a lot of negativity surrounding Osho both for his past as well as the behaviour of the keepers of his legacy, and Lord knows there’s things that could’ve really got to me if I’d let them, but the fact of the matter is I’m here and I’m happy and when I picked up my first Osho book over a decade ago that seemed unimaginable.