Reflections on 'My life in Orange' by Tim Guest
This book came to me in modern serendipity. The referrer logs of my website reveal amongst other things what people who ended up on my site where searching for, and I'm curious to see the other search results. This way, I came across an extract of this book on Granta’s website, and within paragraphs, I knew this book was a must-buy. For starters the subject, the rise and fall of Bhagwan, later Osho, and his neo-sannyas movement in the eighties, fascinates me to no end. The writing style was a clear, sharp recollecting and reflecting. And most of all, this seemed one of the rare books on the subject that is neither apologetic, nor purely comdemning.
When the ranch in Oregon fell, I was fourteen. I remember seeing it
reported on the tv news in Holland, helicopter shots of an orange and
red Martian landscape with tents and neatly parked Rolls Royces. Ten
years later, my long relationship with Marion, a former sannyasin started,
a relationship which lasted almost seven years.
In those years, through her I got to know many others who had lived through that age.
Being a historian, I read up on the subject:
Feet of Clay,
The God that Failed
and others. As well as Osho's books.
But I never addressed the feeling of regret for not having been there when it was happening, even though my (now former) girlfriend and most of the other ‘survivors’ - as they would sometimes refer to each other, only half joking - told me I should be glad.
This regret was not a new feeling. I wanted to be a punk when I was a teen, but punk was already dead. I turned a Robert Smith look-a-like new wave Goth, ‘Curiste’, as the French called it, but when the new album came out it was the rather disappointing Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, followed by the dreadful Disintegration. I toyed with radical politics, but was turned off by the dogmas. I remember discussing the East German workers paradise in the young communists club, bursting out in hysterical laughter when a guy held on the the opinion that the citizens of the DDR had a better life than us. Seriously man, you don’t believe that do you? Wow, he did, and that was the end of my time there.
In My life in orange, Tim Guest writes about his years as a young boy in
the Osho communes. His mother falls for Bhagwan and enters the great
experiment, taking him with her. I have often heard friends talk about the
places he describes: Leeds, London, and especially the big Medina
commune (it's telling that the Ranch is hardly ever mused over).
They tell fascinating stories of working hard and celebrating
hard, of struggling and surrendering, but they’ve come to terms
with their mistakes, and a bit of nostalgia is always mixed in with the
painful memories. They made their own choice and had to come to terms
Young Tim however did not choose, he just went where his mother went, or worse, had to stay behind.
The book is written from the perspective of the author in his late twenties, looking back at the first years of his life. He remembers how he felt, and writes with sometimes excruciating compassion about himself, the other children and the adults around him. To tell the story proper, he also puts it in the wider context of the history of sannyas, and in doing so this book becomes the most personal and hard-hitting account of this era that I have read so far.
The book doesn’t stop at the collapse of the communes, and the return to a normal life that young Tim was longing for; the final part is about the long and painful process of re-establishing a loving relationship with his mother, who had put him through all the hardship. It is hard work, but eventually it works out. This book clearly came later; it is not a part of the healing process but came afterwards, it seems, and I think that this might be the reason that it does not have an axe to grind. This adds considerably to is strenght, being a tragedy rather than an attack makes the story all the more compelling.
I’ve been waiting for a book like this. I literally couldn’t put it down and finished it at five in the morning. Reading the rather factual day-to-day description of life in the Medina commune, I felt such a doom underlying it all. So many idealistic people, with the best intentions, spiralling down as the movement became more and more totalitarian. It has always struck me as strange how the oppression in the Oregon period came about as it went against everything Osho stood for. More than any study on cult behaviour, this book sheds light on that from a casual, personal perspective. The theory coming to life, so to say. It hit me like a brick.
At the age of thirtyfive, I am finally starting to recognize that this feeling of having missed out on the action, on the good times, of regret to only see the decay afterwards, has been the big motivator to look for salvation in something that seems to be happening. When I jumped into the Miracle of Love cult in 1998 and again in 2003, one of the reasons why I was so attracted was that it was picking up speed. Here was a chance to be at the beginning of something exciting and new, instead of the end. Fortunately I kept my wits about me and managed to get out relatively unharmed. Others were not so lucky.
What this book made me see is that I this feeling of
missing a group has not disappeared, just gone hiding.
Somewhere, I am still willing to give up my life, my freedom,
"Yes, it was horrible in Oregon, but hey, they were trying to build a better world! Isn’t that worth a sacrifice? Worth a risk?"
And such a group can grab on to that when I'm vulnerable, with promises, social engineering and careful brainwashing techniques.
So I have to ask myself again, is it worth the sacrifice? And keep reminding myself that the answer is no. I have known that for a long time, but with my thoughts, with my mind. Thanks to this story, I feel it is now rooted more deeply, in my guts. "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance" - also for freedom on the inside.
I am really happy that the author came out well, in the end. Besides a well-written, moving autobiography, he has also contributed a valuable addition to understanding cults and their effect on people inside of them.