Whilst exploring therapies in Bali a friend told me about a place back home in the UK which he strongly recommended I visit if I was seriously interested in therapy exploration. I remember at first, thinking that some of the things that he told me sounded a little bit strange and initially my reaction was something like ‘a community experience at some spiritual centre? No thanks’ but as he told me more about Osho Leela and their no bullsh*t approach I began to become intrigued and I booked myself on a one week of the Community Experience Program. That one week really opened my eyes to an integral and authentic approach to self-development, with the kind of realism that I’ve been craving as I work on my own trauma recovery.
Osho Leela is a community in Dorset which runs workshops on a variety of subjects all to do with personal growth. Concurrently they run a Community Experience Program which is an opportunity to experience living in the community and doing certain exercises (active meditations) as well as working on house and ground upkeep as a affordable way of exploring personal growth, which is an amazing opportunity for those who can’t afford to do expensive workshops or therapy sessions but are committed to working on themselves.
The Osho Leela centre is a mixture of Osho teachings and Humaniversity therapy, basically, the combination of inner recognition with a psychological realism approach served on a plate of honest integrity. What do I mean by that I hear you ask? Well, I mean no fluffy spirituality talk shoved down your throat on the promise that all your inner conflict will be fixed by doing a few workshops or meditations. They’re authentic with the message that if you want to look inside yourself and grow as a person then they will provide the safe environment and opportunity but as with all personal growth work, the actual work comes down to the individual.
My review is set into three parts – description of the week, how I felt directly before and after, and my overall review.
New Community Experience Program members (CEPs) arrive on Sunday afternoon and they’re greeted into the community by a long term community member with the usual introductions, why you’re here kind of conversation and just a general get to know each other. There were four of us, and everyone had either been here for a workshop or had been to an Osho centre before… apart from me, who as usual was just rocking up to try something out for the sheer fun of exploration. Exploring the inner self and all its scary dark shadows? Sign me up!
The CEP program has a working schedule made up of three mandatory meditations on weekdays, two of which are usually active meditation and one 30 minute vipassana. The active meditations are usually before breakfast and in the afternoon, with the vipassana typically before lunch. On the weekends the schedule usually doesn’t have the active meditations because the rooms are being used for workshops, but that doesn’t stop the organisers holding an impromptu dance rave ‘meditation’ on a Sunday evening for those with bubbling energy that needs expending.
As well as the meditations there is a morning meeting every day which starts with a gentle dance (which I am now of the opinion that this is the best way to start any meeting and also just a great way to start the day). After the dance, there’s general meeting-y kind of topics which are discussed, a welcome to new CEP’s and a goodbye to ones leaving and then everyone is released on to their work duties.
Throughout the week CEPs spend six hours a day up-keeping the house and the grounds, that can be anything from cutting the hedges or cleaning the bathrooms, through to cooking for up to 30 people. It gives the general community experience of everyone looking out for each other and understanding that we all have a vested interest in the upkeep of such a beautiful house so that it can be used for workshops that undoubtedly offset the cost of a very reasonable personal growth program. I’ve lived in communities before, mainly when I’ve taken part in volunteer or student opportunities and when they’re run well, like the Osho Leela one is, it leaves you with a sense of appreciation for hard work and pride in what you’ve accomplished. Even if it is just hoovering the stairs, making it look nice and clean is really gratifying.
Apart from the normal program, Wednesday is community day and that’s where the schedule changes. May I introduce you to the AUM meditation: Awareness, Understanding, and Meditation. This meditation is taken from the humaniversity side of Osho Leela and it’s a 1 & ½ hour session that explores 14 aspects of the human experience: hatred, forgiveness, love, stamina, life energy, chaos, dance, sadness, laughter, sensuality, chanting, silence, respect and sharing (humanaversity.com). To put it bluntly, it’s like speed dating with your emotions and as with any kind of dating, the best connections are made when you put shame aside and put all your effort in. It’s intense and it allows you to really shine a light into your dark shadows where some uncomfortable home truths might be hiding, but all within a safe and supportive environment, check out the full review here. After the AUM there was shower time – there are lots of showers breaks at Osho Leela because the active meditations make for very sweaty volunteers, but it’s because it feels a little like a cleansing ritual every time. Later on, in the day we had a group sharing which is an opportunity to confidentially talk about where you’re at and how you feel to the group. It’s also an opportunity for the organisers (who are also therapists) can give some guidance, much like any therapist would, which is insightful. It was also really beneficial to explore each emotion in the morning, reflect upon this and then openly share it with a group and two therapists because after the AUM I seemed to be a lot more in touch with how I was feeling, which was, in fact, a huge numbness. Like a haze that had been stirred up and was now waiting to lift. I can imagine that this kind of group sharing/therapy session is very beneficial for people who stay on the CEP program for a long period of time because there is the opportunity to bring out emotion, discuss it in a session and reflect continuously with therapists who get to know you well enough to ask you the right questions to help you pull yourself out of your old tricks and patterns.
Throughout the working week, there were a variety of Osho and Humanversity meditations that I took part in. The Khundalini Meditation, which is a shaking meditation, The Dynamic Meditation, which explored 5 areas of expression, Bio Energetics Meditation which combined dance and bending exercises, Sacred Earth Meditation which was a predominantly dancing, and also the Gibberish Meditation, an Osho Meditation which is literally talking gibberish. I’ve never known a place where there is such great exposure to such a wide variety of personal growth exercises with such a realistic an authentic approach.
Pre-session sense check (6 June 2016, 2pm – Arrival at Osho Leela)
Emotionally – I feel anxious and very resistant to being in the place which I spent over 3 hours driving to. I’m not entirely sure what I’m getting myself into this week or whether I’m ready to deal with the ‘crazy’ emotions that I could be suppressing deep down. In my head there’s a ‘what the hell am I getting myself into?’ kind of question, as images of floaty hippy types appear in my head, telling me to ‘Just be’ and then the fear of my fiery Arabic nature arising and telling them to F-off… It’s an interesting stereotype that I hold against the spiritual community, and the judgement and resistance towards myself on this journey too. I know that this resistance and judgement is a signpost to explore something, a deeper fear maybe because I don’t want to deal with the discomfort of my own emotions or a huge fear of vulnerability. This realisation of inner fear is what stops me from turning the car around and running away, that and the realisation that if I did do this then those emotions would just come along with me anyway.
Physically – My shoulder is tensing up and there was a definite stiffening up in my body as I drove down here but generally, I’m feeling quite awake and alert and I’ve been eating healthy food all day which is probably the reason for this. I’m also well rested so apart from tensing, my body generally feels in good health. There is a feeling of butterflies in my solar plexus, like a gut reaction of fear. It’s kind of like nerves butterflies but not the good kind, the kind that makes you feel a little nauseous but will gently fade away if ignored… Ignored for now at least.
Post-session sense check (13 June 2016, 4pm – Arrival back home)
Emotionally – I feel energised and empowered. I feel like I explored a lot about myself and my inner emotions this week and it’s left me feeling more accepting of myself. It’s difficult to put my finger on it but I feel free to be my authentic self and if people don’t like that then that’s ok, they’re not my kind of people so they can bugger off and make way for those who are.
Physically – My body is tired but also energised, which is weird because these two feelings seem to contradict each other but the best I can explain it is the feeling you have after a really good workout. Throughout the week I had to take some hour long naps, especially on the 4th and 5th day and I think this was because of the emotional processing, it just exhausted my body and I had to sleep to replenish my energy.
At Osho Leela, they are upfront about what they deliver – an opportunity for people to go deeper into their inner-self – with the support of therapists who can hold that emotional space, should anything overwhelming arise. I think the thing that I felt most reassured by Osho Leela was the acknowledgment of humanity here – that the people leading it are also only human too and equally have desires and needs that must be met. For example, in one day we might take part in active meditations, reflections, and open conversations about our innermost vulnerable truths, all in the safety of the house. Then some of us would go to the pub for a drink whilst another group gathered together and watched some apparently important football match (no idea which one). This strength and integrity is refreshing to see and by feeling this comfortable it allowed me to go full throttle with the meditations, no matter how ‘strange’ they seemed at first (yes, I had judgements and resistance… I am at least only human too). So regardless of the voice of resistance in my body and mind I pushed through the discomfort and delved right in.
Having meditated consistently for well over a year now I feel like I have the ability to step out of my emotions and see them for what they are – sometimes. I find this process to be a skill that needs regular practice, with the acknowledgement that perfection of it is an illusion. The tools that I picked up from the Osho Meditations were how to fully feel, express and manage emotions so that I don’t numb out like Western society conditions us to. I believe that by going deeper into emotions we widen the spectrum of what we can feel, so by becoming accustomed to my deepest anger, fear and shame I can also feel ecstatic, love and joy to a deeper level too, leading to a more fulfilling life. I mean that’s the point of us being here right? To live life to the full? Well, that’s what I believe anyway.