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My Life in Orange: Growing Up with the Guru (2004)

af Tim Guest

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301865,180 (3.55)15
Growing up with the followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh- the charismatic leader of the Orange People
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Tim Guest's "My Life in Orange" isn't a definitive account of the Rajneeshi cult currently selling itself as "Osho." Yes, over the course of the book, the author mentions organization's deficiencies and sins -- its founder's boundless avarice, the cult's various financial and sexual crimes, its spirit-breaking disciplinary methods -- but this isn't a work of investigative journalism. "My Life in Orange" is a personal account of what it's like to grow up in an environment in which the things that most first-world middle-class kids take for granted -- parental supervision, schedules, schooling, personal space, and interpersonal limits -- were almost completely absent. Some readers, I'm sure, much of this book a little unreflective, but it's written -- and written well -- from a child's perspective. In the Bagwhan's communes, adults engaged in marathon personality-reducing pseudo-therapeudic sessions that often ended with screams, fights, and broken bones while the kids, being more or less left to themselves, ran wild. Admitted that he was spared most of the worst of commune life, the author seems to paint a surprisingly warm picture of his own experience growing up Sannyasin. He remembers the children he lived with fondly and recounts the various adventures they shared while their parents went, unaccompanied, on their own spiritual journeys. On his own since earliest childhood, the author and his friends learned to take care of themselves, of each other, and to game the system that was, in some respects, stiflingly rule-bound and, in others, bewilderingly chaotic. We see them play hooky, shoplift, sham, wander, and try to carve out a little private space in a place where that concept has more-or-less been abolished. Emotionally neglected by his mother but surrounded by kids with whom he forges emotional bonds stronger than some people feel for their blood relatives, we see the author try to hold on to some sense of self as his life takes one vertiginous turn after another. He performs a delicate balancing act here: providing straightforward descriptions of his situations and owning up to the sadness he felt while never pleading for the reader's pity. Although he feels the loss of his mother's affections keenly, you get the sense that the author didn't quite realize how different his life really was from other peoples'. Guest's tone is, as befits a child, I suppose, innocent throughout.

"My Life in Orange" is also something of a portrait of an age. Guest intuits -- correctly, I think -- that his mother, the product of a poor, miserable, and stiflingly strict Catholic upbringing, joined the Rajneeshis in the mid-seventies because they promised a happy, hedonistic existence that was completely different from anything that she had ever known. The sheer incomprehensibility of Osho doctrine is sometimes difficult to believe: Rajneesh seems to have borrowed liberally from Buddhism, Hinduism, Western Occultism, even the Tarot. His spiritual teachings come off as a bewildering mix of facile profundity, dismissive humor, shameless pleasure-seeking, and naked avarice. He owned dozens of Rolls-Royces and a private jet. He sometimes seems like a living embodiment of the worst aspects of the sixties. As the eighties wore on, things got noticeably more paranoid. Sannyasin rules became more restrictive and the cult became more heavily armed. The author's mother fell from grace with the organization's leadership and was banished to a menial position in a faraway commune. Distinctly modern fears -- that of the looming threats of nuclear annihilation and AIDS -- began to dominate the cult's discourse. The author's account, a bit removed from these heavy realities, describes what it was like to experience seventies and eighties pop culture through a singularly cracked lens: commune kids danced to Michael Jackson and seventies soul hits, reenacted scenes from E.T., and watched a lot of pirated VHS tapes. Inside the cult, these bits of mass culture might as well have been beamed in from another planet. The wild misreadings of their contemporary world is fascinating to hear about, especially now, when we seem to be experiencing a particularly paranoid and fearful historical moment. While I can't testify to this book's accuracy, the author provides a surprising amount of detail here, along with a few historical documents. While it's difficult to know how much Guest has inadvertently filled in the missing bits of his own memories, it is also possible that he was simply born with a reporter's eye for detail. At the time that "My Life in Orange" was published, he was writing for some major British newspapers. He can certainly tell a story: many of the incidents recounted here are both vivid and well-told and, despite the intervening years, retain their emotional power.

"My Life in Orange" is also an account of the psychic damage that life as a Sannyasin inflicted on the author and, finally, a story about healing. The author argues that the lack of stability and sustained care that he experienced during childhood kept him from valuing himself as an individual, but, like many former cult members, he's insightful enough to mourn the loss of the sense of community that life in a commune -- even one as badly run as the Bhagwan's -- often engenders. He seems to admit that commune life filled a need for connection that many people living in the modern West feel. After a few rocky years, he even seems to have rebuilt his relationship with his mother and step-father, an extraordinarily generous act of forgiveness that I'm not sure I'd be capable of. He's done well and, while he hints that other commune kids he used to know have had a rougher go of it, the story that "My Life in Orange" tells is a fundamentally hopeful one. Recommended to those readers who enjoy stories of unusual childhoods and relish hearing about the weirder details of far-out social movements. ( )
  TheAmpersand | Sep 21, 2020 |
It's been a long while since I read this book, at least twelve years. So my review probably won't be as helpful as some here are. Still I would like to say that since I am someone who knows a little about the counterculture, and about communes (now called intentional communities) and a bit about Osho, as well. I will add my two cents for your benefit. I read this book without expectations, and was left a little saddened by certain aspects throughout the reading, but curiously I enjoyed the look inside this notorious community from one persons perspective.

I feel that the focus was a bit much on harm done, over potential good, but it occurs to me, sharing his perspective about this place, was a basic human right, and thusly, the way his book should have been written. Feelings of abandonment by the parent(s) to the larger "dynamic" that did occur, are not without certain merit, and should be honestly expressed.

Whether a meme? such as this "alternative lifestyle" sect, should be thought of as a cult, is left up to you. The focus of the story, that of Tim's personal experience, and how living with countless people around him everyday, was experienced by him was what was made fairly clear. I believe that he was deeply spiritually wounded as a child there while his parent may have been healed by the same place.

In that sense, the way the book is written is fairly amateurish, but still effective. By the end you do understand his perspective, and it leads you to wonder which book about these people you may want to explore next. Having said that, it will leave gaps in understanding. There is much to yet discover, and so I think the book would have been of more benefit if perhaps there was a little more about the perspectives of other folks involved in his life. If he had interviewed folks he was raised alongside he may have really been able to embellish more and be more thorough.

In this case insight is everything, and I do wonder if many years later this man has warmer feelings ultimately (with having grown into more an adult?) about his childhood pain. I do hope he has found some peace with his past. And maybe we can look forward to an update at some point in the form of another book?

I may one day write about my life, and so every autobiography, and every biography is of great benefit to me, and I did enjoy the reading. Yet the book left many things to be explored about the cult of personalities, this incredibly sexual love sect, that had a couple of friends very deeply involved (and quite in love) with Bagavan's (now Osho) sect who I liked to call the Rajneeshi's. RIP Anand and Nagar from Kona!

People I would recommend this book to:
Those who love exploring autobiographical works, those who are part of the counterculture, and anyone who wants a child's insight into only that particular dynamic of this sect. People who love Osho, as well.

If you find you do really enjoy this story, you might also appreciate Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud, and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, and if you enjoyed those, you will probably enjoy the experience of reading My Life In Orange.

~dreamingtikay ( )
  DreamingTikay | Mar 30, 2012 |
really rather excellent book, told with humour and a little sorrow, about the life of a young boy, growing up in the shadow of an unseen guru
1 stem nordie | Jul 1, 2011 |
Read my review on my book blog! ( )
1 stem | csmirl | May 1, 2011 |
Bought 05 Jun 2009 - Sensible Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye

I had read Guest's book about Second Life a year or so ago and both Matthew and I had wanted to look out for this one, so I was pleased to find it for £1. A wistful and quite shocking - but not sensationalist - description of growing up in various Bhagwan Rajneesh communes, Guest manages to communicate clearly both the dislocating experience of being a child within the movement and the attractions and consolations it had for the adults. A section at the end dealing with how he and his mother tried to resolve their issues was interesting and honest.

Quite a sad book, and made more poignant by the fact that Guest actually died a couple of weeks ago, suddenly and unexpectedly. It made this quite difficult to read at times.

Matthew's going to add it to his TBR then I'll probably offer it on a bookring at some stage as it is interesting and clear-sighted. ( )
1 stem LyzzyBee | Sep 11, 2009 |
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Growing up with the followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh- the charismatic leader of the Orange People

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