My estranged father moved from Bermagui to Canberra. Or: from coastal hamlet to capitalist wasteland. He used to spend his weekends hallucinating inside sweat lodges. By unhappy association my brother and I did too.
Our family was fractured, fraught. There were strictly enforced drop-off and pick-up systems in place, there were insecure new step-parents trying to establish dominance, there was terrible tension, tightly clenched jaws and always an awful sense of things unsaid, of hostilities unspoken, of rupture.
My chest always felt tight; clenched, like it had a huge hand around it, like it was being squeezed inside the fist of a huge, idle ogre.
Amid all this upheaval I think my father may have made some subtle appeals to our childlike desires to please to get us into those sweat-lodges.
They would spend days building them – hacking down wattle saplings and digging holes and heating rocks and draping tarps and smearing themselves with ochre, and the only sensation I can recall during this lead-up is one of deep, fatalistic foreboding.
Inside they were crowded and dark and terrifying. We were urged to withstand the searing heat and distinct sensation of suffocation for as long as possible.
The child who could stay in longest was often given something afterwards as reward, perhaps a packet of Rizlas, or a fossilised piece of dog-shit, or a shriveled length of umbilical cord of uncertain origins.
To this day I have quite a bit of trouble with confined and close spaces. If there’s heat involved I become additionally distressed. Wild of eye and wanting to tear strips of flesh from my face and neck, that kind of thing.
Along with the heat and the steam and the suffocating terror that we were forced to suppress the sweat-lodges were filled with naked and hallucinating hippies. This included my father. I have residual issues here too, with naked and hallucinating hippies in general, and with my father more specifically*.
Moral of story: none.
*Not really in regards to the sweat-lodges per se. It was the Far South Coast in the late eighties, they were Sanyasins, Osho** was big back then, whatever.
**Osho was the holy man, the Bhagwan, the head of the Orange People. Naturally he had a very long beard. Osho is probably most famous for the large collection of Rolls Royce cars he amassed, reported to be 93 at final count. This didn’t sit well with some. Some Sanyasins saw the cars as unrivalled tools for obtaining publicity, others as a good business investment or as a kind of spiritual test, others as an expression of Osho’s scorn for middle-class aspirations and yet others as an indication of the love of his disciples. Someone called James S. Gordon opines that what Osho loved most about the Rolls Royces, apart from their comfort, was “the anger and envy that his possession of so many – so absurdly, unnecessarily, outrageously many – of them aroused.” Well, yeh. I can see that.
It was a worldwide movement. I had no concept of it back then. When I was nineteen and living in a caravan park in North Queensland I read an entire book written by Osho without knowing who he was, without knowing that he was the fucking Bhagwan, the man whose death in 1990 had all those hippy Orange People wailing and flailing and chanting back when I was small and confused and clenched.
Osho discouraged marrying and having children. since he saw families as inherently prone to dysfunction and destructiveness. He encouraged sterilisation and abortion.