From Teenage Junkie to President
Interview with Veeresh
Veeresh was a teenage drug-addict in New York. After his rehabilitation in the first ever Phoenix House program, he started Phoenix House in England, which has now been running for 37 years. Now he is the founder and president of the Osho Humaniversity in Holland, and the founder of Humaniversity Therapy. Veeresh is also the creator of the AUM, a two and a half hour event that is a popular process for emotional release all over the world. He recently came to Stockholm to lead a group and we met him to talk about his life and work.
What is Humaniversity Therapy?
It’s an accumulation of 67 years of life experience.A big turning point in my life was my entry into Phoenix House, a drug rehabilitation program in New York. The people who were in charge of the program used the Encounter method. Simply stated, Encounter is using projection to create clear communication with the other and finally, clear communication with yourself. It is a strong confrontation to look at what you’re doing on the outside, because it’s who you are inside. You can use any situation to ask, “Who are you now?” Today you could call it awareness.One of the beauties I see about Humaniversity Therapy is that I insist that we use anything that works. We have a martial arts school where we learn different approaches. We have Shamanism and Aura Soma. We have people coming who do energy work in the house. If it can bring some awareness of who you are, I’ll use it. I’m always open. We’re not one clear approach; we’re a multi-approach. We are based in Encounter, and we use anything else that works. Primal works, laughing works, martial arts….
In your groups you work with sexuality. Why do you do that?
Because sexuality comes up over and over. You meet a person, you say hello. On one level you are saying hello but on another level you are accessing whether you’re turned on to them or not. On the surface people act in a certain way but they feel another way.If you look at people’s problems you can say that 90 percent of their problems are based on sexual frustration, sexual repression and sexual suppression. Dealing with that is essential if you want people to find out who they are.Freud said it: “If sexual energy gets distorted, we end up with wars”.
How do you work with it?
I work in an honest, safe, adult environment. I once had a fairly old man in a group who had never had sex. He used to go to nudist colonies as a voyeur. So I asked if a woman in the group would be willing to have sex with him. Someone said yes. We built a little house of the mattresses and he went in with her and the group started to dance around in a circle. That was a deep transformation in his life. The women and the whole group were supporting him.
Should people be afraid of coming to your groups because you work with sexuality?
Yes! I think that what they really want to do is to explore sexuality because what gives them the greatest pleasure is knowing who they are sexually. I think people that come to my groups have a right to be afraid because I want them to look not only at their sexuality, I want them to look at all the areas inside them that stop them from being a whole person.Authority, sexuality, relationship, whatever the issue is I want them to look at it. In that sense it is scary. You walk into a group and you’re afraid of going crazy? Well then let’s act out going crazy.I would be scared to come to my group!
Your work is characterized by deep emotional release processes, late nights, unpredictability, and intense social interaction. How does this support people in daily life?
For many years, after my groups I would tell participants, “Don’t make major life decisions now. You need some time to integrate, to let it settle in before you make any decisions that are important for you.” It’s all changed for me now. People come to groups and they go through the deep emotional processes and I tell them, “When you go home, make your life decisions now! If your relationship is not working and you’ve tried everything possible, change it. If you’re not happy with your job, get another job. Whatever is not going right in your life, don’t wait. You might slip on a banana and die tomorrow. So you better change now!”Their life gets turned upside down, but I know something good will happen. Before, I was trying to be very careful. Now, in the beginning it looks like chaos. But then later people tell me, “I’m happy that I did change. I’m happy I did what I needed to do.” In the long run I know it makes them happy if they really do what they want to do in their life.It’s not enough to have people go through a group and say, “Oh! I understand!” They have to apply it. I insist on it. If it’s not applicable outside, then the therapy doesn’t work. I don’t want people to go home and do the same things over again. No! I want them to take what they learn from the group and use it. That’s important.
You created the AUM meditation. It’s very popular here in Sweden and all over the world.
Yes, in 32 countries.
Why do you think it is so popular?
I think it fits the way people live in the west. There is so much activity and so many things going on in your life. In India you can sit and meditate on a beach but in the west you need to go along with what society wants, and most societies teach you to swallow your no´s — all the no´s. If you start to let your no´s go you’ll get in trouble with your boss, your relationship and with your friends. The AUM allows this daily stress to get expressed in a very powerful way.You don’t get many chances to express yourself in so many different situations — twelve different ways — as in the Aum. It’s like doing a weekend group, it’s such an intense experience.I always see the AUM as an opportunity to become friends. So in that way it’s very attractive.
After you were running your own rehabilitation program in London, you went to India and met Osho. How has he affected you?
Until I met Osho my concept of treating people was fairly conditional. People had to fulfil certain criteria then they could get support. I was doing a lot of correcting of behaviour. And then I met Osho. He showed me that it’s not so much about what people do, it’s who they are. I saw him doing this over and over again with who ever he was talking with. And that changed my whole way of looking at people.He related to who they are, the loving side of them, the positive side. That was amazing to me. He gave unconditional love. He just loved people for who they are.I still today want people to change but I start out with the basic assumption that they are good people. There is nothing wrong with them inside; it’s just their…I call it strange behaviour on the outside.
You’re an artist and a designer, you’re a music producer, a rapper, the author of new therapeutic processes. You could be doing so many different things. What is it that keeps you working with strong emotions?
One of my favourite quotations from Osho reflects why I work the way I do. “Feel more rather than thinking. Through your feelings, your prayer will arise, and through feelings you will dissolve one day. When you are dissolved, god is.” That is the basis of why I do all this work with feelings. If I feel what I’m doing, things work. If I think too much, I get a bit lost.I know that emotional catharsis frees you up so that then you can appreciate being aware of who you are. I’ve always worked that way. Some people just want to write notes about my methods and techniques. That’s not me. I’m a feeling person; I know that when people feel, it makes them who they are.I’m a heart person and I know I can touch people…bring them into their hearts. There’s so much there for them. If you look on the internet you can get information forever, but to teach people to be heartful – to me that means becoming a human being. That’s why I’ve always worked on an emotional level. Then I try to integrate the mind after they’ve discovered who they are in their bodies and their hearts.
What made you decide to start the Humaniversity?
It was a reaction to working in a psychiatric hospital in Holland. I was hired by the Ministry of Health to open up a training institute and train addiction specialists.After two years I got really frustrated because I couldn’t work the way I wanted to work.I went to Osho and he said if you can’t work the way you want to work then you need to drop it and not compromise. That was quite a shock. I spent close to two years preparing to get this job and finally I got it. I was the only ex-addict working in a psychiatric hospital. I had my own ward.I wanted to create a place where I could work the way I wanted to work without so many committees to go through explaining what I was doing with my training. I spent most of my time in my office.I’m happy Osho supported me to pursue what makes me happy. If not I might still be working at the psychiatric hospital.
How do you see the Humaniversity in 25 years? What is your vision?
I once told my staff if they want to turn the place into a McDonald’s factory that will be their choice because I don’t want to say they can’t do that. I have to give them the permission to do what they want to do. If not it’s a setup for failure.We are a teaching house. Basically we have three programs: professional training if you want to be a therapist, a personal education course if you want to look at yourself, and a rehabilitation program.I would like to see this communal therapy idea continuing. Its unique…you don’t just work on issues in a group room, you apply it outside in the community; you follow it through. I see that as one of our specialties. We work 24 hours a day. And I would like our no nonsense, no bullshit, straight talk approach to continue – because it’s not happening around the world.What’s the vision? I would like Osho’s work to continue, I would like my work to continue. And I’m open to a McDonald’s factory.