Leonard Orr, the rajah of rebirthing, floats downstairs at 9 a.m. and smiles his secret smile. It's the same one he wears on the cover photograph of his book. Actually, it appears to be the only thing he's wearing on the cover of his book. Because Orr, right under the glossy title print, is sitting in a hot tub. He has his arms around the bare shoulders of two smiling women. His is the beatific smile of a man who has found the answers.
It is not an exaggeration to say that hot tubs have made Orr the man he is today. Hot tubs and bathtubs, really, along with a dash of primal therapy, a pinch of est and an unwieldy spoonful of the theories of Frederick Leboyer, the French obstetrician who believes that infants are unnecessarily traumatized by the harsh lights, noise and spanking that attend a typical hospital delivery.
Orr has taken Leboyer one step further. He says that by immersing yourself in warm water and breathing in short, connected breaths, it is possible to reexperience birth, transforming the subconscious impression of it into a "gentle awakening event." ("It ends up being sort of like hyperventilation," says a psychotherapist who has been rebirthed many times.) And what was one small step for delivery room esthetics has turned out to be one giant leap for Leonard Orr.
His rebirthing therapy has met with undeniable success, moving eastward from northern California and settling comfortably in unlikely places. Like Silver Spring, where Orr recently touched down and held forth.
His lithe frame is perched in a flower, high-backed armchair. Morning light, hesitant and gray, wanders in from the window behind his head. His eyes are deep and blue, his hair closely cropped, and waving across the front of his soft yellow T-shirt in scarlet script are the words "Breathers Make Better Livers."
His feet are bare. Around his toes sit five or six of his students. They have taken a week off from their jobs and paid $500 to attend one of Orr's "prosperity consciousness" workshops, an offshoot of his rebirthing therapy. Most of those present have already been rebirthed, some more than once. One is a computer programmer, one a real estate agent. They are quiet and polite, dressed in casual, nondescript clothing. They have come to learn the way to "financial success, personal fulfillment and peace of mind," but they listen intently as Orr talks about the therapy. After 20 minutes of discourse he stops, suddenly inspired. "All you have to understand about rebirthing," he says serenely, "is that thoughts are creative."
The subject turns to hot tubs, and the host, Bert Weiner, suggests a visit to his, a homemade contraption out on the back porch, with garden hoses and a black snorkel hanging over its aluminum sides. His wife demurs. "We're getting a real hot tub soon," she says. "This one is plastic. I hate plastic." "You should see it," says Orr. "It looks like something out of "Star Wars.'"
Although his students have been waiting for an hour and a half, Orr refuses to begin the workshop in the presence of an outsider. "You really have to be rebirthed to understand any of this," he insists.
"Rebirthing is very much in the grand tradition of hypnosis and altered consciousness," says Dr. Stephen Appelbaum, a psychoanalyst and clinical professor of psychology at the University of Missouri Medical School who spent 4 1/2 years investigating the panoply of "human potential" therapies, and wrote a book about them.
According to Appelbaum, rebirthing, along with other trendy therapies, uses controlled breathing exercises and the power of positive thinking to induce an altered state of consciousness.
"In the case of rebirthing, the intent is to produce a 'birth memory,'" says Appelbaum. "There are therapies that take it one step further and aim for pre-birth memories, fetal memories. But the question is -- what are you going to do with any memory once you have produced it? Simply recalling a memory is not enough. It's what comes after that matters. That's what therapy is about."
In Orr's catechism, what comes after rebirthing is, perhaps, another rebirthing. Some people do it as often as once a week. The result, he says, is "perfect health, effortless bliss and self-actualization."
On the road to nirvana, Orr has picked up a 680-acre ranch near Lake Tahoe, trips to Europe to expound his ideas, over 5,000 students by his own estimate, and a string of "Theta Houses," where the wisdom of Leonard Orr is available to all who care to partake of it. In 1977 he founded Rebirth International. Prosperity International, through which he disseminates his ideas about "money consciousness," was founded one year later. d
In May he sent a letter to the White House from California, expressing his support for the president, informing him of his impending arrival and suggesting that the two of them get in touch to discuss Orr's views.
"I daily sample a pulse of this country that you would enjoy knowing about," he wrote. "I am . . . enclosing my views on grass roots politics which can easily get you reelected."
"P.S.," he added, "I would like to have a successful relationship with you."
Leonard Orr's ship came in approximately six years ago.As he tells it, he was stuck in his bathtub at the time. And not for the first time, either. Some days he'd languished unwillingly in the tub for hours, peering over its ceramic sides and staring at his toes, trapped there, wrinkling. He had begun to miss business appointments.
As the bath water gradually cooled, it occurred to Orr that his inertia was related to the fear and pain he had experienced at the moment of his birth. The bathtub, he decided, was actually a simulated womb experience, and all of life-'s problems, all of his fears and negative feelings about life, could be traced back to the traumatizing moment of birth. He got out of the tub.
There are a number of things to do to prepare for a rebirthing. Clothing to be loosened, relaxation exercises to perform. And then there are the 21 "affirmations," such as:
"I am glad to be out of the womb so I can express myself freely and fully."
"I am no longer afraid of my breath."
"The universe is singing in my atoms."
Rebirth therapists, as they refer to themselves, charge anywhere from $40 to $75 dollars a sesson, though most of them say that the price is negotiable and that they would not turn anyone away for insufficient funds. The price is completely up to the rebirther and his client. There is a psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, says Orr, whose fee is $120 an hour. It just depends.
Spending a morning with Leonard Orr leaves one with the distinct impression that while he has by no means abandoned rebirthing, it is now just a part of a grander vision.
Before this visit some of Orr's students, who now provide rebirthing services of their own, sent out letters announcing his arrival. They rented a room in a local church, where Orr gave a prosperity consciousness lecture one evening and "An Evening With Leonard Orr" the next, during which he says he discussed "various ideas of interest to me."
"Your mind is a machine," Leonard Orr has written, "and it will produce wealth as easily as poverty. One of the basic laws of the mind is the 'law of increase'; whatever you concentrate on increases."
Master his "laws of wealth," he continues, and "becoming a millionaire is inevitable."
Orr prefers to keep his "chronological" age a "metaphysical secret."
He is vague when asked about the money his activities generate. "I don't really know," he says. "I give 90 percent of my money away, anyway."
The Ten Commandments" of Leonard Orr are found in the book he wrote about rebirthing. So are the claims he makes for the therapy. Such as:
"After watching all kinds of VD symptoms clear up as a result of rebirthing, we believe that VD may be an adult manifestation of dirty diapers and feelings of helplessness from infancy . . .
"It is impossible to kill. . . . You have to have victims in order to have murderers. So if the victim is a person who desires to be killed, then the murderer is victimized by the victim.
"As long as you honor yourself as God, you are not adultering the truth and then every thing is okay. Because if you are a God, you can decide that you are married today and that you are not married tonight (so you could sleep with another woman) and then you could decide you are married again tomorrow."
If that is unclear, Orr will suggest finally, in the careful, languid voice that he uses to describe everything from wrenching personal experiences to his "metaphysical" ideas about money, then perhaps you should "concentrate on one of the more simple concepts, like physical immortality."
Orr rises from his chair, eyes focused dreamily on the middle distance. A young woman, an assistant, stands nearby trying to get his attention. "Earth to Leonard, Earth to Leonard," she says. Expecting no response, her face shows no surprise when there is none.