“I think you’re in a cult,” I said.
“You’re just not used to it,” Sara replied.
“Not used to what, a man telling me that mercury is medicine?”
“Forget it,” she said, more to keep me quiet than to concede her point. The other volunteers still flitted around us, packing up the event space and patting each other’s backs for a job well done. Some of them glanced sideways as they overheard my skeptic thoughts.
She was part of the volunteering group that organised this event, which she invited me to, and I thought I’d attend to show my support, but I just couldn’t keep my thoughts to myself when it came time to discuss the exalted yogi that she’d been following on YouTube for a year now.
This is the same man who’d said that water had feelings and would turn black if you cussed enough at it.
And here he was, profiting off the volunteers’ hard work while he flew around in helicopters, played golf, and wore Rolexes to accent his traditional garb. Sara, my girlfriend at the time, was one of such volunteers dedicating most of her free time to carry out this man’s bidding.
She had a day job to maintain too, and most of her salary went right into this guru’s pocket, through the exorbitant entrance fees charged for every one of his events. Done with the basic class with a price tag of USD100? Well now you’re entitled to move on to the next level. That’ll be USD300 please.
Want a more personal session with the guru (which, by the way, is not really personal and involves like fifty other people instead of the usual hundreds)? Then volunteer for months on end, and he’ll see if you’re worthy enough to pay thousands of dollars for that privilege.
It didn’t sound any different than the get-rich-quick programmes I’d seen—and unfortunately experienced—so you could understand my frustration. How could she not see what was going on?
She’ll snap out of it, I thought. One day, she’ll see that she’s in a cult, and that I was right all along. Meanwhile, I sought to talk her out of wasting her time. To wait for the moment to go “I told you so.” To open her eyes to the truth.
What is a cult?
Look up ‘what is a cult’ on Google and the first result describes it as ‘a system that venerates one particular person or object’. I needn’t go any further than that. This guru was venerated all right.
If his Facebook status of the day denounced chocolate, you could be sure that Sara would fling her Snickers bars into the trash the moment she got home. If onions were the enemy of the day, then our pantry would lack one type of seasoning forever.
One of the weirder changes I’d witnessed firsthand was Sara not eating specific foods just because her necklace spun counter-clockwise instead of clockwise when she held it over the plate.
The accessory was—of course—purchasable at their events, and it cost USD50 for what was essentially a few pieces of string and some beads.
“But these rudraksha beads were blessed by the monks in the Himalayas!” she’d say when I’d question her about the correlation between merchandising and enlightenment. “One day, when you achieve a higher consciousness, you’ll see.”
One day, as we were eating our lunch on the floor—she’d sold most of her furniture to live an ascetic lifestyle, and to fund her seminars—she decided to share her future goals with me.
“I want to be a brahmacharini,” she blurted.
“Okay. What’s that?”
“What does that mean for us?” I said, lowering my slice of cucumber that moments ago had been approved by a sacred necklace.
“It means I’ll be away for a long time. Maybe forever.”
“So that means your future doesn’t have me in it?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Then why are we doing this?”
“Because this is now. And now I’m sharing my heart with you. But soon, I want to open my heart up to the world.”
“What does that even mean? Did your guru put you up to this?” I air-quoted the reference to her exalted leader.
“I’ll be staying in his ashram, yes, but no. This is my choice.”
I too had a choice, and that was between getting into a full-blown argument or leave the house. I chose the latter, and I justified my long walk by telling myself I just needed some time to think.
“Um, I think I’m not comfortable with coming home and finding you and your ex having dinner,” I said. Her ex, Andy, had just took his leave moments earlier, and here I was, hungry, thinking Sara and I would have dinner together.
“We’re just discussing our volunteer work,” she said, clearing the plates off the floor. There was no food for me.
“Well, it’s just that you guys are in the same… group… and you spend a lot of time together, and you’ve been together, so I don’t know how to take this, you know?”
“Don’t be silly,” she said. “There’s nothing there. Anyway we’re headed out for a hike tomorrow morning.”
“You see what I mean?”
“What? Can you stop being so insecure? I already told you there’s nothing between Andy and I. And Pradesh will be there. So will Nelly.”
“I’m going out to get some food,” I said. I stormed out of the house, with her parting words trailing after me.
“You need to stop reacting so much, you know that?” she said. “You’re too attached to this physical world!”
It’s hard to tell exactly when we started to drift apart, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out that we were headed in totally opposite directions.
We’d broken up many times before this, each episode a reminder of how things just wouldn’t work out between us. Every time we parted ways, I’d promise myself not to go back to her, never to repeat my stupid mistake.
Fortunately for me, I’d already done all my mourning throughout the relationship itself, so it didn’t really hit me as hard when she told me it was over.
I actually felt relieved.
That night, as we said our goodbyes for the final time, I knew it was for real, because I realised that I hadn’t even bothered convincing myself not to go back with her.
A few months would pass, meaning things were ripe to see what she was up to on Facebook. After all, what use is social media if not to stalk your exes?
She was married. It had barely been half a year since we broke up. Her new husband was Pradesh, one of the other volunteers in her organisation. So Andy really didn’t mean anything after all.
What I would also see was the smile on her face, and how happy she looked. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever seen her this happy since we’d first got together, before she got serious with the cult.
Then I realised that I felt happy for her. Not in the politically-correct way that people like to use the term, but actual joy that she’d found someone that shared her values. I was happy that I wasn’t around to pull her back anymore.
I’d learn that we should never tell people how they want to live their lives, bad decisions or not. Each of us has the right to find happiness the way we want to, and we shouldn’t impose our way of finding purpose upon others.
In the end, it’s not about trying to force someone to follow your path, but about finding someone who’s headed the same way as you. Someone you share a vision with, or at least someone who doesn’t oppose your mission in life.
And how ironic that despite all my efforts, despite wishing so hard for her to come to her senses and open her eyes, it’s me who would end up having my eyes opened.
What about you? Do you have any cult-related stories or weird relationship phases? I’d love to know if you’d like to share.