A year after moving with me to Qatar my husband boarded a plane to take a job back in the States. When he told me a month later he didn’t “feel like being married anymore,” it was all I could do to hang on to my job. The job that had taken us there. The job that I hated. Barring that title — director of marketing at an American university — I had nothing. Even my dogs were gone, returned to their first owner, my soon to be ex. I longed for an escape but to where? To do what? I was a childless woman in her late 30s, incapable of rousing up a hot new gig. My presence wasn’t required elsewhere. It took months but finally I figured it out. I would go to India to study yoga and meditation, do something and nothing at once.
Osho — a self-billed meditation resort — kept cropping up as I began looking into my options. It appeared in searches for ashrams in India, but then randomly friends began to mention it. I don’t take coincidences lightly and would have signed up immediately if not for something else that was undeniably true, Osho had the reputation of “sex ashram.” Not that I had anything against sex, but I wanted to go somewhere to heal from relationship wounds. Men on the make, I feared, would simply rip up the scabs.
But Osho wouldn’t go away that easily. I came across their family constellation therapy, a technique that — flaky as it may sound, exploring family dynamics through improvised role-playing — and decided to sign up online, to hell with the scars! I’d been thinking about taking one of these workshops for years. As part of the application process I learned that visitors were required to take an AIDS test before entry was granted.
The stupidity of this in terms of protection is hardly worth mentioning. I imagined having to push my way through Birkenstock-clad men in maroon robes hitting on me day and night and decided it was a freak show I could do without. Instead I found a yoga course in Goa and signed up. There I promptly lost myself in the rigors of training in Astanga yoga seven days a week for two months.
Not long after the course ended and still with no real plan I struck up a conversation with my teacher, Julie. A fellow American, she turned out to be interested in family constellation therapy at Osho. She, too, shared my feelings of intrigue and disgust in equal measure. We decided on the spot to go together the following week.
Osho takes its name from its guru, Osho. Located in a particularly grimy city in India, Pune, this place is also the home of yogi B.K.S. Iyengar. If I had to bail on the sex ashram my backup plan was to study Iyengar. After checking into our hotel, located conveniently next door to the campus, Julie and I made our way to the testing room, a holding area that blocked even our view of the grounds beyond. Once I “passed” — a wait that got me stewing about how they handled people who “failed” — the first task at hand was to gear up.
Maroon robes were to be worn at all times while on campus, except during evening meditation in the marble pyramid when you had to wear all white. The reasoning behind this was logical enough, that stripping away the outer trappings would keep the focus on the person, but when I spied the maroon thongs and blindfolds for sale, I thought they took things more than a little over the top. I pictured hairy-ear-lobed men around the corner and braced myself. Cleared for safety and properly outfitted we entered Osho. In stark contrast to the noisy and foul-smelling streets of Pune, the campus was generously planted with tropical vegetation, a lush, Dr. Seuss-like environment. Stands of bamboo cooled the whole area and water features provided a calming soundtrack. The thought of leaving never entered my mind again.
We’d given ourselves a day to explore the place but Julie and I parked it by the pool. Between the robe shop, the bookstore and the three vegetarian cafeterias, the only reason we needed to go off campus was to go to our hotel or to traverse the relatively quiet Indian thoroughfare that divided the grounds in two. Those brief forays were enough to remind me how other-wordly this place was, of the hell that awaited beyond.
Of course we did venture off campus. The only decent cup of coffee was at the German bakery up the road. That’s where I met Rupert. Though we weren’t in Family Constellation together I spotted him immediately as an Osho-ite. The maroon was a dead giveaway. It’s lucky we met because as the workshop progressed I felt less inclined to leave the grounds. Sessions were scheduled like a workday with a break in between for lunch. Instead of running up to the German bakery I found myself staying to dance in the Buddha grove, a central pavilion that featured lunch-time DJs. Still Julie and I spotted Rupert most days and made a foursome over meals shared with Amir, a friend from the constellation workshop.
I was attracted to them both and they were attracted to me but there was no overt sign. Osho was all about the overt sign, so I resigned myself to the idea that between the four of us we would have only a platonic arrangement. Amir was too young for me anyway and Julie didn’t much care for Rupert, a fact that struck me only because of in the workshop I was taking. There I’d realized how deeply I needed the approval of other women (read: my mother). Knowing wasn’t the same as fixing. My attraction to Rupert waned in light of Julie’s opinion.
I might not have wanted to be hit on by strangers, but between the music, the natural beauty and the therapy, I was feeling very open and sexual. I can’t recall a single pair of Birkenstocks, but it was impossible not to notice, no one was coming on to either of us. Julie was, like me, recuperating from a painful breakup. At first I laughed about what a relief this was, but as the days pressed on we both began to wonder, what the hell? When Family Constellation was over I signed up for a Tantra workshop.
“My beloveds,” began our hot Italian leader. “During this workshop we ask that you not have any dates. Not with anyone on the course, or outside.”
He had to be kidding. A “date,” in standard Osho parlance, meant sex. Once this workshop was over I was scheduled to take a plane back to Goa. Only I could come to Osho and not get laid. More to the point, only I could come to Osho prepared to battle prospective lechers and then be bitter I didn’t have to.
The Tantra course was about saying yes to “what is.” Letting go of my conditionings. Understanding my masculine and feminine sides. Osho’s message of love was at the heart of it all. Osho wasn’t about finding random sex partners, it was about letting yourself fall in love. The truth was, I was still in love with my husband, something that was obvious to anyone — horny or not — from a mile away. Osho purported if you could come to love everyone you would be less in need of owning and declaiming that love. Ultimately it was a sexless state. I liked the love everyone part, but I still I wanted my special someone to have sex with, and I needed to be special to someone else, too.
One afternoon I returned to my hotel to find I had been checked out. I’d neglected to extend my stay to correspond with the Tantra workshop and the place was fully booked. Over dinner that night Julie proposed her floor and Rupert and Amir both offered to let me stay with them if I couldn’t find anything. When I couldn’t find anything, Amir’s number was the first on my list as I scrolled through my cell phone. “The movie’s just starting, hurry,” he said.
He was staying at a friend’s place nearby. The apartment had an outdoor deck, a modern kitchen and a living room with a flat screen TV. I grabbed a slice of pizza and joined him on the couch and it wasn’t long before I was violating the rules of my Tantra workshop. One minute I was thoroughly enjoying myself then out of nowhere I was crying. Amir was lovely and sweet and fell asleep holding me, but I remained wide awake. I didn’t know what to do with myself but leave. As I wandered back toward campus I found my fingers dialing for Rupert. “Come over,” he said. Once again it wasn’t long before I was violating the rules, only this time, no tears.
In the course of one night I’d fallen out of love with my ex- (who, like Amir, was younger than I), and made a tremendous discovery. It was possible to get beyond my fear of another woman’s disappointment and follow my own heart. It wasn’t just mad sex we were having, after a week of shared meals and long heart to hearts, we were in love. Now that I had my someone special, I reckoned I could love everyone else. Unless they were annoying.
I continued attending my workshop but only as punctuation to sessions with Rupert. When the workshop ended and it was time to leave Pune we bade a tearful goodbye. I exhorted him to come and visit me, but did not for a minute expect he would. To me it was another sign of growth that I did not mind this. Just knowing he wanted to was enough. The text he sent a few weeks later shocked me from this easy daydream. He was on his way from the airport. Pretty annoying.
Though I resented it at the time, this second act of our liaison was the greatest breakthrough of all. Very quickly our relationship mirrored the patterns that had existed within my marriage, patterns I had denied, focusing instead on the way my husband had left me. Now playing the role of my husband (passive), while Rupert played the part of me (aggressive), I could see that our union was to fail and there was nothing I could have done differently to save it. I had been yearning for some kind of closure with my husband, and there it was. Though Rupert was the poor unfortunate who provided it, I will always love him for it.
Now I am in the third act and on my own, coming to terms with how far off I am from living in indestructible love. It is a state beyond my job title, my wardrobe or my lover. It is — I gather from the glimpses of it that I’ve had — everything I ever wanted. Something and nothing at once. In the meantime, for the lies, the pettiness, the meanness sure to come — I forgive me.
The following article is was originally published on Reality Sandwich.
Featured image by Tamburix used courtesy of a Creative Commons license.