Me in Varkala, india. 2011.

The Guru

I met a guru in India who made me want to believe in something.

Lauren and I were open to new experiences while traveling through India, so we decided to meet a spiritual guru. We had watched rats crawl through the streets, rifled through antique markets, and bought more silk than we could carry. My long blonde hair seemed more magical than Rapunzel’s and for the first time in our friendship, I was prettier than Lauren.

We read that we could visit a verified spiritual advisor at a special astrological center during our stay in Jaipur, but were easily convinced by our rickshaw driver of a better idea. Although we had grown accustomed to saying “no, we do not want to go to your cousin’s silk shop” and “no, we do not need souvenirs” and “no, we will not go to that restaurant where you will get commission” and “no, we will not pay you 500 rupees more than you asked for”, we agreed to see the undocumented guru at his jewelry store on the outskirts of town.

I’d come to India after a whirlwind year in Korea, followed by a month in Southeast Asia, and then another month at home in a seaside suburb of Boston. I’d come after ending the most monumental relationship I’d ever had, one that left me feeling empty, deluded, and exhausted. I’d gone from being a busy and popular college student to an insignificant and disposable blip in the city of Seoul. At last in India, I could see that Lauren was enjoying the sights and sounds, the bustle, the chaos, the dynamism, more than I was.

The guru was a short and stout Indian man in his early 50s, who claimed he had orphanages further north in Rajasthan. He showed us pictures of starving children and gave us his business card. He told us he’d lived in Canada and England too. “But Manchester,” he paused, “it was not a good place. They chased me down with knives.” He lifted up the sleeve of his shirt to show us his purple scars.

“You,” he gestured at me, “you’re the skeptic, so defensive.” He led us into a back room, where he locked his eyes into mine. “Always thinking, always thinking,” his hands hovered over my wrists. He told me I’d just gotten out of a dishonest relationship. I started shaking. He told me I had a good heart and needed to follow my dreams. Nothing new or surprising here, but I started to get teary.

“You won’t live in the United States,” he said, “it’s not free enough for you.” I didn’t know if I believed him or not, but having this man fixate on me felt like being in bed on a cold day, warm and safe. There were a lot of things that the guru said to me that were incorrect. He told me my parents’ ages. They were wrong. He told me I needed to forgive my mother, as though there was something between us that I didn’t know about.

Mostly, the guru fixated on my voice. “You’re blocked,” he said quickly, “you’re so blocked. You need to get unblocked. You’re blocked.” I felt panicked, as though the totality of my life’s problems could be swept into the raspiness of my voice, and that he could fix me. I let him touch me, pressing at my stomach as I hummed, his fingers grasping at my throat trying to bring out the clarity.

“Will my mind ever be calm?” I asked, feeling myself giving in to the power of the situation, unaffected by my surroundings of sterling silver. ‘No,” he said, “your mind will never stop. It can’t stop, but you can learn to live with it.” I’d hoped for a different answer. He told me I could buy a gem and that he’d give me a mantra. Maybe it was a good idea to spend 120 USD on an amulet for my neck. My voice was clearer, wasn’t it? He understood me, didn’t he?

I was going through the motions. We had been waking up to Indian sunshine and I was so sick of travel. After, Lauren and I piled into our rickshaw, wondering aloud if I should go back to purchase the gem, ultimately deciding that no matter how powerful, a gem could not solve what was within. I knew, sitting outside that jewelry shop under a yellow-roofed rickshaw, covered in dust, grumpy and tired, that I wouldn’t find what I was seeking. I’d been searching for comfort in curries, palaces, in an Australian boy I met in Delhi, in my books, in the train tracks, but I wanted answers to unanswerable questions, assurance for the impossible. I wanted the meaning of why I felt so lonely, what direction I was going, and how to rid myself of my anxiety. I wanted to know the best way to say goodbye. The guru could ruminate, he could spin stories and touch my tummy, but his oracle would never satisfy.

This isn’t about Indian mysticism, the psychic I met abroad, or how I came to know myself through someone else’s’ interpretation. I don’t think an experience in a foreign land is more legitimate than visiting a palm reader in the United States, but here I was, so far from home, looking for affirmation. ‘I want to know who I am and what and why,” I had told the guru. With all his knowledge, he had shrugged his shoulders, in the same motion my psychologist did at home.

I wanted reasons. I wanted confidence in Allah, Jesus, or something else. I wanted not to question. I wanted a bible. I wanted a psychologist who never shrugged her shoulders. I wanted someone to explain why my ex-boyfriend had lied to me and why my life felt so hard when it was easy and right here there were starving children. I wanted to know if belief could suspend or calm the suffering. I wanted answers.

That silver shop felt like a temple that stood for things I couldn’t believe in. It was in Jerusalem, Bangkok, Paris, London, Basel, New York City, Boston. I’d visited it while awake and while dreaming. I’d gotten on my knees and almost worshipped, momentarily swayed by idols, then run out into the streets of the city, downing drinks, having sex, going shopping. I don’t believe in magic or in simple answers. I rip up horoscopes and point my middle fingers up to some non-God. I don’t buy gem stones. But, what if I did? What if I believed? What if I could?

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