There are lots of good reasons to go on a meditation retreat in India, but stalking your ex, I discover, isn’t one of them.
It all begins on Clapham Common, on a bench scratched bare by graffiti. “I’m going traveling,” Becca tells me. “To India. On my own.” Manfully, maturely, I take it on the chin and book a flight to Delhi.
I catch up with her at the Taj Mahal. Dusk descends, minarets purple, egrets blaze against the sky. Reconciliation beckons.
“What the hell are you doing here?” gasps Becca.
“I thought … I thought…” I murmur, suddenly unable to think. “Look,” she says, ”I’m leaving for Jaipur tomorrow—just leave me alone.” Short, unequivocal. I pack my bags and catch the next train to Jaipur.
Two days, fourteen hotel lobbies and City Guest House later, I track Becca down to Dhamma Thali, a spiritual retreat in the hills above Jaipur. “Have you come for Vipassana?” asks the man at the gate. “Absolutely,” I affirm.
I sign up next to a German with a bald head, a saffron robe, and the sort of bloodless pallor that suggests he doesn’t get to Burger King as often as he might. “My name is Prem Shanti,” he tells me. “Vipassana changed my life.” I know he means “changed” in a good way, but I am left with the overwhelming urge to phone my mum.
Still, it’s a beautiful place.
Admittedly, everyone wanders about pajama’d legs in a weird, exaggerated moonwalk. But look beyond them and I can imagine Becca giving up the fight here beneath the frangipani tree, Becca saying “I love you” there beside the carp pool.. .. Becca hissing at me, there in the middle of the lunch queue. “Jez?” she shrieks, opening her mouth, closing it, then shaking her head with slow, ominous intent.
The good news is that she’s not allowed to speak to me. Straight after lunch, we’re all sworn to Noble Silence. “No talking, no whispering, no eye contact,” intones the guru, and although he doesn’t specifically inveigh against harassing your ex into taking you back, I’m guessing that’s a no-no as well.
Things start well with the meditation, at least. Admittedly, 4:30 a.m. is not the time I would choose for sitting cross-legged while my femurs try to force their way through my kneecaps, but if that’s what it takes to show Becca I’m not giving up, then bring it on.
As the hours turn to days, the dull ache in my knees is replaced—no, complemented—by a searing pain in my right thigh. By day eight, unable to feel any sensation between right hip and knee, and beginning, as Prem Shanti’s looks of poisoned malice confirm, to whimper audibly toward the end of each meditation session, I start to wonder if, just maybe, I am reaching my limit.
I carry on, of course, because Becca does. And because the guru repeatedly dangles the promise of metta bhavana (lovingkindness) before our glassy eyes. “You will become kinder, more forgiving,” he murmurs. “More capable of love.” Metta bhavana sounds worth hanging about for.
The tenth day comes, talking resumes.
Metta bhavana is upon us. “Becca,” I stutter beneath the frangipani, “I love you.” She looks into my eyes and something passes over her face. A recognition, perhaps; an understanding. “Jez,” she says tenderly, “I love you too. We will always be friends.”
And in that moment, I am free of her. Friends? Friends? Sad, pathetic geek I could handle, but friends? “I don’t want your pity, Becca—I wanted you.”
Back in the dorm, packing to go home, I bump into Prem Shanti. “How was Vipassana for you?” he asks. “Good,” I tell him, “good. It changed my life.”
From “Confessions of a Tourist,” © June 19, 2005 by Jeremy Lazell and The Sunday Times, London. Reprinted with permission.