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“Hey so I’ve decided to become celibate to pursue my spiritual path. It’s been a weird couple of days. If you want to still be friends platonically, I think you’re awesome.”
This was the text message that ended my three-month, mostly post 1 a.m. “relationship” with a man we will call Qasim (named after this piece of web-series brilliance). If you read my last article I Dated A Male Dating Columnist, you already know my questionable taste in men. With Qasim, I was trying to amend this. He was not a neurotic intellectual. He did not have a job that required him to analyze my every move. He was just a plump-lipped, blonde-curled, frat boy floating aimlessly in post-college life like I was. But it turned out he may have been floating a little too high.
The first warning came when instead of my usual pre-coital beer, he offered me a cup of jasmine tea.
“How zen of you!” I teased, ignoring him and grabbing one of his roommate's beers. But that was just the beginning.
“So my guru wants me to go to India next month!” He screamed drunkenly over the blasting techno as green lasers soared through the smoke between us at his 25th birthday party.
“You have a guru??” I screamed back, shocked.
“Yeah, I told you! Sri Gaudiyavanta!” (or something.)
“I thought you were kidding!” I replied, downing my drink and puffing on a cigarette.
“Okay…yeah, India’s cool.”
This was still kind of fine. I knew he was into yoga. I just figured his quarter-life crisis was taking even more of a new-age turn. A little more granola than I usually like in a guy, but this wasn’t very serious so I would let it slide. But he later explained that it was about a little more than working his core.
Qasim’s father belongs to a group who I shall not name here because I think it’s a little bit secret and I wouldn’t want to be “disappeared,” if you catch my drift. So lets just call it The Sunshines. When Qasim was 12 years old, his father had grown really serious about this group and had taken a vow of celibacy and stopped having a glass of wine with dinner, as The Sunshine Order dictates.
His mother was not “completely down with this new flow and bounced” (as Q so spiritually phrased it). The rules of The Sunshines are kind of like the Amish in that you can do whatever you want until you turn 25 (for the Amish it’s a window after sixteen). Then all those joints you’ve been smoking, all that beer you’ve been guzzling, all of that pretty above-average sex you’ve been having is all of a sudden thrown out the window and you must then live the life of a monk. So there went Qasim’s expensive vaporizer, his impressive collection of expensive scotch, and, with his 142 characters of text, the sex.
When I received this text message I was in the library at my college and I quite literally guffawed. I don’t think I have ever guffawed before. Those around me did not appreciate it.
My second reaction was, “Actually, I’m pretty flattered that he would even want to hang out platonically. I was pretty sure this was just a sex thing.” Then, “Oh great, finally a guy actually likes me and he’s celibate. And it took him becoming celibate for me to find out.”
I decided that maybe I should give this “platonic hang” thing a chance. I shot him a cute text and he invited me to a “class.” I assumed yoga class, so I donned my faux-Lululemon work out gear and Google-mapped my way to the address he gave me in the Bronx. It was an unfinished-looking concrete building with a small sign that had nothing but a sun and moon and praying hands with a creepy-looking eye in the middle. An arrow pointed to a buzzer. I buzzed it.
“Namaste?” a very American voice said.
“Hi, I’m uh, here for the class?” I replied.
“Come in, sister.” The voice said. Oh Lord, I thought.
Turns out my outfit was definitely not right for the occasion -- there sat Q, cross-legged and dressed in naught but this baggy sarong thing, smiling eerily with his eyes closed. Around him were people who all looked about 25 -- new initiates, I decided -- sitting in the same position. Upon my relatively noisy entry (heavy door and I’m a klutz), he looked up and grinned slowly in a way that I had never seen him grin before. It was unnerving. “Come, sit.” he said.
The class was a lecture by a bald man with bedroom eyes who said things like, “We must take auspiciousness in our souls and embrace our own hearts and eyes and those of the souls around us.” Everyone around me nodded and occasionally sort of hummed in response, but I was totally lost.
What I drew from the convoluted lecture was that no human is fully spiritually developed until 25 and cannot be blamed for what they do before then. If they continue in sin after that point, they are misguided and inferior and need the help of the spiritually developed ones to find the right path. Although this religion was supposedly based on eastern Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, it sounded pretty close to orthodox Catholicism to me. And we all (hopefully) know the abstinence argument doesn’t really work at any age.
At the end of “class” Qasim put on a shirt and drifted out of the room next to me.
“Wasn’t that divine?”
Divine? I thought, what kind of frat boy uses the word divine? The kind in a cult, I guess.
“You’re in a cult,” I said. I probably shouldn’t have, but I had been so disturbed by the creepy mindlessness of this group of dead-eyed, slow-smiling meditators that I just wanted to end this interaction as fast as possible.
“It’s not a cult, it’s a philosophy.”
“It’s a cult, bro.” I actually did say bro.
“You’re so closed minded and I’m sad for you. I expected more.” Then he stopped in his tracks, took me by the shoulders, and kissed my forehead like he thought he was blessing me or something and walked away. I was shaken.
I walked the 100 or so blocks back to Manhattan along the river thinking, “Is he right? Did I just go into this ‘class’ with preconceived notions and judgments and simply refused to give it a chance? Have I been this narrow in my beliefs my whole life?”
By the time I reached a café I like in Washington Heights that has awesome chili hot chocolate, I decided that yes, I was just as bad as the people in this cult who looked down on people who occasionally engage in the two oldest pleasures of sex and intoxication. Well, nearly as bad.
So I went home and Googled Qasim's "lifestyle," but it turned out I still thought most of what they believed was pretty severely wrong (and Qasim’s mother was right). I even read about a ceremony that involved starvation, sleep deprivation, and mild self-torture. But the beliefs that this “philosophy” was misguidedly founded on actually were pretty beautiful and amazing. And although Qasim turned out to be a bit loco, or maybe just lost, from this experience I gained some really valuable and wise knowledge and a better understanding of what a cult is.
Though to be honest, I give Qasim’s sex-drive four months tops before it overtakes his new “philosophy.” I just won’t be there to help him sin.