The young woman frowned as Edie reached for her phone.
‘The retreat starts now,’ she said, her eyes clear and untroubled, two still pools of water. Edie imagined this superior being lived each tranquil day the same as the last.
‘But it’s beeping,’ said Edie. ‘I think it’s important.’
The woman picked up the device and dropped it into a large woven basket with all the other tablets and phones. Edie watched it disappear into the mass of metal and plastic.
‘What’s important is your serenity.’ And with that, the blond woman in the khaki hemp top looked over her shoulder at the next initiate. She was dismissed.
Grace snickered at her side and Edie glared.
‘It’s bloody hilarious. You sleep with it, don’t you?’
‘Not every night. Just when I’m expecting emails from New York.’
The Mahamaya retreat was set deep in the mountains, on a jagged cliff face. The location was chosen so guests could view either the native forest on either side of the stone building, through floor-to-ceiling glass, or feast on the wide expanse of sky at the cliff end of the structure. The sunsets were renowned, and dusk meditation sessions took place on the grassy area facing the cliff.
An attendant took Grace and Edie to their shared room. This time it was an olive-skinned man in a kurta with the same benevolent expression as the phone stealer. Edie wondered if their manner was instilled in job training, or was a natural result of mountain air and contemplation.
He handed them pamphlets and went to the window to open the blind. The room was furnished with two single beds covered in Indian embroidered throws, a rice-paper floor lamp, and woollen rugs with lotus motifs. Sunlight streamed through the glass and the women gaped at the dense blue-green foliage of the forest, cloud wisps obscuring the tops of the trees like beards of gods. The sun was tinged orange as it rose above the tree line.
‘Welcome to Mahamaya. The pamphlet contains a timetable with the different meditation and teaching sessions as well as a map of the retreat. In your three days here you need to forget about the wider world. Your purpose is inner reflection and to reach an understanding of bodhicitta—enlightenment. Some of our guests have never left—they achieved the state of bodhicitta and decided to make a life helping others reach that state, or at least to abandon behaviours that chain them to samsara.’
Edie was tapping her foot, her fingers swiping her thigh instead of the touch screen of her phone.
Grace blushed and whispered. ‘I gave you a rundown in the car, remember?’
Edie shrugged and the man’s face remained impassive.
‘Samsara is the constant repetition of the cycle of existence—birth, suffering and death.’
‘Oh, okay. What time’s lunch?’
‘In half an hour. Metta to you.’
‘Yeah, you too. Thanks.’
The man edged out, closing the door behind him.
Grace turned on her. ‘Christ Edie, that was awkward. I got this retreat for free, remember? I’ve built up a fair amount of cred with these people, they think I’m legit. Just try and act like you’re a bit less of a poster girl for samsaric cluelessness. Please? If in doubt, just shut up.’
‘What’s metta?’ asked Edie, bouncing on the heels of her feet.
‘Loving kindness. I told you that too. Let’s go to lunch.’
The door of the storeroom squeaked as Edie crept inside. She shone her torch at the shelves containing dozens of the same woven basket she had noticed at reception. She cursed and started with the bottom left shelf, working her way across. Email, social media, world news. Each night she stared at the ceiling and clutched the embroidered throw, imagining all the words and information growing and expanding without her. It was like ceasing to exist. During meditation sessions she planned pitches in bullet points, thought of clever tweets. On one occasion her mind emptied and she had panicked, stood up and walked away.
A deep voice broke the silence. ‘Can I help you with anything?’
She jumped and turned, her heart galloping. ‘Oh God, I’m sorry. My mother is sick and I just wanted to check my phone.’
It was the man who had showed them their room. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Patrick. Come, it’s almost dawn.’
‘Come where? I need my phone.’
‘You need to see this.’
Patrick led her to the cliff face, opening a glass door to the side. Edie watched him sit down cross-legged and her eyes widened. The sky was streaked with deep gold and magenta interspersed with mauve and gunmetal. It was infinite. A sliver of sun glinted on the horizon and she was reverent.
‘Just breathe and watch. Nothing else. There is nothing else.’
Edie sat next to him and breathed a long exhalation. The air was cold but she was filled with warmth. Patrick’s dark eyes glittered and he took her hand. As they stared out at the sunrise Edie’s mind cleared. She was not afraid.